Hair meets history in Perry sideburns contest


Dave Baxter gives a thumbs-up after winning a sideburns contest in Erie, Pa. Commodore Perry would be proud. Or maybe just confused. (Erie Times-News photo by Jarid A. Barringer via AP)

The Navy’s ongoing celebration of the 200-year anniversary of the War of 1812 has included Fleet Week takeovers, one-of-a-kind ship tours, even a dedicated website with everything a history buff could possibly want.

The folks behind the Perry 200 Commemoration in Erie, Pa., have their own history-filled website, too, but they took a different approach to the ceremony part of things — namely, paying tribute a young commodore who holds a lofty place in naval history by reminding people of the glory that was early 1800s facial hair.

Dave Baxter, 56, of Lake City, took his own place in history Wednesday, named the winner of the Perry 200 Perry Burns contest, honoring Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, whose “Fleet in the Wilderness” won the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813.

(Naval History and Heritage Command photo)

The cruiser Lake Erie’s website has an excellent Cliff’s Notes version of the decisive American victory here — from “Don’t Give Up the Ship” to “We have met the enemy and they are ours,” it’s a defining moment in U.S. naval warfare by most any definition.

But it’s tough to overlook those sideburns, sported by a commodore who was 28 at the time of the battle (that’s him on the right). Perry 200 organizers put that to their advantage, drumming up interest with a facial-hair contest.

Baxter had grown a “playoff beard” to support his favorite hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, during their playoff run, according to a report. He shaved it to craft the winning look, defeating 18 other contestants — including, somehow, a Perry re-enactor — to earn $300 for his favorite charity.

Will the silliness help convince folks to learn more about Perry’s role in naval history? Well, here is a good place to start.


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