In 1899 Dr. John Danforth Phillips felt a calling in his life. A young veteran of the Spanish-American War, serving as a Captain for the famously mustached future president Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Phillips had seen firsthand the fighting forces of mustaches in our army’s front lines. But he had also seen the bloodshed. For every valiant officer capable of slaying a dozen Spaniards with the twirl of a mustache there were hundreds of soldiers killed and wounded due to their accursed hairlessness. A battle surgeon charged with patching together the wounded, Dr. Phillips was heartbroken to see so many teenaged soldiers too young to grow the faintest wisp of a mustache. Even sadder were the mustaches of the dead, mustaches that could not be spared when their wearers fell in battle. When the war ended Dr. Phillips returned to the U.S. and found his life’s work.
During his five month train ride home to Indianapolis, Indiana, Dr. Phillips made plans to convert his small general practitioner’s office into a state of the art, world class medical facility devoted to the study, preservation, and transplant of mustaches. Years were spent in research with Dr. Phillips heroically and repeatedly shaving off his very own mustaches in an effort to transplant them on the faces of the hairless men and women of Indianapolis.
I had the opportunity to speak with the current Director of the Mustache Preservation Society, Dr. Quentin E. Franklinton.
“Phillips was a haunted man,” Franklinton said. “He would grow one mustache after the other and shave it right off. Often he cried while shaving it and tears mixed with the mustache, he had to teach himself to restrain from crying so as not to weaken the mustache with moisture. Every two weeks there would be a new bald-faced boy on the operating table as Dr. Phillips experimented with different follicle transplant techniques. There was failure after failure. Over time hundreds of mustaches, and dozens of bald-faced boys, were lost before discovering a successful technique.”
This process took thirteen years, it wasn’t until 1912 that Dr. Phillips made the procedure available to the public. But Phillips had not yet perfected harvesting mustaches from the dead, instead men were paid a handsome salary to grow mustaches to give up for the procedures. 1912 was also a presidential election year with the mustached President William Howard Taft running for reelection against the clean shaven Woodrow Wilson. On a campaign visit to a farming community outside Fort Wayne, Indiana, President Taft suffered a horrible accident as he caught his mustache in a grain thresher. The mustache was ripped completely from his skin and Taft was rushed to Indianapolis for a transplant. Without a suitable donor scheduled, Dr. Phillips selflessly donated his own mustache. Taft completed the campaign wearing Phillips’s mustache but lost his bid for reelection. Upon retirement from his medical practice, Phillips commented that his proudest professional achievement was his donation and transplant of the last presidential mustache, as Taft was the last president to not be clean shaven.
When Dr. Phillips retired the Mustache Preservation Society and Clinic was taken over by his son, Dr. Danforth D. Phillips. Danforth immediately tasked himself to solve the medical mystery that had long vexed his father: harvesting the mustaches of the dead. Danforth enlisted the help of researchers from the University of Indiana to his cause. Aided by a team of medical students, Danforth grave-robbed at night and experimented on the cadavers during the day. After nine years Dr. Danforth Phillips had perfected his technique of cutting off the entire head of the deceased, pickling the head in a brine solution, and plucking the mustache out hair by hair. This advancement, allowing the mustache to maintain consistency during transplantation, gave birth to the golden age of mustache preservation.
Throughout the 1940’s and 50’s Danforth arranged for different hospitals in the midwest to send him the pickled heads of hobos and transients that died in their region. Members of the upper class elite who could not grow their own facial flew to Indianapolis to have the mustaches of bums and derelicts surgically implanted on their faces. Danforth turned his father’s noble idea into a cash cow and Indianapolis from a sleepy midwestern city to the kind of town where a wealthy businessman could legally have a homeless guy killed just to steal his mustache. Suffice it to say, Dr. Danforth Phillips was largely responsible for turning Indianapolis into the charming, affluent city it was known to be in the 1960’s.
Of course, times got rough for the mustache preservation industry in the 1970’s and 80’s. More and more men were able to grow their own mustaches thanks to the government’s campaign to add hair-growth hormones to our nation’s milk supply. Couple this with the government’s crackdown on the pickling of hobo heads and the Mustache Preservation Society barely survived into the 1990’s.
Dr. Quentin E. Franklinton took over as Director of the Mustache Preservation Society in 1987 and his leadership has kept it intact, despite hard times, for the past 33 years.
“Right now our largest obstacle is finding donors,” Franklinton said. “We can no longer pay men enough for them to give up their mustaches, the sacrifice of living without a mustache is far too great for the $25 we can pay them. And many people are still unwilling to sign donor cards so we can harvest their mustaches when they die.”
Franklinton points out their squabbles with different organ and tissue groups: “Many of these groups won’t even return our calls. They are so concerned with the heart and kidneys that they don’t consider the quality of life issues for men without mustaches. What about teenage boys trying to date older women? What about female to male transexuals? Who will help these people if we don’t?”
The Mustache Preservation Society and Clinic is still located in Indianapolis, Indiana. They would like to encourage you to talk to your family about your desire to be a mustache donor.