John Brown’s Beard

John Brown’s body might be a-mouldering in the grave, but his beard lives on. From an era populated by crazy facial hair, fewer beards seem crazier than Brown’s—in large part to this image:

This detail comes from John Steuart Curry’s Tragic Prelude, which hangs in the Kansas state capitol. Fans of 1970’s rock will remember the image from the cover of the self-titled debut album by Kansas.

In the image, Brown’s eyes have all the fire-and-brimstone craziness of an Old Testament prophet. As a result, the painting might look almost cartoonish. Seen full scale, though, it’s quite an impressive work, capturing some of that compelling “X factor” that makes Brown such a riveting personality. It’s chock-full-o symbolism, too, and the painting as a whole tells a pretty interesting story in a pretty interesting way.

The beard, though…. Too bad it looks, to us, a little like the pelt of a dead Muppet.

4 Responses to John Brown’s Beard

  1. I am currently watching the made for TV movie The North & The South. It was made in the 80s, I think. Johnny Cash plays John Brown in the movie, beard and all. I am so glad other people think about stuff like this–beards, weird facial hair, bad hair days. I wish someone would Photoshop all the beards off the generals, just to see what might have been there. I don’t think such an endeavor falls under the title of “history,” but it sounds pretty interesting nevertheless.

    1. Just checked out an array of John Brown images…he needs the beard! And while it does hearken back to the Old Testament prophets, the bouffant hair proves him a precursor of our televangelists!

  2. people focus erroneously on his beard as an extension of his personality but the truth is the beard was a disguise during the planning days of harpers ferry, and shortly before he conducted the raid he went back to his normal chosen appearance and shaved off the beard. people go overboard about the one picture of him with a beard and project all kinds of their own ideas on it, but the truth is he had a beard but two years of his entire life, and most pictures of him, the pictures of the REAL John Brown, are clean shaven.

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