Family of barbers
Generations of Langdons make haircuts a special experience
By IDA CHIPMAN
The Langdon family in 1938 included, from left, Jim Langdon, Bill, Bob, Marynell, Pat, Sally, Edna (the mother) and Tom. Photos provided
First of two parts
PLYMOUTH -- Five years before he died in 1957, Plymouth barber Jim Langdon told Thomas Morrow of the Chicago Daily Tribune that nothing much had happened to him for years and years.
Maybe so. But his life's experiences in the years before made up for it.
Jim was the son of a barber -- Henry Langdon -- and the father of one, Pat Langdon.
For years, he and Pat worked side by side. His grandson, Pat's son, James Patrick Langdon, also barbered in Knox for a short time, making four generations of Langdons who have plied scissors and comb.
The Langdon family sheared the locks and jowls of Plymouthites for more than 100 years.
They have also kept the public royally entertained with their sometimes peculiar sense of humor.
Henry, born in 1853, had come with his family to Inwood, east of Plymouth, from Bridgeport, Conn.
A railroad man, he was an engine hostler until he was laid off by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1884. He opened a barber shop and, according to the Weekly Republican of September 1884, "was considered by some of the up-town barbers as a joke."
He fooled them all by building up a thriving business over the next 20 years.
Henry died of a " stroke of apoplexy" at age 50.
His son, Jim, started his barbering career by riding the train from Plymouth to Chicago and back, giving haircuts to passengers for 10 cents a clip along the way.
Eventually, in 1918, he started his own shop at 305 W. Garro, buying out Walter Bailey, who had taken over some years before from Isaiah Holly.
As a side business, he sold Norge refrigerators, stoves, a line of pianos and some other stuff from the back of his shop.
His day would begin with coffee at the Union Lunch room with Pappy Robertson. On the way to work, he would buy a bundle of wood to heat water on his stove for customers who wanted hot shaves.
On Saturdays, he often worked 13-hour days.
Jim and his wife, Edna Freyman, had six children, named Marynell, Bob, Bill, Pat, Sally and Tom.
Edna -- nicknamed "Gum Drop" because she loved them so much -- ran a secondhand store behind their home on West Garro. She bought and sold whole households of furniture. Many of the antiques are treasured items in the homes of her children and grandchildren today.
The barber shop was a hangout for everybody, from members of the clergy to shop keepers, automobile dealers, the owner of the local Coca Cola plant and a popular abstractor.
It also became the local headquarters for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who met every Monday morning.
Although an Irish Catholic organization, it was, in fact, ecumenical.
Included in the membership was Harry Franklin, who was Jewish, as well as a number of Protestants. Some of the members were Edmund Jeffirs, Ben Burke, Hubie Beiter, Vern Casbon, Tubby Schultz and Morris Cressner.
Catholic and Episcopal priests were known to write some of their homilies in the back room, a practice that continued on into Pat's tonsorial career.
Jim told a story that was printed in the Jan. 18, 1952, Chicago Daily Tribune's column The Senator Says.
It happened when Edna had left town for a few days.
"The last thing she told me was to stay out of the Mayflower Tavern while she was gone," he said,
(That's an admonition to husbands that may continue on yet today. The Mayflower still flourishes on West Jefferson Street at the same location.)
"Well," said Langdon, "some way or other I got into the place around 9 o'clock at night. While I was drinking a beer and eating a sandwich, I saw a man I knew at the bar. I spoke to him and left."
The next day, the bar acquaintance told Langdon he had been arrested and accused of setting fire to his brother-in-law's house.
Incarcerated overnight in the local pokey, he had just made bail and wanted to use Jim as an alibi at his hearing.
He said there was apparently a law against torching your brother-in-law's house, but "how could I have done that," he asked, "when I was anointing my tonsils with brew the night before with you?"
So Jim agreed to testify that he had seen the guy at the bar.
"But when I went over to the courthouse, I had a great deal of trouble," he moaned.
Somehow or other, the cork had worked out of the bottle he had in his pocket, saturating him, rendering him quite uncomfortable in wet trousers and "not making the courthouse smell any better."
But worse than that, there in the front row sat his wife, primed to hear his testimony.
Damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't.
"Nothing much good came of the whole thing," Jim said.
"The lawyer made a fool of me, my wife found me out, the man got two to 14 years and the brother-in-law needed a new house."
He seemed to think there was a moral in the story somewhere.
Jim had his annual physical on Dec. 20, 1957. He walked out of the doctor's office with a clean bill of health, got into the driver's seat of his car, and died.
He was 65 years old.
In this photo from 1954, Pat Langdon gives his father, Jim Langdon, a trim. Rebecca Langdon, daughter of William Langdon, is standing by the chair.
Second of two parts
November 10, 2005
A real cutup
Practical jokes kept customers howling at Langdon shop
By IDA CHIPMAN
One of Pat Langdon's favorite practical jokes was when he borrowed a hearse, drove it to Plymouth High School and picked up grandson Peter Johnson and his friends for a Halloween celebration.
Second of two parts
PLYMOUTH -- Pat Langdon, the third of four generations of barbers, began his career after World War II.
He went to barber college in Indianapolis after his discharge from the Navy.
Pat worked the second chair in his father Jim's barbershop and took over the business when Jim died.
Their old shop on Garro Street is now an empty lot west of the Neighborhood Center.
Pat's been known as much for his antics as for his haircuts.
Marybelle Shemberger-Henry, for example, tells of taking her sons to Pat's shop.
"I was deathly afraid of birds, having been chased around by a rooster on my grandfather's farm when I was little," she said.
Pat knew that.
One time, in the shop, while she was waiting for her boys, he said, "Belle, look up."
She did, only to see a parakeet perched on a beam above her head.
She ran out screaming, "Damn you, Pat!" to the amusement of everyone within a block's radius of the shop.
Arnold "Hank" Hite had been a customer of Pat's for as long as he could remember.
"You wouldn't believe what went on in there," he laughed.
Hank had lost his left leg in Germany while fighting in World War II. He was outfitted with a prosthesis.
If Hank was in the shop at the time, as an outrageous jolt to a new customer, Pat would suddenly turn and heave a metal letter opener smack into Hank's wooden leg.
Through the pants leg and all, the missile would just stick there, quivering with the force of the throw.
Playing along with the gag, Hank would yelp in simulated pain, and the new guy in the chair would nearly faint from fright.
Other times things would be going along smoothly when, without a word, Pat would put down his scissors, walk over to the corner, pick up a BB gun and shoot Hank in his wooden leg.
Hank hardly had any trousers that didn't have rips and holes in the left pant leg.
"You never knew what he was going to do," Hank said.
"Sometimes you'd go in there and he would be on roller skates, wearing a wig of long curls."
Other times he would be sporting a big fake nose with horn-rimmed glasses.
One late December, Hank and Dick Kreighbaum figured they'd turn the tables on Pat and get him good.
They went over to the Farm Bureau, got about 10 pigeons and let them loose in the barbershop.
Pat had started cutting Cal Gill's hair when everything went amok.
There were birds flying all over, with loose feathers in the air, diving at people, squawking and making a monumental mess with pigeon poop.
"I had bought my three boys each a BB gun for Christmas," Hank said.
"One of the biggest mistakes of my life," he added in an aside.
"The guns were out in the trunk of the car, and Dick and I got them and starting shooting the birds."
Customers were ducking and yelling and shoving to get out of the door.
Cal, with his haircut only partially done, got out of the chair, ripped off his bib and told Pat, "I'll be back to get finished sometime after the holidays."
At Christmastime, Hank would be the one to drive Pat around, dressed up like Santa Claus.
They'd go to the County Home and to various nursing homes in the area, delivering apples, oranges and sacks of candy to the residents.
There was a meat locker next door to the shop in what is now the Neighborhood Center. From time to time, if he was aware a new customer was coming in for a shave and a haircut, Pat would sneak across to the abattoir and smear fresh animal blood on his clothing and hands.
When the new customer arrived, Pat would say simply he was feeling "a little shaky this morning."
He would clear the snow from his sidewalks dressed in a gorilla suit, an outfit he wore from time to time on different occasions and one that always stopped traffic.
The antics have carried on almost to this day.
Pretty Lake residents look forward to it.
At a party at his lake home, the Langdons ran out of ice and drinks.
Pat asked a friend to run into town to replenish the supplies. The guy said, "OK," and Pat gave him the keys to his car.
Once his friend was out the door, Pat called the police to tell them his car had been stolen.
And then there was the time Halloween 2004, when Pat, 81 years old, heard his friend George Holzwart, a used car dealer in Plymouth, had a hearse for sale.
"I want to borrow it before you sell," he told George.
He backed up the vehicle to the high school like he was picking up a body and got out wearing a safari helmet holding a placard with the name of his grandson, Peter Johnson, on it.
When school let out, he loaded the funeral car with kids and drove off.
Marshall County is full of Pat Langdon stories.
"It wasn't the haircuts that brought people into the shop," Jim Muday said.
"It was the barbers. They had vibrancy, a love of life, that was transmitted to others."
And, of course, laughs.
Pat Langdon and his wife, Betty, shown in this May 2004 photograph, have been married since 1948. They have three children: Jim, Patty and John.
Sources: The Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 18, 1952: the Weekly Republican, June 7, 1884, Sept. 13, 1884, and Aug. 22, 1918: the Plymouth Pilot, Dec. 4, 1931; the Plymouth Democrat, Jan. 12, 1888, and Dec. 31, 1903. Also, genealogy records complied by Bob Jones and stories by Hank Hite, Jim Muday and others who shall be nameless.
Return to the Marshall County Scrapbook