Gimme a Museum with Hair

The details behind a lesser-unknown museum in Independence

Hair. We grow it. We style it. We cut it. We long for it if we don’t have enough of it. But there’s just one woman in the world who runs a museum in honor of it. In 1956 a budding hairdresser, Leila Cohoon, purchased a 6-inch by 6-inch frame enclosing a small wreath of human hair from a Country Club Plaza antique shop. Little did she know that object would change her life.

After years of collecting these unusual works of art, in 1986 Cohoon opened her first museum in a small room in the front of her cosmetology school in Independence. Today Leila’s Hair Museum is located in its own building and is considered the only hair museum in the world, boasting more than 600 hair wreaths and at least 2,000 pieces of jewelry made of human hair.

“First-time visitors to the museum usually don’t know what to expect,” Cohoon says. There is no exact date that can be pinpointed as to when and where hair art began, but it is known to have flourished in the Victorian times and can be traced back to the 12th century.

Many pieces were for memorials. However, artifacts of this art form were also used as keepsakes of loved ones before cameras were invented. “Hair was a token of love as well as a remembrance of someone who passed away. The tradition of giving a lock of hair goes back hundreds, even thousands of years and can be traced from different cultures as well as different time periods,” Cohoon says. “Each piece of jewelry in the museum tells a story of why it was made.”

Leila’s Hair Museum is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday at 1333 S. Noland Rd., 816-833-2955.