Salty Air

Red Sox Beards Were Once Illegal

Written by Cape Cod Wave

FALMOUTH – If the Falmouth Historical Society had known the bearded Red Sox were going to make the World Series, the tale of Joseph Palmer might have become a skit in its recent “Visit With the Night Watchmen,” the Halloween Haunting tour that was held Saturday night.

Joseph Palmer, persecuted for wearing the beard.

Joseph Palmer, persecuted for wearing the beard.

When Kay Morse, a volunteer with the Falmouth Historical Society, was doing research, she came upon the story of Palmer, who was jailed in 1830 in Fitchburg for an entire year for having a beard.

Fear the beard? Once upon a time, folks in Fitchburg did just that.

The idea of the Halloween Haunting tour is to take a real historical event from Massachusetts and turn it into a scary skit. “When we look for these things, they are not necessarily on the Cape. They can be state laws,” said Morse.

The tale of Palmer, said Morse, was an opportunity missed. “Look what we missed,” she said. “We could have done something. Might not have the opportunity next year. They could be in the cellar again.”

Sure, connecting the dots from Joseph Palmer’s forbidden beard to the 2013 beards of Fenway is probably a stretch. So here we go.

“The pilgrims had beards,” said Tamsen George, president of the board of Society. “The colonists had beards. The clean shaven crowd that I think of are the Founding Fathers.”

It appears that whiskers disappeared from favor in the United States between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln was clean shaven when he was elected. When he was inaugurated, he had a beard.

In the midst of this clean-chin era, Palmer was a Bosox Beardie before baseball was even invented. No one seemed to like his beard, said Morse, who cited research that small children taunted him and women crossed to the other side of the street when in his presence.

In 1830, he was attacked on the streets of Fitchburg by a group trying to shave him. He was charged with unprovoked assault and spent a year in jail, where he wrote letters to newspapers about his plight. .

He lived to see beards, during the Civil War and after, become fashionable. “It was a means of adornment, like a watch, said Morse. “It’s jewelry.”

As for the Red Sox, Morse said, If your team is winning, they could put themselves in goose grease and we wouldn’t care.

She added, “I was watching them the other night. I thought, what a way to keep warm.”
And Joseph Palmer? “If he could play baseball,” said Morse, “we’d want him on the team.”


— Brian Tarcy



About the author

Cape Cod Wave

Cape Cod Wave is an online magazine covering the character and culture of Cape Cod. We feature long-form journalism, slices of Cape Cod life, scenic slide shows, and music videos of local bands playing original music.

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