Photo by Francois Deschamps
On a muggy day in New Windsor, I spot Anthony Mancinelli through the side window of Fantastic Cuts, where he’s cut hair every day since being hired nearly five years ago. As I enter the shop, Mancinelli — who had his own place, Anthony’s Barbershop, in Newburgh for 40 years — springs from his barber chair so sprightly it belies the fact that Warren Harding was President when he first started cutting hair.
That was when Mancinelli was 12 years old. Now 108 — and recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records — the seasoned barber still works full-time, cooks his own meals, and drives himself to the shop five days a week. The Italian immigrant is detailed and animated as he discusses his experience cutting hair through the decades.
You started cutting hair full-time in 1923. How has the business changed since then?
Haircuts were cheaper. You could get a haircut and a shave for a quarter. That’s where they got that saying “two bits.” We used hand clippers, they came out way back when I started.
Right now everybody wants short hair, no styles. In those days there were styles. Men had nice hair. Not long hair, but a full head of hair.
What pushed you to become a barber at 12 years old?
I started because I wanted to help out with the family. My father wasn’t making much, $25 a week. He was taking care of five children and my mother.
I’d deliver papers in the morning early, and then come home, have breakfast, go to school, deliver papers in the afternoon. Then I went into the barbershop to learn the barber business ’til 8 o’clock at night. So I was up 4 o’clock in the morning ’til 8. I’ve been at work ever since.
What are some negatives about being a barber for such a long time?
It’s not a healthy business, because you breathe in a lot of hair. And a lot of barbers died, they thought they had a heart attack, but instead they had infected lungs. I found out myself the hard way, because I went through it.
I got sick one day and I had an operation. After I got through it, they asked me what kind of work I did. I said, “I’m a barber,” and they said, “No wonder; you had a whole handful of hair come out of your system.” The doctor said, “Your lungs are okay, you’re clear, but you could have gotten an infection.”
’Course, you don’t breathe as much hair now, ’cause you have air conditioning. Before, we had fans that blew hair around.
96 Years of Barbering
Any memorable milestones?
There was a movie star, I cut his hair. Ben Gazzara, ever hear of him? He played in Road House years ago. I cut his hair in my old shop, he had nice hair.
We’ve had nice customers. I had three generations of people, I cut their hair. The father, his son, and then his son’s son.
I used to cut ladies’ hair, I don’t do it here. I told the boss, let the girls cut the ladies’ hair. I’m the only man here; I don’t want to take their business away to cut ladies’ hair.
How have your customers and their requests changed throughout the years?
I used to do cupping. People used to come in, they used to have pains. I would use these cups on their body and it would draw some of the pain out. People used to say they had high blood pressure, so I would get leeches back at my shop. So I would put leeches on them; people said they felt better after that. Right now, you can’t do all that. It’s a doctor’s job.
Do you have plans to retire soon?
I’m not thinking of retiring, because after all, my wife is gone. If she was here we probably would retire. Because you can go places and enjoy yourself. But where am I going all alone? So, I says, “Forget it, I’ll stay in the barber business.” At least I see people here, I talk to people, they talk to me, so on and so forth. It keeps you going.