Barber Museum looking for a new home

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Canal Winchester Area Historical Society President Mike Ippoliti stands in the middle of the nearly vacant National Barber Museum as the last of the museum’s artifacts is readied for transport to an off-site cleaning facility.
Canal Winchester Area Historical Society President Mike Ippoliti stands in the middle of the nearly vacant National Barber Museum as the last of the museum’s artifacts is readied for transport to an off-site cleaning facility.

Canal Winchester’s National Barber Museum is homeless.

Founded by Ed Jeffers on the second floor of space formerly occupied by a Knights of Pythia organization, the museum was a victim of smoke damage from a December electrical fire in the walls of the Wigwam Restaurant, which is located on the first floor of the South High Street building in downtown Canal Winchester.

Trucked away in a half-dozen 27-foot-long trailers were thousands of artifacts—such as antique barber chairs, a machine used for scalp treatments, hundreds of razors and shaving mugs, barber poles, barber industry appliances and tools dating back to the 1700s, scissors and books—transported off-site for cleaning and ionization to remove a smoky film and smell.

Workers from a Whitehall restoration service familiar with the needs of a museum spent more than two weeks boxing up everything. Specially-designed crates were locally manufactured to transport the glass display cases and videos taken during the disassembly of intricate back bars that once lined the walls of the museum.

“The people from the restoration service handled everything with gloves,” said Canal Winchester Area Historical Society President Mike Ippoliti. “They had either art or archeology degrees and they did a tremendous job of handling the artifacts.”

Ippoliti said the first few truckloads contained smaller artifacts.

“Then they brought people in to take down the bigger stuff,” he said. “One truckload was strictly barber poles, which were taken down and individually mounted on skids. It’s amazing the way it was done.”

The museum contents were insured and Ippoliti estimates costs associated with the basic cleaning and removal of smoke damaged artifacts to be $150,000 to $200,000. The amount does not include work done off-site or storage.

“All this stuff now has to be unpacked, cleaned, ionized and repacked into new containers,” said Ippoliti.

Even though the process takes time, a new location for the barber museum is essential because costly upgrades to the old site would be necessary to meet the code requirements of today and the fact the museum was running out of space well before the fire.

“We need a minimum of 5,000 square feet,” said Ippoliti, “but more would be better. If we can’t find something in Canal Winchester, there’s a very real possibility we might have to move somewhere else,  but I’m hoping it does not come down to that.”

If a suitable home is not found, all of the museum’s artifacts will be placed in long-term storage.

Jeffers, who passed away in 2006, opened the 3,500-square-foot Barber Museum in 1988 and welcomed visitors from across the United States and around the world. From a collection of  10 artifacts, the inventory grew to several thousand items. Barber poles lined the walls and shaving mugs sat on shelves as if waiting for the next customer to arrive. Admission was free on an appointment basis.

The museum later became part of the Canal Winchester Area Historical Society, which was in the process of documenting thousands of items on display and in storage when the fire forced the museum out of its home of more than 26 years.

“I had to turn down six big tour groups last month who wanted to visit the museum,” Ippoliti said, “and got calls for two more this month.”

Today, the wooden and linoleum floors of the former museum are streaked with grimy smoke remnants and bright spots where displays once stood.

“It would be shocking to see if you visited the museum before the fire and then saw how it looked afterward with all of the stuff coated in a black film before it was removed,” said Ippoliti.

Silence haunts the empty hall where thousands of guests—from local school children to visitors from Vienna, Austria—once looked on in wonder as Jeffers, and later, members of the historical society explained mysterious-looking objects used by barbers to cut hair and treat illnesses.

The National Barber Museum may be homeless, but it will eventually re-open. The only question now is when and where.

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