The Barber of Church Street

Updated: 4 days ago

The name Abraham in Hebrew means "father of the many," it also may bring to mind, Abraham Lincoln, the Unites States president who abolished slavery. Perhaps, 13 years after Abraham Lincoln's assassination, when Abraham Skidmore's parents decided on a name for their son in 1878, they chose Abraham for the man that gave them their freedom.


Abraham Skidmore was born in 1878 in Oxford, North Carolina to Ferry Skidmore and Jinny Nelson, who were formerly enslaved. They lived near a military academy and when Abraham was small, he would prance behind the sweating cadets at close-order drill. Abraham and his friends refought the Civil War on the hills behind the town and he beat the drums as their voices echoed long-gone battles.


Abraham left the South as a young adult, stayed briefly in New Jersey and then traveled further up North to Massachusetts. He lived in New Bedford for a short time where he learned the barber trade.


In 1899, Abraham saw an advertisement in the newspaper about a barber shop being for sale. He hopped on the train to Mattapoisett with his belongings packed neatly in a trunk, tipped the man who brought it from the depot 25 cents and never left.


His first shop was in the dilapidated Purrington Hall which would soon be demolished to make way for Shipyard Park in 1919. He had shops in Abbe & Griffin Store, Shaw and Barrows Store, and finally settled in his most remembered location on Church Street.

For 55-years Abraham was the only barber in town. His shop on Church Street was very simple, it had one barber chair, a large mirror and an old fashioned clock with the date 1899 penciled in.


"I bought that clock when I came here and it's been on my shop wall ever since."


There were also a few battered chairs and a table littered with magazines for the adults and comic books for the kids.


Abraham married Anna Calhoun in New Bedford in 1903. Anna was from Newport, Rhode Island where she once worked as a servant at the U.S. Naval War College. They settled on Pine Island Road in Mattapoisett, "the third house on the left" from Marion Rd. In good weather Abraham would walk to work, in bad weather he would take the trolly. They lived a simple life, Anna tending to her garden and Abraham cutting hair.


Abraham was a soft spoken man with a big personality. He could talk for hours with anyone sitting in his chair. His haircuts were 15 cents and his shaves were 10 cents. He was quoted as saying, "Most barbers charge a dollar, but I could never do that."



Abraham outside his barber shop on Church Street.

Abraham in the back right of photo.

Abraham organized the Mattapoisett Cornet Band before World War I and The Hobo Band before World War II. Both times the war broke up his bands but Abraham kept drumming. He would drum in parades, drum to collect money for the less fortunate, and drum just to keep the children of Mattapoisett out of trouble. He once helped a widow whose husband died with no insurance. He went up and down the streets of the village collecting money for her. Nobody refused "Skid" when it came to a donation to help someone in need. He raised money for the town band and the American Legion, who honored him with a steak dinner. Abraham didn't do this for attention, he did this out of the true kindness of his heart. He would pass around a coal bucket at baseball games to raise money for needed supplies for the children's team.



Abraham truly was the "father of many," having no children of his own, he had a soft spot for the kids in town. They would come to borrow comic books from his shop and sit in clusters on the front porch with heads bent to read them. In inclement weather he would let The Standard Times newspaper boys wait inside the shop for their newspapers. He would even be asked to relay messages and sometimes carry out parental instruction to the children that passed by his door after school. If anyone needed money or missed the bus, Skid would give them what the needed to safely see them home.


On one July 4th, during World War II, Abraham led a one man parade through town. People were home thinking about their sons and daughters fighting in the war not about celebrating the 4th of July. He marched through town, his nimble fingers making the drumsticks dance, with an American Flag stuck in his hat. Skid made sure Mattapoisett had its parade; the shortest but most sincere Mattapoisett has ever had.


Abraham was honored by Center School in a special ceremony for his friendship to the children of Mattapoisett and his cooperation in community affairs. They gave him a framed photo of himself standing in front of his barber shop and a trophy for his kindness and outstanding citizenship.



Kids got into all kinds of mischief on Halloween and Abraham wanted to keep the kids behaved and out of trouble. In October of 1949, Abraham, dressed in one of his fanciful costumes and carrying his snare drum, led a march from his shop on Church St. around the village. The children were “dressed as witches, ghosts and all the other usual characters.” Abraham led about 125 children and their parents on the very first Halloween Parade, a tradition that still carries on today.


In 1950, the parade had grown to about 300 children and followed the same route as the previous year with parents carrying red flares at the head and rear of the parade. At the lead of the parade was once again, Abraham Skidmore. After the parade a party was held for the children at the Congregation Church where they played games and had refreshments. The older children, presumably junior high and high school kids, had a party at Town Hall where they took part in square dancing and games. Twelve children received prizes in a costume judging contest.


His wife, Anna, died in 1951, leaving Abraham all alone. He put his time and energy into tending her garden and working in his shop.



Abraham drumming in a 4th of July parade.

Skid was still participating in the July 4th festivities at the age of 75, leading the parade with his drum. He could never turn down the needs of the town.


By 1954 the parade was considered a tradition and Skidmore once again led cowboys, Dutch girls, black cats, Mickey Mouse and many other costumed children through the streets on Halloween, but Skid was getting tired and older.


Later that fall, Skid became sick with pneumonia. While at work one day he went home ill and a friend called an ambulance. He was admitted to Tobey Hospital in Wareham and never recovered. Abraham Skidmore passed away at age 76 leaving behind a tradition that would continue to thrill children for generations to come.



It is reported that only six people attended Abraham's funeral. For all that he did for the town and its inhabitants that is a sad number for sure. He is buried with his wife, Anna, in Pine Island Cemetery.


If there were any questions about the fate of the Halloween parade they were answered quickly. In 1955 the parade was sponsored by the Mattapoisett Lions Club and was escorted by the auxiliary police. Taking over the drumming at the lead of the parade was Al Morgado, a friend of Abraham's, and also the barber that now worked out of Abraham’s old shop. Year after year the children would gather outside of the barber shop on Church St. and march through town following the drummer on Halloween night.



In 1971, Jodi Ennis would win a prize as a cup of hot chocolate in the annual costume contest. She would be pictured in the Presto Press standing next to an old radio costume which also won a prize. The child wearing the old radio costume was Mike Bauer. Years later, the two would marry and lead the parade right from the exact spot Abraham started it in 1949, in front of the barber shop that Jodi now runs.



In the fall of 2011, Richard Morgado, son of Albert Morgado gifted a two part glass barber pole to the Mattapoisett Museum. "My Father, cut hair for thirty years in the small shop on Church Street. This barber pole had belonged to Abraham Skidmore who cut hair in the shop before my dad. When my dad sold the shop to Jodi Bauer, he kept the pole. I am pleased now to give it to the museum for all to see."

Inside the Carriage House of the Mattapoisett Museum is Skid's Barber Shop sign. Photo by Frank C. Grace



Sources:


“Abraham Skidmore.” The Standard Times (New Bedford, Mass.), 1954 Dec 13.


D’Agata, Doug. “Abraham Skidmore, Mattapoisett’s Best Loved Barber.” Unpublished. Collections of the Mattapoisett Museum (0500.2.345).


DeCicco-Carey, Kyle. “History of the Mattapoisett Halloween Parade.” The Wanderer (Mattapoisett, Mass.), 2015 Oct 29, p. 3-6, 8-10, 12.


“Hallowe’en Paraders.” Presto Press (Mattapoisett, Mass.), 1971 Nov 3, p. 24-25.


“He Belongs to Mattapoisett.” The Standard Times (New Bedford, Mass.), 1953 June 28.


"Mattapoisett Historical Society Fifty-Third Annual Meeting 2011." The Crow's Nest (Mattapoisett, Mass.), p. 4.


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