sam brinkley nc state archives

Sam Brinkley – State Archives of North Carolina

Sam Brinkley and His Beard
by Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library, 2014

21 Sept. 1850-13 Dec. 1929

Standing six feet two with a beard of five feet four inches, Sam Brinkley became known for one of the world’s longest beards in the early 20th century. Brinkley was born on September 21, 1850 near Burnsville in Yancey County to Alex Brinkley and Annie McColl. The family later moved to Mitchell County, and Brinkley lived there in Magnetic City (now Buladean) earning a living as a teacher and then as a farmer, according to census records. Notoriety came with the remarkable growth of his beard, as he began to exhibit it to the curious and later by touring with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He reportedly earned thousands of dollars charging to show his beard, which he kept out of the way in a pouch.

Brinkley’s beard was a late bloomer. According to newspaper accounts, until he was twenty one he had no beard to shave, then shaving only once a week to remove light fuzz. By twenty three, the growth had reached the astounding rate of a full beard in a week’s time. One article reported that the beard was entirely natural, not the result of restorers or invigorators. Another reported on its quality — “soft and beautiful, indicating a peculiarly fertile state of nourishment.”

Brinkley may not have had the longest beard, with others in the contest. Robert Latter, of Wells, England claimed to have grown his an extraordinary sixteen feet, wearing it wrapped around his waist. Columnist Ann Landers even joined in the debate in 1972 as readers chimed in with accounts of the longest beard.

Sam Brinkley died on December 13, 1929 in Johnson City, Tennessee from complications of tonsillitis, according to the death certificate. Brinkley’s gravestone indicates his date of birth as September 21, although the death certificate lists September 24.

Source: NCPedia


Have you noticed beards are popular these days? At least they are in my neck of the woods. I’ve seen a few fellers who look like they’re trying to become the next Sam Brinkley.

The Deer Hunter would love to grow a big beard that hung way down. Although he has sported a beard more than a few times he has never managed to grow one as long as he’d have liked.

Back in our courting days we knew a man that had a long beard down over his chest. The Deer Hunter said it looked like a covey of quail might fly out of it any minute. I said “And that’s a good thing?” And he said “Of course it is!”

Pap never had a beard or even a mustache. He shaved every morning, he was always clean shaven. I think it was a hold over from his Marine days.

When I was growing up Uncle Henry had a bushy beard. I was still in school the first time I seen him with it trimmed close to his face. I remember feeling shocked that his appearance had changed so much. I guess I felt like the girls did the first time they saw The Deer Hunter with a totally clean shaven face. They were just toddlers, but they ran and cried, pitching fits that were worthy of two teenage girls. They wanted that mustache back and they wanted it back right now! All we could do was laugh at their hysterics.

Sometimes the girls at work and I wonder why in the world a man would want to grow a beard-it looks like it’d be awful itchy to us, but obviously we don’t fully understand the allure of the beard.

If all this beard talk wasn’t quite enough for you, jump over to this site All About Beards and poke around.



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  • Reply
    Tim Cuthbertson
    September 23, 2017 at 10:49 am

    I sldo was unable to grow a presentable beard when I was younger. I’m well over 60 now, and I’ve had a beard for a little over four years. It only reaches about an inch below my collarbones. It looks fairly good though, and I get a lot of compliments on it. I also feel like I get more nice smiles from pretty women than I used to.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 23, 2017 at 1:06 am

    Wish I had a way to send you a picture on here of my Grandfather and his beard…He looks like a typical Appalachian farmer…overalls and all…His mustache and long beard is “pure white”…absolutely beautiful….
    Love this post today..
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…I might try to email you a picture of my grandparents…if I can figure out how to do it…since I don’t have one in my computer photos…guess I’ll have to make a trip to Wally World Photo place and upload on a disc….

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 22, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    I’ll bet Sam Brinkley didn’t drink buttermilk!

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    September 22, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    My two cents is I’m against them, always have been. And, they can’t be sanitary.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 22, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    I grew a big bushy beard back in 1971, I think it was. It was the centennial year of the formation of Swain County and growing a beard was a necessity. They were going to lock you in jail if you were a man caught without one. You had to pay to get out. As soon as the celebrations were over I whacked it off but just for kicks I cut only half off at first. Right down the middle. Right side, full beard 6 inches long – Left side slick as a baby’s butt. You know what, nobody seemed to notice. No comments, no sideways looks, no nothing.
    I grew a mustache starting in 1989 when I tore my nose half off in a car wreck. I had a bad scar on my upper lip and the mustache covered most of it. When I quit work I decided to shave it off. The scar didn’t look all that bad and I couldn’t even see it unless I looked in the mirror. At that point I didn’t really care how I looked to others as long as little kids didn’t scream and run away.
    Since I seem to have developed into a tick magnet (chiggers too) I shave every body hair I can reach with a razor. At least during spring, summer and fall. I have found several ticks while shaving and even one after I had shaved over it. I looked and saw a mole I didn’t remember having. Closer inspection showed it had legs. I went over it again with the razor but it didn’t want to go. I had to get it with tweezers. I got a sore there that lasted a couple months but it finally healed up and left only a tiny scar.
    PS: I lied about shaving all my body hair. I do leave my eyebrows.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    September 22, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    I’ve had beards at different times in my adult life. I find it easier just to be clean shaven rather than trim and sculpt it all the time. I always wore mine short so I had to trim it every two weeks. I still have my beard trimmer just in case I ever decide to grow another one but I doubt that I will because every time I let it grow a few days I realize how much I look like my old dog, long toothed and white in the face.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    September 22, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Oh my gosh, I have seen a few down to mid-belly but this one is amazing

  • Reply
    September 22, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    My husband & son grow breads but shave them off when warm weather arrives.
    My husband always has a mustache. He shaved it off once right after we were married and I couldn’t kiss him. He looked like a stranger.

  • Reply
    larry griffith
    September 22, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    I’m not against beards, I have a moustache but how in the world did that man do anything besides preen on himself all the time?

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    September 22, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    You know I love this! Mitchell didn’t do a long beard until he met me. Being from Cocke County, long beards just looked normal to me. So I told Mitchell if he was going to have a beard he might as well make a statement with it- I don’t think his family has forgiven me yet!

  • Reply
    September 22, 2017 at 11:25 am

    By the way, hubby was a Navy man for a time too but that didn’t stop him from growing a beard, much to the chagrin of his father.

  • Reply
    September 22, 2017 at 11:24 am

    My ever youthful looking husband (70- quick and agile as a mountain goat – I’ve used that analogy here before) started his beard around 1980 when we took the kids camping at Galveston beach. Although his father berated him severely (he was a Navy man), hubby has kept the beard all these years although he keeps it trimmed relatively short and neat.
    Beards and hairiness in general get a boost around here from The Harry Man Festival (in Round Rock, Tx) which is coming up soon. No Sasquatch, the Legend of the Harry Man is a simple one and has lead to assorted contests related to quantities of hair and the styling of various hairy locations (beard, mustache, back, arms, etc. In only one summer, my former assistant principal came in 2nd (as I recall) one year for the “Hairiest Man”; afterward, at the request of the superintendent, he resumed his clean shaven ways.

  • Reply
    September 22, 2017 at 11:04 am

    I’ve had a close cut beard for near 30yrs, not into Duck Dynasty style. Had to shave everyday the last job I had, hated it.

  • Reply
    September 22, 2017 at 10:59 am

    One of the first times when I met the Deer Hunter startled me. I was reading the Blind Pig and had left the door open. When I looked around, he was seated real close to me. I didn’t even hear him come in and the dogs didn’t even bark. He was clean-shaven and all back then.
    I was in the Ingles parking lot when I saw one of my first cousins, Wayne Higdon. I hadn’t seen him in some time and he had a beard plum down to his belly. I told him he looked like he had just come off Duck Dynasty and he laughed.
    I guess beards are OK, they’re just not for me. …Ken

  • Reply
    September 22, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Military teaches a lot of discipline. My own Dad was always clean shaven. Even though he did hard dirty work , he cleaned up well and retained neat habits from childhood or from his time in service. I was just thinking the other day hw he kept his dress shoes polished with a high shine. I don’t see that anymore.
    There was a fad here among some middle aged men a few years ago where they grew long beards. I wish I had paid more attention, but seems as though they called their group by some catchy name. There are still random men who pride themselves on long white beards. Unfortunately, children can be vocal about anything out of the ordinary. I was leaving a fast food restaurant with my young nephew when we became enclosed in the entrance foyer with a middle aged man with long white beard. Nephew pipes up and says, “Look Santa Clause.” It was one of those times when I went into a fit of uncontrollable giggling with tears. No time to apologize, and how do you apologize when you lose it? The nephew and I have been fast friends ever since, because he remembered that moment when I became a child with him.
    I pride myself on being nonjudgmental, and I appreciate anyone being independent enough to wear facial hair however they please. But if you want a truly honest opinion just ask a child!.

  • Reply
    eva m. wike
    September 22, 2017 at 9:35 am

    LAWS A MERCIE, I never knew that beards were so IMPORTANT! My Daddy never grew one – nor did my brothers – as far as I know. Thetwo younger brothers may have grown a beard while they were in Viet Nam!
    BUT THEIR BEING AT WAR WAS A NIGHTMARE – for my Parents and all of us!!!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 22, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I just can’t do it. My Dad the Marine rubbed off on me too much. I shave every day, can’t get through the day in confort feeling scratchy. I threaten to grow a beard sometimes and the reaction I get is “Sure you will.” If I want to see myself in a beard I will have to take my picture and draw it on.
    Those who study such things say they go in cycles. If so, this one has been long because it seems to have started in the 70’s.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    September 22, 2017 at 8:48 am

    I started shaving when I was 16 and attempted a beard one time about 32 years ago. I kept it for about 4 months, then I took it off, and it has never returned. I see a lot of beards in western NC, but at age 69, I don’t feel tempted to join the crowd.

  • Reply
    September 22, 2017 at 8:38 am

    My husband has always had a beard, even when we were dating. He keeps it short, and says it’s not hot or itchy and it is more comfortable than shaving every day. I have seen pictures of him without one.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    September 22, 2017 at 8:07 am

    In 1978, I turned 30, but still looked about 17. Blame it on a girl I met skiing in Austria, but I grew a beard. People liked it and convinced me to keep it. Thirty years later, I was forced to shave it off because I needed radiation treatments for throat cancer, and have been unable to regrow it since I recovered. I really miss that bears. It became such a part of me. I kept it groomed, and trimmed. Still have the mustache, but it just isn’t the same. I still feel a little naked when I look in the mirror. Never considered letting it grow any longer. In the business world, that wasn’t ever an option. Vann

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 22, 2017 at 8:00 am

    I’m sorry Tipper, but that beard just looks nasty to me. I’m not a beard fan. Mustaches are ok but I don’t care for beards…even the Deer Hunters, but Lord, please don’t tell him I said that.
    A beard this long, he’d have to spend a lot of time taking care of it, just like a baby and where in the world could he put it to get it out of the way of everyday chores, like a job!
    Oh well, I can acknowledge that it is quite an accomplishment to grow that thing so long!

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    September 22, 2017 at 7:51 am

    Wonderful! Who needs and overcoat?

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    September 22, 2017 at 7:37 am

    Every non-active Marine I know shaves. I think that is something.
    I like a good beard. Growing up, all men had one come winter. The transformation started a few weeks before deer season. Then, the beards came off at Easter. I’m not sure that is necessarily a hard tradition, if one at all, and I don’t deer hunt–but I do the same.
    One random thought, college kids grow those huge beards. But, I saw the funniest bumper sticker on a truck when I was home last. It read “your skinny jeans cancel out your beard.” I about died laughing right there in the Dairy Shed parking lot.

    • Reply
      Robert Brinkley
      February 26, 2021 at 10:35 pm

      Sam Brinkley was my great grand uncle. If you think this is cool then look up Dr. John Brinkley…..who goes back one generation from Sam….

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