An open house June 30 will commemorate Robert “Creamy” Underwood’s 50 years in the barbering profession.

His memory of barbering goes back even further to his childhood - to when his father, Claude Underwood, clipped hair and shaved customers during the day at the Continental Hotel and performed the same services several evenings a week and on Sunday in Unionville.

As a boy, his duties included firing up a coal stove setting in the middle of the Unionville barbershop and heating water before his father arrived for business.

Not only did he go on to become a barber, but so did both of his brothers - Rex and Sweet. His own son, Jeff, joined him as a barber in 1988.

When there weren’t faces to shave or hair to cut, said Underwood, his father and visitors would play cribbage or canasta - and of course gossip about the current goings-on in the small community.

He remembers when haircuts were 25 cents and neck trims were 15 cents.

Underwood says he has witnessed a complete circle in hair styles from the moderate hair length and butches of the 1950s to the shoulder-length hair of the 1970s - and now back to hair styles of when he began.

He admits that those long-hair years were lean ones for barbers.

Another barbering practice is making a comeback - the shave. Underwood said he did four last week (“I used to go a year without a shave”) with the traditional straight razor. When he started out with his father at the Continental Hotel in 1957, the traveling salesmen would always start the day with a shave, facial massage and shoe shine.

Underwood said he doubts the facial massages and shoeshines will make a similar comeback.

“I can’t remember the last time I did a face massage,” he says.

He also witnessed the loss of a monopoly for barbers when hair dressers were allowed to begin cutting men’s hair in the 1970s. He admits he was at first against the change, as were most barbers. When he began his profession, state law required six months of schooling and an 18-month apprenticeship.

Those more stringent certification requirements for a barber went back to the profession’s roots when they did more than shaves and hair cuts.

Ancient barbers were also the surgeons and dentists - performing surgery, blood-letting, leeching, enemas and extracting teeth.

Ambroise Pare (1510-1590), credited with being the father of modern surgery and the greatest surgeon of the Renaissance, started out as an itinerant barber-surgeon.

The barber’s pole that still graces many barbershop entrances reflects this history

According to, “The origin of the barber's pole appears to be associated with his service of bloodletting. The original pole has a brass basin at its top representing the vessel in which leeches were kept and also represented the basin which received the blood.

“The pole itself represented the staff which the patient held onto during the operation. The red and white stripes represented the bandages used during the procedure, red for the bandages stained with blood during the operation and white for the clean bandages.

“These colors are recognized as the true colors of the barber emblem. Red, white and blue are widely used in America due partly to the fact that the national flag has these colors.”

The Underwoods moved to the current location (formerly Sconzo’s) at 122 N. 13th St. in 1965. Robert had bought his father out in 1962, though Claude continued to cut hair with his son until three days before he died in 1970 .

Jim Irelan, former owner of Irelan’s Menswear, stopped in for his regular haircut during the interview. A longtime customer of Underwood and even longer for the shop itself - he related he had his first haircut at Sconzo’s in 1939.

Irelan added he remembers when there were 15 to 16 barbers around the square.

New and longtime customers can reminisce about those days during the open house on Saturday, June 30, from 1 to 4 p.m. Cake and punch will be served.

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