Family Story

Hair Wreath Hair Wreath Hair Wreath

James Junior married Hazel Lillian Anderson on May 29, 1937, in Liberty, Missouri, and by 1939 they both lived in Manhattan, Kansas. At a young age Hazel's mother, born 1872, emigrated with her parents from Antrim County, Ireland, to the US. Her grandparents, John Anderson and Louisa Williams hailed from Virginia and Illinois, respectively. Louisa's ancestral history is untraceable after the birth of her grandparents in New York. This is not an altogether uncommon story, though it is truly engaging to see the micro-history of the Zahnley family in comparison to the macro story of the United States at the time. As thousands of immigrants arrived at the shores of North America, there is no telling the end of their stories. Some Europeans never made it out of New York, living in hovels or shantytowns barely fit for living, while other intrepid wanderers found the prosperity that they sought.

Yet in a way, James' tale was not as all-American as it appears on first glance. James Walter was probably married before his union with Hazel. There is a marriage record showing that James Walter was married in the year 1900 to a woman named Mabelle. There is a photograph in the 1909 Kansas State yearbook showing a photograph clearly labeling a woman as Mabelle Zahnley. If there was a death of a first wife, it doesn't appear in public records. In the occurrence of a divorce, the semi-puritanical society of the Midwest around the turn of the century would have encouraged a cover-up of sorts.

In the very first edition of the Polk Manhattan Directory, James is listed as the proprietor of a house with Hazel on 1850 Claflin Road. The house still stands right across the street from Marlatt Hall, just adjacent to the Kansas State University campus. Their residence in that house for over thirty years is a symbol of how deeply rooted the couple was in the Manhattan community. They went to church, taught, worked, and raised a family in Manhattan. James and Hazel had two children, James C Zahnley and Donald Zahnley. Donald was born on February 19, 1940. He attended Manhattan High School and graduated in 1958, enrolling for four years in the Marines Corps immediately afterward. When he returned from his military service, he enrolled at Kansas State University, the school where his father worked as a professor. He graduated with a business degree in 1966. Donald became employed by the Coleman Company for several years before using his degree to secure a job as a federal banker. As part of his job, he relocated his wife Beverly Schneider to Topeka and Oklahoma City. Perhaps this was the reason why the pair never had any children. When Hazel passed in 1988, Donald was the executor of her estate, bestowing many family possessions to the town that this branch of the Zahnley family loved and understood as their home: Manhattan, Kansas.

Information on James C Zahnley is a little harder to find. After his graduation from Kansas State University, he moved to California. He met Marrilyn Bissell and married her at the age of twenty-six in Santa Clara, California in 1965. J.C. Zahnley, as he was referred to in academic circles on occasion, published several papers for the National Center of Biotechnology Information. All of the James's aunts and uncles went their separate ways after their childhood on the farm. Today members of this Zanhley family branch live in over ten different US states, children descended from the intrepid Xavier scattered about America.

It is thanks to Dr. James C Zahnley that we have the wealth of information about his family's nineteenth-century hair wreath. He returned to Manhattan in the early 2000s and visited the Riley County Historical Society. He told them all he knew about the hair wreath. From him we know that part of the wreath is made of hair from Rebecca Curry, his grandmother, and from James Zahnley, the original James and patriarchal grandfather. James told workers at the Wolf House Museum in Manhattan that the Frank Zahnley identified in the wreath was Frankland Zahnley, the husband of Sarah Lowe. The Hattie referenced in the wreath is likely his mother, Hazel. Hattie was common short hand for her name when the wreath was created. The Mary McAdoo tag on the wreath probably references Mary Francis Helfer. Her maiden name was McAdoo before she married Daniel Helfer, and she died on February 27,1930, in Riley County. The fact that her hair is part of the family wreath implies that Mary and her relatives were close family friends of the Zahnleys; so close that they were thought of as family. There are several other names mentioned on little white tags on the wreath whose relation to the Zahnley family are unclear.

Pinning down exactly who made the artful hair wreath is a bit tricky. Most of the Zahnleys who lived in Kansas would have had the financial resources to send collected hair of different family members back east, as many people did in the nineteenth century. Most likely, however, the hair object was a homespun creation. What is more, the people named on the paper tags attached to the wreath would have been alive in the late nineteenth century, which is when hair jewelry was at its zenith. Rather than being a mourning wreath, this hair object might have been a celebration of family bonds set up at the heart of the home.

The creation of hair wreaths comes from the Victorian tradition of taking hair of the deceased and weaving it into elaborate patterns to symbolize interconnected family ties. The aesthetic of hair ornament derives from natural and organic forms, such as flowers, trees, and forestry. Much of the hair jewelry was a lock of hair fashioned into a motif inside a broach or glass container. The Zahnley wreath, however, is an expansive piece of art that would have been displayed on the hearth of the family's home. It is particularly interesting because the wreath holds hair of individuals who were alive at the time of its conception. This was rather unusual for hair jewelry.

The wreath is 10.5 inches high and 11 inches wide, which means that the architect of the piece was creating an elliptical hair structure. Over twenty-five individual blooms and singular constructions build the wreath into a slightly oval shape. Such individual ornaments would have taken months to master and required rigorous planning to be executed properly. The wreath would not look out of place in a forest on the long road from Morris Country, Ohio to Riley County, Kansas. Its flower designs were clearly inspired by the coniferous forests sprawling over the United States. The wreath is an excellent example of nineteenth-century hair jewelry and mourning culture. Hair jewelry was a way to keep the dead amongst the living, and flowers symbolically embodied the growth of life. As the dead were buried in the ground, flowers started to root and grow. Life springs eternal, as people say.

There is hair from about ten different people used in the wreath: the names of Mary, Hattie, Frankland, Mabelle, and Becky Zahnley can be found on the paper labels connected to the wreath. A number of tags simply say “grandpa” and “grandma,” which suggests that perhaps even hair from Xavier Zahnley and Harriet Bowerize was kept and used. The wreath was probably constructed in the 1920s, following instructions published in a popular women's journal. The wreath is a masterful piece of art of blond, brunette, and several strands of strawberry brunette hair from several generations of the Zahnley family. Encased in a wooden and glass box, the wreath is bound around a 6-inch-wide circle created from the hair of the Zahnley family as well.