Politician and newspaperman Horace Greeley (1811-1872) had a neckbeard that made him look something like a Sphinx. A butt-ugly Sphinx, that is. His head seemed to sprout from a collar of hair that hinted at a vast, luxurious coat of fur beneath his clothes. The suit and long-sleeved coat that he wore in all kinds of weather did not help to assuage the notion that his clothes hid something unspeakable.
Unlike Henry Thoreau (see previous post) Greeley had no lifestyle excuse for his atrocious facial hair. A brilliant journalist who edited the New York Tribune and helped establish modern journalistic standards, Greeley lived in New York and would have had ample exposure to the leaders in men’s fashion. Did his neckbeard help frighten away the wily street urchins that roamed the streets of New York City in those days? Did he have a wool allergy against which the hairy collar provided protection? Or did the beard simply help accentuate the degree to which he felt he had separated his intellect from the baser, animal instincts of his lower half?
The answers are lost in the sands of time. But we’ll give Greeley a fashion pass because of his admirable political views. A staunch abolitionist, he helped found the Liberal Republican party and ran on its ticket for president in 1872 against Ulysses S. Grant, whose administration had grown corrupt. He lost in a terrible landslide.
If only Greeley’s political party had had more longevity than his beard style, who knows where this country would be today?