Remembering the Ohio State Barber College

Back when I was a child growing up in Ohio in the late 1950’s, I lived with my Mom and two brothers in a little two-room upstairs apartment on Cleveland Avenue in Columbus. It was so small we had to share the only bathroom with our neighbor. We boys had a monthly routine of taking turns going downtown with Mom to get haircuts. When it was time for my haircut, Mom and I would leave my older brother Doug to watch my younger brother Tony back at the apartment. Off we would go to the Ohio State Barber College on High Street. I enjoyed getting out with Mom but hated going to the barber college, especially in the hot, sticky days of summer. What concerned me about going to a barber college was that the barbers were just learning how to cut hair, and they were learning on me.

The barber college was a long, narrow room with high ceilings, and bottles of aftershave, hair pomade, and jars of Brill Cream lined up on wooden shelves in front of mirrored walls. There were twelve or so student barbers swiveling caped customers around on their chairs. When Mom and I came through the front door we took a numbered card from the checkout counter and then found our place to sit. We waited for a barber to raise his hand and motion the next customer his way. I used to say, “Mom, when the man says ‘next,’ tell him, ‘Excuse me sir, but we’ll wait for a chair by the front door if you don’t mind.'” By sitting close to the front I could catch an occasional cool breeze blown in from the sidewalk outside. Other than that the only way to get cool in that hot barbershop was from overhead fans that hung from the ceilings by long black pipes. Those fans offered little relief in the sweltering summer heat of the city. There was no air conditioning in barber shops back then.

While waiting my turn for a hair cut, I could watched through opened doors the giant tires of yellow electric city buses scrape the sidewalk curbs waiting to load and unload busy passengers. They then rolled away with a crackling of the sparks jumping from overhead wires. Mom and I sat on wooden benches along the wall. Clumps of colored hair from all shapes and sizes of heads fell to the floor and were stepped on. Haircuts were hot and sticky. I hated the feel of all that loose hair falling on my sweaty neck. I would turn and watch my tortured face in the mirror while the barber scissored away at my dark blond hair. Wet beads rolled down my face, leaving vein-like trails. “Boy, you sweat like a horse,” laughed the barber, “I’ll bet you’re glad to get it off a ya’.” After he slid the steel razor down my neck a few times the ordeal would be over. Then came the cool swish, swish, swish of talcum powder brushed on my clean-shaven neck. I then slid down from the red padded board placed on the chair arms that held me high and hopped off the metal foot of the barber chair. My reward for sitting still for the barber and enduring the agonizing haircut was a trip with Mom next door to the Coney Island shop for a coney and a cold pop.

The old Ohio State Barber College has come a long way since the late 1950’s. It is now called the Ohio State College of Barber and Styling. Thankfully it has air conditioning now.