(Photo by Michelle Felter, Staff)
CHARLESTON -- Just off Main Street in Charleston is the town's only barber shop -- Henry's Barber Shop.
Owner Henry Coffer identifies his shop when giving directions with what he says is "one of the biggest factory-made barber poles in the state." But that's not the only thing about Coffer's shop that sets it apart.
The load in the back of his red Ford pickup truck, does. It's filled with a ball of hair -- about 170 pounds -- that Coffer has kept from customers over the past five years.
The hairball was recently purchased by Ripley's Believe It or Not, and Coffer will also submit an official weight to the Guinness Book of World Records, which currently has no such record.
And now, he's known as the "Hairball Man" in the rural town -- and in other communities who have heard of his hairy situation.
"Word on it has already gone around the world," said Coffer. "It's been around the world three times."
He and his odd hobby were featured in Mississippi County's newspaper last fall. And, Coffer said he's done at least 25 radio interviews, talking to hosts from California, Florida, Kansas and New York and even one from New Zealand, to name a few.
He's also been featured in the National Examiner magazine, and when he did a search for "barbers hairball" on Google, came up with several matches -- one from the BBC, of which Coffer was quite proud.
That's when Ripley's Believe It or Not picked up on the story and contacted Coffer about selling the giant hairball. Due to terms of the agreement, he's not allowed to divulge how much the collection is worth.
Coffer isn't sure why the hairball has generated so much interest. "I guess because it's so dang crazy," he said. "There ain't nobody else in the world that's done it."
But he's quite proud of it. A photo of Coffer with the heap of hair -- in addition to his certificate from Ripley's Believe It or Not for what they dub "Giant Human Hairball," are framed in the window of his shop. Also on display is Coffer's book, "50 Years of Barber Shop Jokes."
When Coffer began saving the hair, it wasn't to set a record -- it was to help a friend. "I had a friend that raised watermelons," said Coffer, explaining that surrounding the melons with hair helped to scare off the coyotes.
But when his friend retired, Coffer kept up his habit of saving the hair, and that's when he came up with the idea of making a hairball.
"A many of people have come up and asked me 'Henry, I wonder how much hair you've cut in your lifetime,'" said Coffer, now 70, who started his shop when he was 20. "I can now about guesstimate how much hair I've cut in my life."
Two weeks of hair usually fills a regular-sized plastic bag from the grocery store and weighs in at about two pounds, Coffer found. He figures if he cuts a pound of hair each week, that means he's cut around 2,600 pounds during his 50-year career.
But when he started to make the ball of hair, Coffer wasn't quite sure how to do it. "I had to figure out how to make a ball myself," he said.
He ended up buying a large yoga ball at a garage sale, which he used for the initial form. Coffer then placed netting around the ball and used that to hold the hair he tucks under. Once a net can no longer be seen, it's on to the next piece.
Coffer, who cuts the hair of men of all ages, commented on the "splotchiness" of the texture, with red, gray, black and brown hairs. "It kind of looks like a leopard or something," he said.
Every customer adds to the giant hairball -- and most of them take ownership and pride in it.
"I told him he had a lot of my hair in there, because he's been cutting mine for many years," said patron Richard Cox. He's frequented the shop for about 50 years -- and noted that while his hair once was black, it's now a silvery gray.
Marvin Flueggee, another longtime patron, said he, too, must have a lot of locks in the hairball.
During nice weather, people can see the hair ball, but with the recent precipitation, Coffer has had the ball bundled and covered with tarps and ropes in the back of his truck.
But it won't be there for long. Ripley's will pick up the hair ball within the next few weeks. And then he'll stop saving the hair. "I don't think there's any need (to save it)," he said.
Ripley's will display the hairball in one of its museums. As a perk, Coffer received a lifetime pass for his family to go to all of Ripley's 53 attractions -- which span over 10 countries. Regardless of where his ball of hair ends up, he doubts that he'll go to see it on display.
"I don't know why I would," he said. "I've done lived with it, slept with it..."