The Barber Pole
If you are someone who enjoys history whether its local or otherwise, the perfect place to learn it is the barber shop. The history you hear there is unfiltered and personal. It’s the stuff you don’t read in history books.
People have been going to barbers for centuries. But not always, just for cutting hair. Many trace it back to Medieval times when professional barbers were known as barber-surgeons. Their profession involved bloodletting, pulling teeth, setting bones, treating wounds, amputating limbs, lancing boils and even letting out evil forces by drilling holes in people’s heads. Epilepsy and mental illness were thought to be caused by those evil forces.
Monks, who had the responsibility to care for the sick, sometimes had a barber provide assistance with bloodletting. It was a common practice for the treatment of a wide range of illnesses including sore throat and plague. This procedure involves cutting open a vein and allowing the blood to drain.
Some monks wore a hairstyle where the crown of their head was shaved forming a ring of hair. It was the barber who managed this grooming. Because of their skill with sharp instruments, monks would have the barber assist with the bloodletting
In 1163 A.D. Pope Alexander III prohibited Monks from bloodletting. The physicians of day considered it necessary, but thought the job was too menial for them. Most likely, they considered it the same as writing a prescription for aspirin. Monks could no longer do it and physicians would not do it. Someone had to. As a result, barbers added the procedure to their professional repertoire. In fact, the father of modern-day surgery, Ambroise Pare in the 16th century began his career as a barber-surgeon.
While bloodletting, barber-surgeons would have their patients hold onto poles. While grasping the poles, the patient’s veins would pop out, obviously making it easier to find them. White cloths would be used to stop the bleeding. Afterwards the blood-stained cloths would be tied to the poles and hung up outside. Even after washing, some cloths would become permanently stained. It was not uncommon to see a pole with red and white swirling around in the breeze.
Since most of the people were illiterate, the barber pole became a way to advertise for their services. A law passed in 1307 A.D. stated, “no barbers shall be so bold or so hardy as to put blood in their window….” Thus, the creation of the pole. The red signified bloodletting. The white signified the bandages used to wrap the wounds. The blue represented the non-oxygenated blood in the veins. The downward spiral denoted the downward spiral of blood flow in the body. The ball at the top represented the basin used to collect the blood.
By the mid 1700’s bloodletting was no longer the norm. The barber pole had evolved into solely meaning grooming services.
One local barber has been cutting hair for 57 years. In April 1962, upon completion of barber school, Tub Pautler, cut his first head of hair at the pool hall in Sparta, Illinois. Jack Irwin was his employer. When Tub began, Sparta had several barbers. Tub said he was number seven.
After Jack, tub considered working out of town, but nothing was available. Tub eventually asked Riley Cox if he would consider hiring another barber. Mr. Cox hired Tub and they cut hair together in the Masonic Building. (shop entrance was from North Market).
Seven years later, Tub opened his own shop in 1969 when he moved across the street to the old Sinclair building and remained there for next 17 1/2 years before moving back to the Masonic Building at 108 E. Main. Tub Pautler cut hair in that building for the next 31 years. In October 2018 he moved to Northtown and brought his faded barber pole with him. Mr. Pautler, after five decades of cutting hair, is making no plans to retire.
Imagine the history Mr. Pautler’s barber pole could tell.