Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

A visit to Barack’s barbershop

Hyde Park Hair Salon Barber A.C. Chandler shows off his work

Chicago’s Hyde Park Hair Salon, 5234-B South Blackstone, bills itself as the official barbershop of President Barack Obama.

True, the president has been going to the barbershop for at least 20 years (though security now requires a barber to come to him). And in 2009 the barbershop unveiled its President Obama Chair, autographed by the president and protected by a $10,000 clear glass case.

But the barbershop is more than a tourist destination offering pedicures, massages, shoe shines and designed haircuts. It’s history. Started in 1927, the barbershop has served Mayor Harold Washington, Spike Lee, baseball hall of famer Lou Brock and Mohammed Ali, featured in a giant photo on the back wall (Ali got his hair colored as well as cut).

It’s also a place to talk real estate, get free advice about failed romances, debate hot social and political issues and analyze the plight of the Chicago Bears (or any of the other mediocre Chicago sports teams).

Finally, Hyde Park Hair Salon is a place to get a good haircut, whether you are white or black. It reminds me of a day in 1963 when, as a summer intern in Washington, D.C., I accompanied a black friend to a barbershop that informed us it could not—certainly would not—cut his hair. So my friend and I found a black barbershop that cut his hair and mine. But I was scalped.

My barber at Hyde Park Hair Salon was A. C. Chandler, 31, who has been cutting professionally for 7-and-a-half years, 15 years total. His mother, a cosmetologist, “was in the hair world real tough,” Chandler says, “and I guess it rubbed off on me.”

After Thornton Township High School (where he cut students’ hair for $5 to $6) Chandler graduated from Chicago’s McCoy Barber College. There he learned straight-razor shaves and other “old-school methods.”

What is Chandler’s dream? A fan of the travel channel, he sees himself owning his own company and traveling the world to teach barbering. “You get a chance to see how Bangkok is and how Sicily is,” he said.

At the end of my haircut, after declaring he had been running his mouth, he said, “You’re getting the real A. C. Chandler.” And a real haircut too.

Loren Ghiglione

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