Tag Archives: sisters

Hocus Pocus —Untangling The Sutherland Sisters

Hocus Pocus —Untangling The Sutherland Sisters

I have always called these gals ” The Sanderson Sisters” because of my love of the film Hocus Pocus, but in reality they were the Sutherland Sisters.

In the late 19th century, though, the most startling, erotic thing you could do as a stage performer is let down your Rapunzel-esque floor-length hair. In fact, according to their biographer, the first real celebrity models in the United States were known as the Seven Sutherland Sisters, who had 37 feet of hair among them. Sarah, Victoria, Isabella, Grace, Naomi, Dora, and Mary Sutherland sang and played instruments—but no one really cared about that. No, the crowd came to ogle their magical, mythical, uber-feminine hair.

Flaunting all that awesome hair onstage wasn’t quite enough to launch the Sutherlands from abject poverty to riches, so the sisters’ father, the Rev. Fletcher Sutherland, concocted a patent hair-growing tonic. Because Victorian women coveted the sister’s luscious locks, the cash came flooding in. The family grew rich beyond its wildest imaginations, as the sisters knocked serious political issues off the newspapers’ front page with their outrageous celebrity antics. By the mid-1880s, none of the sisters could walk down the street, their flowing tresses dragging behind them like dress trains, without being mobbed by starstruck fans.

The famous Sutherland Sisters Mansion. Located on Ridge Road. Built in 1892, it was destroyed in a fire in 1938.
Cambria, New York

In 1893, the seven, now world-famous, returned home determined to live together, erecting a tremendous mansion in rural Cambria, New York, where their family’s log cabin once stood

There’s a new house, a modest modern one, where once stood the mansion of the Seven Sutherland Sisters. The showplace of the countryside, built on the Ridge Rd. northwest of Lockport, in 1893 with the hair tonic dollars of the Seven Sisters “with the longest hair in the world,” burned to the ground early on the evening of Jan. 24, 1938. Only two of the sisters were living then. Seven years before the fire, Grace and Mary had been forced to leave the farm on which Sutherlands had lived for 122 years. Their fortunes had gone into a tailspin, the hair tonic million had long been spent and for four poverty-pinched years, the last two sisters lived drably in the mansion where once all seven had lived so grandly.

The house had risen in all its Victorian elegance in the heyday of the Seven Sisters’ fame and wealth. They spared no expense when they built the ornate wooden pile on the family acres they called “Sutherland Farm.” It was the talk of the fruit country, that house with its 14 rooms, its term bedrooms, one for each sister; its seven hallways, its marble bathrooms with running water, novelty at the rime; its black walnut woodwork, its inlaid hardwood floors, its massive chandeliers and its three furnaces.

A life-size portrait of the Seven Sisters, in color and in all the splendor of their trailing tresses, adorned the wall of the higb-ceilinged living room. Once the roomy third story attic was crammed with Saratoga trunks, containing bottles of the hair grower. Expressmen at Lockport dreaded the sight of those trunks. They were inordinately heavy. In the old days there were spacious lawns and barns and stables for the numerous Sutherland pets. The main barn, unpainted for years, is still there. The stately oak trees which once shaded the front lawn are gone, victims of the fire. Gone too is the summer bouse where once the sisters, scantily clad and with their great masses of hair piled high upon their heads under towels, sunned themselves.

No trace is left of the cinder path where once the sisters rode their high-wheeled bicycles in bathing suits to the dismay of some of their prissy neighbors. This was Sutherland mansion on Ridge Road north west of Lockport where sisters “with the longest hair in the world” lived. It burned in 1938. their pets were buried, each in its casket with its individual name plate and each in a marked grave, long since yielded to the plow. Others tend the gardens where once the sisters flitted about, each wearing a cloth mask to protect features and treasured locks from the sun.

One by one the sisters passed on until only two were left. Naomi died in 1893 and Victoria in 1902 when the golden tide was running high. Isabella went in 1914, when the family fortunes were beginning to slump. Dora ran the Canadian business and kept the hair tonic sales going in Alberta until the bobbed hair craze which swept the States hit the prairies, too. She was killed in an automobile accident in Winnipeg in 1919. But she had her eccentricities among them 17 pet cats.

After her death the house was mostly unoccupied for eight years. Henry Bailey, and his children spent some summers there. In 1927 Grace and Mary retutned to the mansion, living only in the upstairs rooms. They were old ladies and there was that same year Sara died still with the famous locks at 73. Their tresses had lost their value and neighbours called her “the sensible one.” There was no gold in the family. She was the family balance wheel. Old neighbours recall the pitiful circumstances of the two sisters in their last stay in the big house. Mary was ill. She had “strange notions” and there were bars at the windows of her room. Sometimes there wasn’t enough to eat but Grace was proud and still held her head high and told her neighbours she wanted no gifts of food.

In 1932 the place was sold to the Cecil Carpenters of Lockport, who were restoring it to much of its oldtime elegance when fire leveled it. Mary lived until 1939. Some of her last days were in a sanitarium, some in the Niagara County Infirmary. Grace died in Buffalo in 1946. She was well over 90, the last of a fabulous sisterhood, which lives on in the lore of the fruit country. One afternoon when the apple blossoms were shedding their fragrance on the air, Clarence O. Lewis of Lockport, Niagara County historian, who has collected a mass of data on the Seven Sisters, drove out to Mike Gorman’s place on the McClew Rd. in the town of Newfane. Michael Gorman and his wife are getting along in years but their memories of the sisters were still alive.

They lived on a farm diagonally across the road from the Sutherlands. In those days Sara was the only permanent occupant of the residence. Grace and Mary, who “lived around” in Lockport and Buffalo, were there occasionally. The wheel of fortune was no longer spinning for the family but they tried to keep up appearances. Gorman was hired sometimes by Sara to drive the family carriage, usually to meet trains when one of the clan came home for a visit. He remembers when big Dora landed one day at Lockport wearing a muskrat coat so heavy it was hard for him to lift her.

Mrs. Gorman sometimes helped out at the mansion, especially when Sara had guests or there was one of the family’s extraordinary funerals. She well remembers the nearly two weeks that young Fletcher Bailey was laid out in the house before his aunts would bury him.The house was full of cats. Sara knew every one by name. One day a Gorman son caught one of them in a trap he had set for rats. The animal was so badly hurt it had to be shot. Mike told the boy to bury it and say nothing, hoping Sara It was a vain hope. The next week a newspaper advertisement appeared, offering a reward for the return of the missing pet. Sara was grief-stricken when a favorite horse was burned to death in a Lockport Mery stable fire. The animal was 15 years old and had been raised on the farm from a colt. Its carcass was identified by the gold-plated shoes it wore. So Sara had the horse’s remains hauled home. A carpenter made a casket and the animal was buried ceremoniously in the pet cemetery. – Mike Gorman still has one of those horseshoes but most of the gold plating has rubbed off.

There is an undocumented tale that a pet dog belonging to a Sutherland sister had its own bed and that at the head of the bed was a bell which the animal rang when he wanted attention. But there’s no fiction about the seven dolls. Each belonged to a particular sister and the hair of each doll came from the head of its owner. The dolls stood nearly 3 feet high. The seven dolls went with the Seven Sisters on tour and were part of the hair tonic sales ballyhoo. The maids who combed the seven magnificent heads of human hair also had to look after the seven dolls. The doll which had been Sara’s is now owned by Mrs. Thomas Buckley of North Tonawanda, the Gorman’s daughter. Sara gave it to Mrs. Gorman before she died. For all their almost incredible eccentricities, the Seven Sutherland Sisters are revealed as a warm-hearted, impulsive, open-handed lot. Shyness may have accounted in part for their clannishness. They loved their own so much they were loath to commit their bodies to the earth. They loved their pets in life and honored them in death. They made a fortune and they spent it grandly. They held their heads high to the last. They were colorful and different and will be remembered forever.

The Buffalo Times
Buffalo, New York
14 Jul 1918, Sun  •  Page 19
Calgary Herald
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
29 Jun 1918, Sat  •  Page 16

Chicago Tribune
Chicago, Illinois
10 Feb 1889, Sun  •  Page 16

Chicago Tribune

Chicago, Illinois16 Aug 1908, Sun  •  Page 34

A sibling for sale: Historic Four Sisters house on the market

Nellie Thurston –Balloonist Maiden Voyage in McFarlane Grove

  1. Women in Peril– Betrayed by Heartless Scoundrels 1882
  2. Dead by Her Mother’s Lack of Faith–Odd StoriesSearching for the Red-Headed Wench of Carleton Place

Have you Heard About Nellie Bly?

Nothing But Lizzie Borden

Lois Lyman–A Hair of a Blunder!

Things Borrowed from my Grandmother — Human Hair Nets

Because You Loved Me…..

Because You Loved Me…..




It’s 2 am and I cannot sleep. I lie in bed after an emotional day tossing and turning and clutching the dainty necklace around my neck. It’s the only thing I have left besides 6 photographs that remind me of my late sister Robin. For months I have been putting off writing about what this necklace means to me and decided there is no time like the present.

My sister Robin Knight Nutbrown and Bonny Dover Burton were born on the same day in the Brome Missisquoi Hospital on January 28 of 1956. Our mothers were friends and her mum thought it would be nice if the two girls had matching necklaces. Through the years of sickness and family upheaval Robin must have misplaced hers, but Bonny still had hers and after 62 years she sent it to me.The gold necklace still glistens and the garnet is in great condition, so I knew that Mrs. Dover must have bought these necklaces at the local jewellers and not the five and dime. I wear it at least once a week because it helps me remember the good times and not dwell on the bad.


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Knight family 1957 Cowansville, Quebec

Robin and I were as different as night and day. Five and a half years between us she was the sporty gal, the equestrian rider, and I was the book worm, the dreamer and the writer. Robin wore great classic clothes and was thin and I was the chubby one and made all my own crazy clothes. She finished school and married the nice Anglican boy and had 2.3 children and I left home at age 15 ½ and became a fashion designer in Montreal. She was my father’s delight and I was my father’s disappointment. Different as night and day, but we shared a past that no child wants to grow up in.

When my Mother passed away, I was 12 and my sister was 6 and a half. We were at home alone a lot due to my father’s civic duties and as my psychiatrist at 18 told me I never had a childhood because I had to look after my sister. That was a textbook diagnosis, but I would like to think it made us stronger. We both grew up with strong wills, street smarts and survived just like that necklace.



1980s the late Robin Knight Nutbrown and sons Adam and Matthew


I protested the Viet Nam War and computers, professors and  discrimination at Sir George William University in Montreal during 1968. Meanwhile my sister survived back home and longed to get out on her own. Later on in life Robin fought everyone in Belleville, Ont. to mainstream her autistic oldest son, and even though hindered at each corner; she became a trailblazer for those in her area with special needs children. She refused to segregate her oldest son who was autistic and forced the school board to hire an extra teacher so her child could go to a normal school.  Robin never assumed everything was okay just because others were telling her that, and she volunteered each chance she could to monitor her son’s progress. Unlike some of the people she fought, her family was able to find the beauty and joy in Adam’s differences and he thrived. Because of the dedication of my sister, my nephew enjoyed school, graduated 1000 Islands Secondary School, and went to Boy Scouts for many years. He travelled to Alaska in later years with a local group and has held part time jobs where he is loved.

Sometimes I wish I had this necklace when I saw that she was dying from cancer years ago at age 40. But like the shiny red jewel strung onto this necklace she was too  proud to ever be anyone’s conquest, even cancer, and she valiantly fought it to the finish. Robin was  connected to me, no matter how different we both were. No matter how hard life was for us we did not run away from the struggle, we accepted it as it comes with all the handicaps and injustices.  I am the last one left now, and each day I am living for the moment. But thanks to Bonny I am walking around with a memory of her, a necklace of hope, an armour of sanity. But, at the end of the day, it has to come off– but no matter if the necklace is on or off– the love is still there and Robin, you will always be in my heart.

Thanks Bonny for the necklace.



My late sister Robin Knight Nutbrown–Me (Linda Knight Seccaspina) in the centre– and friend Judy Clough circa 1959 Valentine’s Day–

adam and me

A Few Odd Sisters….





More than 30 years since they were last seen in Alberta, two Lethbridge sisters have been located in the United States, said police.

Anna and Kym Hakze’s mother reported them missing in 2003, after she failed to see or hear from either of them in more than a decade.

Their mother has since passed but their brother is hoping for a reconciliation. What makes sister so close?  It was obvious these two had an exclusively mutual understanding of just how dysfunctional their family was.



IT SOUNDS LIKE AN EPISODE FROM THE Twilight Zone:  In 2012 two elderly spinster twin sisters who worked in the entertainment industry as youths have died and left officials scrambling to find their next of kin.

Joan and Patricia Miller, both 73, were discovered in their South Lake Tahoe home on Feb. 27, according to the sheriff’s department in El Dorado County.

Homeowners in South Lake Tahoe are close-knit and the reclusive sisters have long been the talk of the town. Neighbors often wondered why two beautiful women shut themselves up for 40 years in the same town and are now baffled how they both died of natural causes within hours of each other.

The sisters grew up in Portland, Ore. before moving to the San Francisco area, where Joan Miller attended college. The women briefly appeared on a 50’s television show called the The Hoffman Hayride and also entertained troops at military bases. Patricia and Joan Miller sang and danced for Bing Crosby as the family made their living in the entertainment business and their mother played piano. A photo found inside their home shows them sitting on Bing Crosby’s lap, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The identical twins also performed with singer Spade Cooley every weekend at the Santa Monica Pier and the performances were broadcast live on KTLA television in the 50s. As they grew older the twins never married, had children or pets and became anti-social and withdrawn, even coming up with excuses not to speak on the phone if someone called.

They both even stopped sending an annual birthday card to a beloved childhood friend a few years ago and when the friend called to inquire about the missing card, Joan and Patricia seem disinterested in continuing the relationship.

Talking to neighbors was out of the question. According to Huffington Post, Betty Mitchell, 89, who supervised Patricia Miller in the social services office, said the women were inseparable. Mitchell said they were friendly and told stories often about their singing adventures. They had had performed at Yosemite National Park and when their mother came to visit from Oregon, they all dined at Mitchell’s home.

Mitchell said the sisters were also guarded, and when she urged them to join a community choir, they declined and never discussed their social lives.

“They kept things to themselves,” Mitchell said. “I don’t even know if they had siblings.”

In the past year, some people thought something was amiss at the Miller home. A neighbor spotted an ambulance at the house a year ago and assumed one had fallen ill. But rumors surfaced of possible malnutrition and concerned citizens asked police to check on them regularly.

When someone arrived Feb. 25 for a routine check, the twins did not answer the door. The next day, police forced their way in and found the bodies of the twins; one was in a downstairs bedroom and the other was in the hallway just outside.

There was no blood, no signs of struggle and their home was not unkempt. Even though autopsy reports are pending it was as if the two sisters, long each others only companion, could not live without each other.

Huffington Post also reported that El Dorado County Sheriff’s Det. Matt Harwood said “they weren’t taking care of themselves as they should or could have,”

Police don’t usually release the names of the dead without first informing their relatives, but the sisters’ shrouded lives made that impossible, he added.

“My perception is one died and the other couldn’t handle it.” said Harwood. “It appears purely natural, but we are still trying to piece it all together.”

May they both rest in peace and may the Hakze sisters  now find some peace in their life too. There is no doubt that each other seemed to be a little but of childhood that they could never lose.

I Wrote This Because You Loved Me



The hour after my sister died I found myself asleep in a hospital chair dreaming of a wall sized art painting that featured ugly trolls holding crow marionettes.  It was an awful painting and I had no idea why I was there. Right below the painting two lines of words were written on the wall:

Joy in Life
Joy in Death

Now what was that supposed to mean, I asked myself. There might be some joy in life but is there really joy in death?  There was no doubt in my mind that I had experienced a lot of tragedy through my life. From the minute I was born, to this particular moment in time, death has always seemed to stalk me. It seems to challenge me at every moment and creates a permanent sadness deep in my soul.  I had seen so many people die in front of me that others felt I knew the final secrets just by looking at me and they would ask:

What do you do when someone dies?”

“What do you say to those that survive?”

I knew I could not stop life or death so I would silently ponder and say to them quietly:

“Joy in life”
“Joy in death”

My sister had been the hardest to watch as I knew she was dying the minute I saw her laying on the couch. The look in her eyes had been the same as my mother’s; lost eyes, lost body, and watching her soul gradually inch away each day. From the very first second I touched her to her very last minutes I always knew that she was not long for this planet.

Crying in anger for all our lost years, I now knew I could not stop her from dying, but what could I do?  I drove to Kingston, Ontario every few days and read her happy stories hoping they might encourage her unconscious body that kept asking itself:

Joy in Life?
Joy in Death?

I constantly held her hand, and talked to her even though she could not hear me. The cancer had now completely ravaged her and she was put on ventilation. No one could get to her, and no one could seem to help. I knew God was watching over her, but my heart said I needed to try do more.  I thought backwards forward and sideways, and then I realized there was only one person who might give her some comfort.

It was Celine Dion.

My sister loved the music of Celine and her favourite song was “Because You Loved Me”.  So as I sang her a few verses each day I remembered our past. No matter what words were said between us throughout the years it did not matter to my sister.  She always seemed to hear my voice when I could not speak and no matter what I felt she always saw the best in me.

Ten days after I started singing her that song my sister Robin died. After such a long struggle all I could do was close her eyes and kiss her. All the anger through the years had finally come to this tragic ending.

I woke up and drove the 85 miles home crying through the darkness of night. When I stopped the car a tiny white moth flew around me in a 360 degree circle 6 times. It flew by my ear so close I swear I heard it breathing. As I lowered my head in tears it sang quietly into my ears.

“You were my strength when I was weak 
You were my voice when I couldn’t speak
You were my eyes when I couldn’t see
You saw the best there was in me
Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach
You gave me faith ‘coz you believed
I’m everything I am
Because you loved me” 

No matter what had happened or transpired in our lives my dear sister; I am everything because you loved me.