Ellen Swezey – World’s Longest Hair

Ellen Swezey

From the Long Island Forum, volume 16, no. 11, p. 217 (November, 1953):

World’s Longest Hair Lady

Little Brookhaven on the South Shore of Long Island has the unique honor of being the birthplace, and for many years the home, of Mrs. Ellen Swezey Petty, the longest hair lady of America. She was a next door neighbor to me in my youthful days, in the late 1880s. She was quite tall, and when standing her hair swept the floor.

Her hair was lustrous black, slightly coarse, and always immaculately groomed. It was fascinating to me to watch her “do” her hair in the morning if I happened to be over there on an errand for my mother. She used to brush as far as she could reach—then loop it over her arm—repeating the process till finished, then coil it around and around her head.

Her hats were small and of her own handiwork and looked cute atop those heavy coils. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Swezey, were slender and of ordinary height, but their only child “Mrs. Ellen” was tall, of fairly large frame, pleasingly plump, and with a face of finely chiseled and handsome features.

Mrs. Ellen exhibited one year with Barnum’s Circus, but only one year, as her husband objected. The Seven Sutherland Sisters who, according to Mrs. Ellen, were not sisters in fact, made several offers to her to join them on their tours of exhibiting their hair which was not nearly as long as hers, but she steadfastly refused.

Ellen’s first husband was Capt. John Petty who was lost at sea near Cape Hatteras. I have a faint memory of the tragedy happening near Christmas time. My father read the account of it in his daily paper, probably the New York Herald. He immediately went over to Ellen’s house. I think she had not yet been notified. I remember that on returning home he told my mother he “had not the heart to tell Ellen.”

The reason for the delay in her learning of her loss was probably due to the fact that there was no Telegraph System nearer than Patchogue, six miles distant. Incidentally, in those days I think the only such system on Long Island was the Franklin Telegraph Co. I have a telegram sent by my mother from Patchogue to Providence, R.I. to my father, Capt. Henry E. Hawkins, in 1874. The telegram has a picture of Benj. Franklin at the top, and in bold type “Opposition Line! Prices reduced”! I have often longed to know something of the history of these early companies. Here is something for your Dr. Wood to concentrate on, with his remarkable ability for research.

Ellen, much later, married Mr. John Bates of Providence, R.I., whose first wife had been Eloise Carman, a Brookhaven girl, daughter of Joseph Carman of the Carman River family.

I would like to learn the date of Ellen’s birth. It was probably around or before 1868, because in an old autograph album of mine is a verse written and signed by her, using her married name, and the date is 1888.

I also wish to know the date of her death, and the date of Capt. Petty’s drowning as well as his birthplace. Also her mother’s maiden name. Was it Hulse and from where. Perhaps some of your readers can give the answers to my questions, and add some other data.

Elizabeth Chase Hawkins

From the Long Island Forum, vol. 17, no. 3, p. 58 (March 1954):

Longest Haired Lady

I read with interest the article by Miss Elizabeth Hawkins concerning the world’s longest Haired lady, Mrs. Ellen Swezey Petty of Brookhaven. As Mrs. Petty was my grandfather’s cousin (his name was Wallace Swezey), I can add a little to the story.

Ellen’s mother’s maiden name was Hulse, and Ellen was born in 1853 and died in 1932. She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Bellport (LI). Her husband, Captain Petty, was drowned off Cape Hatteras on December 20, 1888.

Mrs. Harold W. Sylvester