When Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop first came onboard, he was clean-shaven. But sometime in 2017, he decided to grow a beard. This probably falls into the get-a-life category, but there was a debate in our newsroom on the pros and cons of the beard.
History certainly has something to say about it. After some wildly haphazard research, we discovered that some religions demand beards; some cultures think of them as a sign of virility, wisdom, strength, sexual prowess, and high social statures; and others think of them as unhygienic and uncivilized.
In ancient times, styles in facial hair varied widely. In general: The Phoenicians? Curls and tresses. Babylonians? Oils and curling irons. Egyptians? Plaits, henna, and golden threads. Indians? Long. Chinese? Long, though sometimes mustaches, goatees, and shaved cheeks. Iranians? Long with jewelry. Greeks? Sometimes curled with tongs. Macedonians? Alexander the Great was clean-shaven. Romans? Largely clean-shaven. Celts? Long beards.
From the Middles Ages through the Renaissance to the present, beards have gone in and out of fashion like the length of women’s skirts.
In North America, Native Americans are almost never pictured with beards, while the English and Spanish who annihilated them were generally bearded. According to Richard Veit in The Indians of New Jersey, Indians’ “scanty beards were pulled out with a pair of mussel shells.”
Check out our Founding Fathers. Not a beard among them. But by the time we get to the Civil War, photos and paintings show rakish mustaches and robust beards.
The thing about beards is that it’s hard to nail down historic trends. Take writers of the 1940s: Ernest Hemingway? Almost always seen with a nicely trimmed white beard. But F. Scott Fitzgerald? Cheeks as smooth as a billiard ball.
In the 1950s? President Dwight D. Eisenhower, clean as a whistle. But Allen Ginsberg? Big bushy beard. Hippies of the 1960s were noted for their big beards. Check out any Woodstock image. But the last U.S. president to have a beard? You guessed it, Benjamin Harrison.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner infamously banned beards and long hair among his players.
Mayors and Their Hair
With enormous thanks to Danny Klein and the great librarians at the New Jersey Room of the Jersey City Free Public Library, here are the Jersey City mayors with facial hair: Peter Bentley, 1843-44, large sideburns; Cornelius Van Vorst, 1860-62, beard, no mustache; John B. Romar, 1862-64, beard, no mustache; William Clarke, 1869-70, beard, no mustache; Henry Traphagen, 1874-76, mustache and sideburns; Henry J. Hopper, 1878-80, beard and mustache; Isaac Taussig, 1880-84, mustache; Edward Hoos, 1897-1901, mustache; Mark Fagan, 1902-07, 1913-17, handlebar mustache; Charles Krieger (acting), Aug.-Nov. 1971, mustache; Gerry McCann, 1981-85, 1989-92, mustache; Glenn D. Cunningham, 2001-04, mustache; and L. Harvey Smith (acting), May-Nov. 2004, mustache and beard.
Which brings us full circle. When I asked Hannah Peterson, the always-helpful press secretary for the city of Jersey City, to get a comment from Mayor Fulop on his beard, she emailed, “The Mayor actually got rid of the beard, so I’m not sure he would be best to speak on the topic anymore.”
This raises the legitimate question, what exactly constitutes a beard?
To get an answer, I went to two Jersey City guys in the know. Will Sanchez, manager of Al’s Corner Barber Shop, and Jason Torres at the Imperial Barber Shop both confirmed that any amount of hair on the face constitutes a beard. “Even a five o’clock shadow,” Jason says. Will agrees. “The only thing that’s not a beard is if you are clean-shaven.”
By this definition, Steve definitely had a beard, so I went back to Hannah Peterson to get a comment on why the mayor doesn’t have a beard. Her response? “While I think this topic is very entertaining, unfortunately we won’t be commenting on it at the moment. Sorry about that.”
I totally agree with Hannah; it’s a very entertaining topic.—JCM