SILVER SPRING, MD (December 2, 2011) -- On a day in late November, 1963, Vice President Lyndon B Johnson came into the Capitol's private Senate Barbershop, stepping into barber Elbert Link's empty chair for a haircut. Little did the two dream that in a few days, Johnson would ascend to the Presidency following John F. Kennedy's mortal wounding in Dallas.
The shop's porter had accidentally made an appointment for another Johnson, Elbert, who today lives at Riderwood retirement community in Silver Spring, MD, recalls. When the Vice President arrived, he found the chair of his regular barber, Dave Highley occupied, and, not wanting to wait, moved over to Elbert's chair.
That was the only time Elbert cut Johnson's hair, but during his 20 years in the Senate shop, he trimmed and shaved many other prominent officeholders. Elbert moved to Riderwood almost seven years ago. This kindly, bespectacled gentleman has dozens of mementoes of his barbering days that he shares regularly - along with a wealth of behind-the-scenes stories of his Capitol Hill barbering -- with his Riderwood neighbors.
They include a picture of some 100 shaving mugs given to Senators and Legislators who were clients through the years. Some particular treasured objects are signed photographs of the late Senator Strom Thurmond and his two young sons when the boys were getting their first haircuts. A letter later followed from their mother thanking Link for his amiable treatment of the two.
"They were very well behaved boys and didn't cry," he replied. "No trouble at all."
The late Senator Robert Byrd's hair he remembers as "very unruly," which sometimes caused him to go to the women's stylist in the Senate barber shop created especially for females who were gaining wins in the Congress.
Both Bobby and Teddy Kennedy occasionally came to him, Link recalls. Cutting Bobby's hair was difficult, the barber says, because he talked all the time. Also, he added, his hair grew up on his neck instead of down, which Link describes as "more usual."
President Richard Nixon donated a radio to the Senate barbershop. The radio turned out to be dysfunctional and could not be repaired at the Capitol's workshops. In an ironic twist, it was cast aside about the same time Nixon resigned from the Presidency during the Watergate scandal.
Link explained that there were two "private barbershops [in the Capitol building] - one for the Senate and one for the House of Representatives. Several others scattered throughout were available to the general public. At first, legislators were not charged. After the public protested, fees became the norm."
The barbershops were busy places, Link recalls, with senators and representatives grabbing newspapers and bringing along work papers to stay abreast of world activities when they entered. (There were no Blackberries or IPhones in those times.) Frequently, they were called to the floor to vote. Link remembers Senator Irving returning to complete his shave and haircut three times because of the interruptions.
Link started barbering in his hometown of South Boston, Va., with some instruction from a neighbor - Willis White. At that time, he remembers, a haircut cost about 35 cents. During World War II, he interrupted his trade to serve two tours of duty with the 23rd Army Engineering Corps - first in Alaska and then in India. He returned to the U.S.at the end of the war on a round-about sea route from India. While he was plying his barbering trade aboard, the ship went through some very rough waters, causing Link and the returning servicemen to slide dangerously from side to side. But the haircuts were completed with no injuries.
He settled in the Washington, D.C. , area with his family. He was married for 60 years, had three sons and was employed for many years at Jim Ellis's 20-chair shop downtown. He transferred to the Senate Barbershop when he was called upon to fill a vacancy. Looking back fondly on those heady days, he says, "They were always nice to me. I had a good time."