Barber Ed Unger Retired in 1983

Cape Girardeau Barber Ed Unger

The Southeast Missourian’s Out of the Past column on December 13, 2008 carried this note:

25 Years Ago: Feb. 13, 1983

After a million or more snips, Ed Unger is putting away his hair clippers and razor and retiring from the barber profession; Unger began barbering in 1935 on Main Street; he has been associated with several shops virtually all over Cape Girardeau.

Ed Unger knew my head well

Back in the days when I still had hair to cut, Ed Unger was most likely the guy who did it.

I don’t know who this kid is, but I was probably about that age or younger when Ed gave me my first trim.

The best part was that he didn’t mind if I read comic books while he was working away.

A Machine for Contemplation

Wright Morris, in his book, God’s Country and My People, described the barber chair this way:

A machine for contemplation, a throne for reflection, a couch for taking in or giving out information, capable of elevation, bodily suspension, facial and tonsorial transformation, the Iron Age went on to more imposing constructions, but none of them so well scaled to the nature of man.

Seated on a cushioned board placed across the chair arms, I first appraised the world from a point of elevation, observed my new head emerge from my old one, experienced the baptism of green tonic, held my breath in the cloud of fragrant talcum, and as I descended, heard the voice of authority pronounce the code word, “Next.”

Cape Girardeau Barber Ed UngerI have my own throne

When my brother Mark said that a buddy’s dad was selling three barber chairs from his shop, I told him to snatch one up for me. It took a U-Haul trailer to get it from Missouri to Florida and three friends to help get it into the house, but it’s been ensconced in my living room for over 35 years. It’s getting a little tired, but grandson Malcolm still likes to be pumped up and down in it.

Don’t discuss politics

My hair was a bit shaggy when I started working at The Athens (OH) Messenger in 1968, so I hopped into a barber chair to be made more presentable. At some point in the conversation, I mentioned my new job.

I was stretched out in the chair while he shaved under my neck with a straight razor when he asked, “Do you know ‘Joe Smith’, who’s running for whatever?”

“Yeah, I shot him last week. There’s a guy who’s a couple bricks short of a load.”

His next two sentences were, “He’s my uncle, ” and “Oops.”

I didn’t bleed much

I didn’t bleed much, but my conversation in a barber shop is now limited

  • “Mornin.'”
  • “The usual.”
  • “Thanks.”

11 Replies to “Barber Ed Unger Retired in 1983”

  1. Thanks for the picture of Ed. He was my next door neighbor when our family lived on Rodney Vista Blvd. Ed always looked sharp, his car well manitained, and his yard was always well manicured. He smoked cigars as I recall. I thought of him as a nice man. His son was named David and was a few years olded than me. Does anyone know where his son is today?

    Rodney Vista was a great place for a kid to grow-up. Many days of playing baseball at the park, riding bikes, and tons of kids always around to do something new. Alvin Bess, Bob Ward, David Pind, the entire East family, and many more. Good times. Halloween was great. Lots of doors to knock on and generous parents with mounds of candy to give out.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Steve.

    It’s funny. No telling how many times I was in Ed’s chair, but I didn’t recognize him in the picture until I saw his name on the license on the wall. I just assumed that it was a random shot in a barber shop.

    As soon as I saw his name, though, all kinds of memories came flooding back.

    You’re right. He WAS always neat as a pin.

    I can’t think of your old neighborhood without Ronnie Dost popping into my head. He and I went through 12 years of school together. When he died shortly after we graduated, his was the first obituary of a contemporary that I had ever written. That was a hard one to bang out.

  3. I don’t remember Mr. Unger, I had my haircut at the Campus Barber Shop on Broadway across from the Esquire Theater. My David Unger his son was in my Gym class for at least two years in High School. I remember David him as a pretty big guy and mean dodge ball player. Nice work dude…

  4. The photo of the little boy and Mr Unger brought back many warm memmories. Both of my boys had their hair cut there many times. After we moved to St Louis we would often wait until we came home for their hair cut.
    The sweetest memory was the day we came back to Cape on business and had droped by Mr Unger,s shop ,which was infront of the Baptist church.My son was about four and had never had another barber.Mr Unger said it would be about thirity min. Since we had an appointment Ed said to just leave Stefan and pick him up in about an hour. Can,t think of many barbers who would do that ,then or now.Keep up the good work,I love it.And my Mom would be very proud of you.

  5. Thanks for the compliment. Your mother, Ruby Davis, my old debate coach, was a very special teacher.

    I’ll have some pictures to post of her when I get around to doing stuff on the debate team.

    In my stack of old stuff I still have some of her critiques of my speeches. She definitely didn’t pull any punches.

    She hated my Swampeast Missouri “nasal twang.” And she’d write, “There’s no ‘R’ in ‘wash.'”

    Despite that, she cut this freshman a lot of slack and gave me a lot of opportunities. And, for the record, I can’t say the word “wash” to this day without thinking of her.

  6. Mr. Ed Unger was one of the adult leaders of Boy Scout Troop 10 from the mid 1950’s beyond my graduation from CHS in 1964. His character, as reflected in neatness and precision, displayed the heart of the man. His life was built on the Scout Law and the Scout Oath. Whenever anybody says “Boy Scout” I see the face of Ed Unger.

  7. Ken

    I just found this article. Thanks for putting it on line. I have other photos of my dad’s shop if you want them. You might also let other know I am still alive and kicking, just not too high, in Cape Girardeau.


  8. I can remember the scent of after shave our barber slapped on my face and how the talc brush felt on my neck. Going to the barber was one thing my dad and I did together. I’d rather it had been fishing, but it was important to him. He would smoke a cigar while waiting for me. It was a man thing.

    In Tucson the barbershops are all in the Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and are the same gathering places for man talk that they were when we were young. I guess White guys go to their wife’s beauty parlor now.

    On our Silk Road crossing, we both went for haircuts in the first good sized town in eastern Turkey. I got a great haircut in a Muslim shop. I remember being a little nervous about the straight razor, it was only two years after Mine Eleven and we were st war with his religion. But they were nice to us. After he was done I gestured to Claire, to give her a haircut. The went apoplectic! He was not allowed to touch a woman. We should have known that. He motioned for us to follow his young son. He took us through a series of alleys and up open stairs to the Christian hairdresser/barber. He gave claire a razor cut, the best haircut she’d ever had. Barbers are good people.

    1. I’ve done three or four stories about barbers over the years. One of them in West Palm Beach was a favorite of mine. I’ll have to post it when I find the negs.

      When one of my barbers went to blow the hair off my neck with compressed air, I asked why he didn’t use a brush like always. He said that brushes were banned because the previous customer might have had a nick somewhere, and the possibility of blood transfer to be dangerous.

      Dad loved the ritual of the hot towel and straight razor, but those days are long gone, too. My barber couldn’t remember the last time he had stropped a razor.

      All of my barbers have had thrones like the one in my living room that dates back to the mid-50s, and still has hair clipping of long-dead heads under the seat cushion. If the day comes when I have to go to a “salon” with flimsy chairs and chemical smells in it, I’ll shave off what little hair I have left.

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