World’s oldest barber
VAILS GATE, N.Y. — For something like the 300th time, Mike Jaffe settled into Anthony Mancinelli’s chair on a recent Saturday for another haircut and another conversation.
The two men talked about some of the usual things, the weather, happenings around town, while Mr. Jaffe got his usual — a little off the back and a neat trim of his sideburns.
It was the kind of easy banter between any barber and longtime customer. And Mr. Mancinelli has certainly had many such customers.
He started cutting hair when Calvin Coolidge was in the White House. He was 12.
The people at the Guinness Book of World Records who concern themselves with such things have proclaimed Mr. Mancinelli, who turns 99 on March 2, the world’s oldest barber.
“When I started, a haircut and shave cost you two bits — a quarter,” Mr. Mancinelli told Mr. Jaffe, who has been a customer for 25 years. “A while later, it was 25 cents for a haircut and 15 cents extra for a shave.”
Now, a haircut from Mr. Mancinelli costs $12 and, his repeat customers say, his fingers are just as nimble.
“He’s the fastest barber I know, and he still cuts very straight,” said Mr. Jaffe, 60, whose 4-year-old-grandson, Anthony Colonna, also was getting a haircut from Mr. Mancinelli. “To many of us who have been coming here for a long time, he’s like family. I hope he’s still my barber when he’s 125.”
Another longtime customer, Peter LeRose, 60, of Newburgh, N.Y., who was waiting for a haircut along with his 90-year-old father, Peter, paid Mr. Mancinelli and his surgeon-steady hands an even bigger compliment. “He might be pushing 100,” Mr. LeRose said, “but he still gives the best shaves around.”
Watching as Mr. Mancinelli worked his side of the barbershop, Antonio Mugnano, the owner, said with a soft smile: “On a busy day like today, Anthony will take care of 25 to 30 customers. He’s nonstop, has a lot to say and always has a smile on his face, which is why people here love him.”
Mr. Mancinelli, a razor-thin man with a full head of white hair who once owned his own shop on Liberty Street in nearby Newburgh, is now stationed at Antonio & Pasquale Barber Shop, where an old fashioned pole with red, white and blue swirling stripes is mounted outside the front door, and a dizzying array of Italian accents swirls inside.
“My father was only making $25 a week working in a felt mill and he had seven kids to feed, so we really needed the extra money,” said Mr. Mancinelli, who grew up in Newburgh and still lives there. “At that time, learning to become a barber was just a way to make four or five extra bucks a week.”
But Mr. Mancinelli took a liking to the craft — “I enjoy talking to people, it’s the best part of the job,” he said — and for nearly nine decades has been holding forth on topics both mundane and momentous, including the Great Depression, World War II, the Beatles and 27 Yankee championships.
“He’s like a walking history book,” Mr. Mugnano said.
After dusting off Mr. Jaffe’s neck with a brush full of talcum powder, Mr. Mancinelli seated another man, and in a voice just loud enough to be heard over a Filippo Valli song playing on the radio, began telling him how old-school barbers like himself “were once like doctors.”
“I used to have a bottle of leeches on my counter, and I would put them on people’s skin to drain blood,” he said, not noticing that half a dozen men waiting for him and three other barbers were hanging on his every word. “In those days, while giving a haircut, I would put a leech over a black eye to bring down the swelling, or on the arm of someone who had high blood pressure because the thinking was their pressure might drop.”
Joe Annunziata, one of the four barbers at the shop, called Mr. Mancinelli “my inspiration.”
“Look at the shape the man is in. I mean, he’s never worn eyeglasses,” said Mr. Annunziata, 69. “He even cuts his own hair — now that’s talent.”
Mr. Mancinelli, a widower, works at the shop two or three days a week. “I would work every day if they let me,” he said, “but we have a full staff of barbers here.” He attributed his staying power to “eating well and never drinking or smoking.”
Mr. Mancinelli walked to the back of the shop and returned with a copy of Guinness World Records 2009.
“Look here,” he said proudly, pointing to a page in the book that he shared with other record setters: John Simplot, who was the world’s oldest billionaire until he died in 2008 at age 99 at an estimated worth of $3.2 billion; Jeanne Louise Calment, who was 122 and the oldest living actress when she died in 1997; and Bill Wallace, who killed a man in December 1925 and became the oldest living prisoner after serving 63 years in an Australian psychiatric hospital before dying there at the age of 107.
Later in the day, Mr. Mancinelli gave a lollipop to Anthony, Mr. Jaffe’s grandson, patted his head and wheeled around to find the next customer in his chair.