The Amazing Seven Sutherland Sisters and Their "Niagara of Curls"
All that money in the hands of a group of single women attracted adventurers. One of these was Fredrick Castlemaine, who was thought to be sweet on Dora, but who surprised everyone by marrying her older sister Isabella. He was 27, she was 40.Castlemaine was handsome and charming but had a few eccentricities of his own, like addictions to opium and morphine, and the unnerving hobby of shooting the spokes out of wagon wheels from his seat on the Sutherlands’ front porch. Impressive though his marksmanship may have been, local farmers were unhappy with this practice. He salved their indignation with handsome payments. In 1897, while accompanying the sisters on one of their tours, Castlemaine committed suicide.
Tragedies such as this and the earlier death of one of the sisters, Naomi, seemed to unhinge the remaining women. Naomi’s body lay in state at the mansion for a number of weeks while construction of a $30,000 mausoleum was planned. But the plans were eventually abandoned, and Naomi was buried in the family plot without so much as a headstone.
When Fredrick died, the sisters brought his body home and it, too, lay in state in the music room for several weeks, unembalmed, in a glass-domed casket. The sisters would visit the remains and sing Fredrick’s favorite songs. Finally, the local health department intervened, and forced the reluctant sisters to move the body to a $10,000 granite mausoleum. Even then, Isabella would walk the three miles to the cemetery every night, carrying a lantern, to commune with her lost husband. This went on for two years, until she met and married Alonzo Swain; she was 46, he was 30.
Swain persuaded Isabella to sell her shares in the family corporation and join him in an ill-fated attempt to sell a competing hair restorer, whose formula called for nine quarts of English rum and two quarts of alcohol. The venture failed, Isabella died a pauper, and Alonzo disappeared.
Her sister’s experiences with Castlemaine and Swain did not prevent Victoria Sutherland from marrying a 19-year-old man when she was 50. This caused a rift within the family and the other sisters, who never married, refused to visit Victoria until she was on her deathbed.
The remaining women were dogged by other forms of misfortune. Mary had periods of insanity, and was often kept locked in her room. The popularity of shorter hairstyles for women ended the success of the hair grower, and the fortune it had made for the sisters withered away. In 1926, the three surviving sisters went to Hollywood to help a studio make a movie about their lives, but the project was scrapped, and Dora was killed in an auto accident there. She was cremated in Hollywood, but Mary and Grace had no money to pay for the services, so (at the date of this article) Dora’s ashes are still in Hollywood, awaiting claimants.
The last two sisters returned to their decaying mansion. and lived in the same poverty that had scarred the beginning of their lives. Eventually even the house was sold. A few years after the death of the final surviving sister, the mansion burned to the ground, leaving only Castlemaine’s grandiose mausoleum and, perhaps, a few dusty bottles of the Sutherland Sisters’ Hair Grower in attics and cellars to tell their story.