Walt Whitman's Hair and other Whitmaniana Under the Hammer


The lock of Whitman's hair

A 70mm lock of Walt Whitman's hair comes up for sale at Bonhams on November 21, with an estimate of $4,000 - $6,000.

It comes with a contemporary autograph note in pencil from Thomas Donaldson describing its provenance, as well as a printed facsimile of a letter from Walt Whitman which was originally used to enclose the lock of hair dated March 27, 1892.

The note reads: 

Mr Whitman died 6.43 Satdy 26 March 1892/

This facsimilie of letter and lock of Mr. Walt Whitman's hair cut today given [to] me tonight in his house in Camden by Warry Fritzinger his nurse and Mrs Mary Davis' son.

Thos Donaldson, Sunday 9 pm March 27, 1892.

Fritzinger was Whitman's last nurse who, with her mother Mary Davis, looked after Whitman through his final illness and when he was on his deathbed at his house at 328 Mickle Street in New Jersey. Whitman's friend Donaldson was a pallbearer at the funeral and corresponded with Fritzinger and Davis during Whitman's last days, writing about this in his book, Walt Whitman the Man

According to Bonhams: "After Whitman's death, Warry and Mary gave to Donaldson this token of Whitman's feeling for him: a lock of hair housed in a printed facsimile of a Whitman poem. Donaldson himself noted the gift on the same day. The hair, the facsimile and Donaldson's documentation are all still present here, making the present lot a rare Whitman relic with first-hand and first-rate provenance."

The lock of hair features as part of The Pauline and Ozzy Fletcher Collection of Whitmaniana in the Fine Books and Manuscripts sale. Highlights include:

  • first, second, third and fourth editions of Leaves of Grass, plus an 1882 signed Author's Edition
  • a collection of 45 photographs and printed images of Whitman, including original photographs and prints
  • a Whitman signed check
  • an 1897 autograph letter from Whitman's publisher David McKay to a Reverend L. M. Powers on collecting Whitman

Osceola 'Ozzy' Fletcher (1922-2022) was a war hero who also served in the NYPD for 24 years. He developed a fascination with Walt Whitman and with his wife Pauline put together an impression collection of Whitman rarities.