Thursday, July 4, 2013

How well do you know your neighbors?

Facial hair fashions for men have come and gone many times throughout history. In 1899 in Pendleton, full beards and mustaches were very common amongst the important men of the town and, in fact, some had never been seen without their facial adornments.

A story published in the Sept. 27, 1899 edition of the East Oregonian showed how much our appearance affects how we are perceived by even our closest friends.

In the story, several public figures shaved off their accustomed facial hair within days of each other and were rendered completely unrecognizable to people who interacted with them every day. One of these men, Deputy Recorder Bob Maloney, shaved off a long, flowing mustache and passed along Main Street without a single nod of recognition. Even his family did not recognize him, and a neighbor treated him “like he was from Kalamazoo.”
Maloney decided to take the experiment one step further, donning an old hat and ragged clothes before setting out in his neighborhood to see if anyone would see through the disguise. He visited eight neighbors, asking for bread, and in every instance was turned down without the slightest amount of pity for his plight. Finally he approached the Rev. G.W. Rigby, who listened to his story of woe: The recent rains had ruined his chances of finding work in his chosen profession — keeping the sun off the sidewalk. Rigby produced a half dollar and said to the disguised man, “Well, you may be fooling me, but I won’t see any man go hungry.” Not only did Maloney manage to fool everyone, he discovered that charity toward the downtrodden was sorely lacking in Pendleton.

The story doesn’t say whether his scheme was simply a joke played on his neighbors and friends, or whether Maloney decided to embark on a social experiment, but it does say a lot about how people treated the less fortunate in Maloney’s day. Since Pendleton was a stop along the railroad, the town naturally dealt with a lot of “riff-raff” that rode the rails looking for a handout, so it’s understandable that a beggar with a flimsy story would be regarded with contempt, at best.

Are things any different in 2013? Pendleton has more than its share of panhandlers, drifters and con artists looking for easy money or a free meal. Would Mayor Houk be willing to doff his famous mustache and go undercover to see if the clothes do, indeed, make the man? And would we recognize him if he did?

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