The Facial Hair of a Hundred Years Ago

By David Michael Newstead.

The facial hair of a hundred years ago was like a portrait gallery of old styles and the forgotten empires that created them. In Europe, this was epitomized by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany whose appearance would be ridiculous to modern audiences. From his elaborate uniforms and spiked helmet to his capes and long handlebar moustache, the man was practically a caricature of the past. In contrast, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson – clean-shaven and in a suit – might be seen as a harbinger of things to come. Of course, clean-shaven leaders in suits are now much more common than extravagant monarchs. And while facial hair may not be the best measure of historical changes, it’s sometimes hard to miss.

BBC: Dali’s moustache intact

Salvador Dalí’s moustache is intact in the “10 past 10” position, the surrealist painter’s foundation has said, a day after his body was exhumed.

“It was like a miracle,” said Narcis Bardalet, who was in charge of embalming Dalí’s body 28 years ago, adding that the hair was also intact.

The body was exhumed in the north-eastern Spanish city of Figueres to settle a paternity case.

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In Search of Theodore Roosevelt

By David Michael Newstead.

Few presidents are as accomplished or as iconic as Theodore Roosevelt. And as this year’s Movember wraps up, I wanted to explore the legacy of our 26th commander-in-chief who still manages to standout in interesting ways a century after his time in office. Of course, there are numerous biographies about him. There are whole websites dedicated to all of his speeches and quotes. And his tough masculine persona is so legendary that even his diplomacy and his economic policies are considered manly.

Beyond those things though, I was determined to seek out some of the real world examples of that legacy. And fortunately for me, I didn’t have to go far.


Teddy & the Bully Bar is a Theodore Roosevelt themed establishment in Washington D.C. The place is half beaux-arts and half faux ruggedness where they offer drinks like the Rough Rider and the Trustbuster, highlighting Roosevelt’s many achievements. It’s a restaurant with smiling portraits of the man all along the wall. I stopped by this week and, after some deliberation, I ordered the Conservationist, a bitter cocktail swirling around a chunk of ice.

Next, I decided to visit Roosevelt Island – a national park on the Potomac between Washington and Virginia. And in the middle of all the trees and the dirt paths, there’s a titan-sized monument of Theodore Roosevelt encircled by fountains and quotes engraved on four giant stone monoliths, presumably for archaeologists in the future to find. In the meantime, I walked around and tried to absorb the lessons of Roosevelt Island, reading timely advice about youth, manhood, the state, and the importance of nature. I listened to the birds and to the far off onslaught of traffic, taking it all in.

I leave you with one of the quotes I saw engraved there: A man’s usefulness depends upon his living up to his ideals insofar as he can.


This Man, This Moustache – Maximilian I

By David Michael Newstead.

Maximilian I was Emperor of the Second Mexican Empire, which existed between 1864 and 1867. He was royalty by birth, belonging to the Habsburg family that ruled Austria and most of Europe for 500 years.

What does that have to do with Mexico, you might ask?

Sponsored by the French government, this young Austrian was put on the throne during a particularly complicated and turbulent time in Mexican history. Monarchist and Republican forces fought over the future of the country and, even at his best, Maximilian was always going to be an outsider.

Despite some successes, his regime didn’t last. With American assistance, the Republicans eventually gained the upper hand. The French withdrew their support, but Maximilian refused to abandon his forces. In 1867, he was captured and executed by firing squad at age 34, thus bringing an end to this unusual chapter in history.Maximilian_I_of_Mexico_portrait_standing

The Left-Wing Beard

By David Michael Newstead.

In honor of May Day, I wanted to commemorate the long and well-established tradition of facial hair in left-wing politics. Among the beards and moustaches in question, some belonged to tyrants and revolutionaries, while others graced the chins of dissidents, democratically-elected leaders, and a few historical figures that occupy the gray space between good and bad.

Karl_Marx_1Karl Marx

Edward-SnowdenEdward Snowden


Trotsky (2)Leon Trotsky

CheChe Guevara

99d/46/huty/14009/46Joseph Stalin

castroFidel Castro

vladimir-lenin,-crowd,-communism-171818Vladimir Lenin


Beatnik15 b&wBeatnik

beatles-moustaches-3-resizedThe Beatles


Patrice Lumumba


Thomas Sankara


Jerry Rawlings

English template_clip_image001_0004

Nelson Mandela

LulaLuiz Inácio Lula da Silva

mujica-gamba.cl_José Mujica

Emiliano_Zapata4Emiliano Zapata

Nicolas MaduroNicolas Maduro


Ho Chi Minh

Neil AbercrombieNeil Abercrombie

Bill-Clinton-and-Hillary-ClintonBill Clinton

This Man, This Moustache – Napoleon III


By David Michael Newstead.

Although he’s less well known than his uncle, Napoleon III occupies an interesting place in history that reverberates in the modern world more than you might think. He was the first democratically elected President of France, fought against Russia in the Crimean War, and he’s essentially the reason that Mexico celebrates Cinco de Mayo.

Commenting on Napoleon III, Karl Marx once wrote, “History repeats itself… first as tragedy, then as farce.”

Not surprisingly, Napoleon III will forever be stuck in the shadow of the original Napoleon Bonaparte. But who was this moustached man that led a nation?

A child during his uncle’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon III spent the majority of his life trying to recapture the political power his family once held. He lived in exile for years in Italy, Switzerland, and Great Britain. He staged two coup attempts, which both failed and ultimately landed him in a French prison. But populist uprisings in Europe soon brought about dramatic changes and universal male suffrage favored a candidate with name recognition!

After the Revolutions of 1848, Napoleon III was elected President of France with 74 percent of the vote, the first direct presidential election in the country. However, that democratic zeal wavered pretty quickly as Napoleon III took to calling himself the Prince-President. Then in 1851, he staged a coup, declaring himself to be Emperor. The National Assembly was weakened, the constitution rewritten, censorship was enforced, and the regime’s critics faced harsh authoritarian repression. In short order, the French Second Republic officially became the Second French Empire. With tyrannical ease, Napoleon III championed a host of domestic social reforms like girls’ education, workers’ rights, and the renovation of the city of Paris. But overseas imperialism really defined his reign. During this time, France seized territory, colonized, and took on an active international role, intervening in the Asia/Pacific region, in Africa, and elsewhere.

In its most ridiculous form, this resulted in France trying to install an Austrian as the Emperor of Mexico. Then in a more subtle example, Napoleon III critically debated whether to recognize the Confederate States of America as a separate country during the American Civil War, which would have dealt a major setback to the Union cause.

In the end though, he decided not to officially recognize the Confederacy. And the Austrian Emperor of Mexico? That man would later be executed by Mexicans opposed to French meddling. Like his famous uncle, Napoleon III squandered progressive ideals, massaged his own ego, and would fall from power at the expense of the country he ruled. In 1870, he was dethroned in the Franco-Prussian War. And in the aftermath of that conflict, Germany was unified, France was severely defeated, and the seeds of future wars were planted across Europe. The Second Empire became the Third Republic and Napoleon III would die in England in 1873.

He’s not often remembered today, but Napoleon III clearly had a flare for the dramatic in fashion, facial hair, and politics. Unfortunately for him, pride cometh before the fall.


The Father of Sideburns


By David Michael Newstead.

The life of Ambrose Burnside reads like the caricature of a man in America in the 1800’s. He was a Civil War General, a railroad executive, and, of course, the wearer of very unusual facial hair.

Beyond that, details about this public figure have more or less fallen by the wayside of history. It’s an odd thing to realize, but the most enduring legacy of this former military leader and United States Senator might be his connection to the term “sideburns”. Still, that’s more notoriety than the average politician will ever be able to claim. (Will anyone remember Newt Gingrich in 100 years?) And while sideburns are hardly the worst facial hair to be associated with, by itself this doesn’t do justice to a man’s biography or cultural impact.

A native of Indiana, Ambrose was the fourth of nine children whose mother died when he was in his teens. He went on to graduate from West Point in 1847 as an artillery officer and served in the tail end of the Mexican-American War. Afterwards, he fought in the cavalry against Native Americans across the Southwest, even taking an arrow to the neck at one point. Promoted and relocated to Rhodes Island because of this injury, Burnside would soon thereafter marry, resign his Army commission, and start his own business as a firearms manufacturer around 1853. The most notable of his inventions was the Burnside Carbine and just like today, the arms industry is an extremely profitable endeavor. Not surprisingly then, Ambrose became active in state politics, the railroad business, and the equivalent of the state’s National Guard.

The convergence of all these facts quickly propelled him into a position of leadership in the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. The now General Burnside would command troops in various capacities in some of the most famous battles of that conflict, including Antietam and the Battle of Bull Run. However, controversies over high Union casualties and poor decision making eventually resulted in the resignation of his command in 1864 towards the end of the conflict after the disastrous Battle of the Crater. That said, his record as a leader during the Civil War pretty much mirrored the nature of the war itself: some victories, some defeats, poor communications, and heavy casualties all around.

Having survived the bloodiest conflict in American history, Burnside went on to serve as the president of several railroad companies and veterans organizations as well as the Governor of Rhodes Island. Most notably on this list of leadership roles for a former arms manufacturer, Ambrose Burnside was the first president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) at its founding in 1871. During that time, however, the organization was more focused on marksmanship in significant contrast to the NRA we know today. Then in 1874, this former Democrat was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Rhodes Island and chaired the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Ambrose Burnside would later die of coronary artery disease in 1881 at age 57, outlasting the average male life expediency of that time period by a decade. While that would be the end of the story in most cases, Burnside’s influence lived on in other unexpected ways after his death. People began to refer to Men’s mutton chops as burnsides, then sideburns around 1887 in reference to the Senator and have continued to do so ever since. Like all facial hair, this style can be viewed differently depending on location and era of history from Victorian sideburns to rebellious biker sideburns. Whether this place in our vocabulary is the legacy that Ambrose Burnside would have wanted, no one knows. Regardless, it is most definitely the legacy that he has.