Just weeks after finally calling it a career after 96 years of cutting hair, Anythony Mancinelli passed away in his Newburgh, New York, home on September 19, 2019. May he rest in peace.
It’s been said that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
If that’s so, Anthony Mancinelli, born on March 2, 1911, and recognized as the world’s oldest barber by the Guinness Book of World Records, has been not-working for more than 95 years.
That’s right, Mancinelli has been barbering since 1923, when he was just 12 years old. Calvin Coolidge was president, and barbers still offered such services as bloodletting (with leeches), wart removal and cupping. There’s no longer a demand for those services, but Mancinelli still has the tools he used back in the day and he is happy to show them to the curious.
“I used to have a bottle of leeches on my counter, and I would put them on people’s skin to drain blood,” Mancinelli told The New York Times in 2010. “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.”
Mancinelli was born in 1911 near Naples, Italy, and eight years later sailed to the United States with his family, arriving in New York on September 11, 1919. Because an aunt lived there, the Mancinellis settled in Newburgh, New York, just eight miles from New Windsor, where Anthony currently resides.
“This country gave me an opportunity to do everything in life,” said Mancinelli. “It’s up to the [individual] to take up something, to do something to make things better for themselves as well as the country. This country gave me all the opportunities in the world to do it.”
So how did he get into barbering at such a young age?
With his father, a felt worker, supporting a wife, seven sons and a daughter on just $25 a week, young Mancinelli announced that he was going to go out and get a job.
“My father said, ‘What kind of a job are you going to get?’,” said Mancinelli. “‘Well, I’m going to deliver morning papers, then I’ll deliver afternoon papers, then after that, I’ll see if I can get a job to learn the barber business.’
“I went to the one of the barbershops here, and I asked ‘[the owner] if he would teach me the barber business. He said yes, so I stood with him and I learned the barber business… His name was Joseph Turi.
“I don’t know why I chose the barber business, but I thought it was a good profession, so I said, ‘I’ll try it out and see how I like it.'”
In those days, Mancinelli arose at 4 a.m. to deliver the morning paper and then came home for breakfast before heading off to school. After school, he delivered the afternoon paper, after which he would spend a few hours at the barber shop. Finally, at 8 p.m., he would head home, where his mother had an evening meal waiting for him, after which, he said, “I would go right to bed!”
That’s a pretty grueling schedule for anyone, but considering Mancinelli was 12 years old at the time, it’s especially impressive.
Having served an apprenticeship and learned his trade, Mancinelli opened his own shop in 1930; he was just 19 years old.
“I had two chairs,” Mancinelli said, “and one barber working both of them.” The name of the establishment? Anthony’s Barbershop.
Five years later, Mancinelli wed Carmella Vetrano, a local girl; the two were happily married for 69 years until she passed away in 2004.
In more than nine decades of barbering, Mancinelli recalls just one celebrity patronizing his shop: actor Ben Gazzara. “He saw one of my customers, a friend of his,” said Mancinelli. “He liked his haircut, and he asked him where he got it. So [the friend] brought him to me from New York, he brought him to Newburgh. I cut his hair; he loved the haircut and he said, ‘I’ll be back.’
“But in the meantime, he got called to make a movie. After he got back, he got sick and passed away, and I didn’t see him again.”
Asked how hair styles have changed over the years, Mancinelli offered an amusing recollection about a unisex trend that was once all the rage. “[The children] used to have Buster Brown shoes, remember? And they all used to come in here and they wanted a Buster Brown haircut. Whether it was girls or boys, they all got the same.”
Mancinelli attributes his longevity, both personal and professional, to doing what he loves.
“I liked what I was doing and the people I met,” Mancinelli said, “They were all nice customers. And that’s why I stayed in the business. And I’m going to stay in it until…the Good Lord calls me.
“I have some [customers] who I cut their hair, I cut their children’s hair and their father’s hair. Three generations, I’ve cut their hair.”
How does Mancinelli explain his long life? “Everybody asks me; even the doctor asks me. He thinks I’ve got a secret. I said, ‘If I had a secret, I’d have given it to my brothers.’ They all died young. My father was only 80 years old; my mother was only 70.”
Macincelli honors his parents and his beloved Carmella on a daily basis. “Before I go to work, I go to the cemetery every day,” he said. “That’s my first stop before I get to work, and I feel better.”
He takes no daily medication, has never needed glasses and still drives to work each morning, but a fitness fanatic Mancinelli is not.
“I do normal exercise, not much,” he said. “People go jogging here and there; I don’t do that. Never did. Just regular exercises, and that’s it.
“I told [the doctor], ‘Only one man knows the secret.’ He says, ‘Who’s that?’ I said, ‘The Man above.’ The Man above, he’s given me the secret. I don’t know why I got the secret and not all my brothers. He chose me; I don’t know why. I tried never to do anything wrong, so maybe the Man above is rewarding me with long life. I don’t know why, but that’s it. So I take it from there.”
Mancinelli, who still cuts his own hair, sees no reason to slow down. “I don’t have any plans to retire,” he said, “unless something happens to me. But otherwise, I’m still at it. I feel good; I have no complaints. My health is good; I don’t go to the doctor….Everything is fine.”
For more inspiring stories, subscribe to Guideposts magazine.