When Too Much Hair Is Lethal

Among the epitaphs displayed on the side of St. Stephan’s Church in the town of Braunau am Inn on the Austrian-German border, there’s a large stone relief of a man with an unusually long beard, stretching down past his feet. At first glance it might seem a bit outlandish, but it’s a fitting monument to an important man who was killed by his own facial hair. Hans Steininger, a 16th-century town mayor sported a beard that's said to have been over 4½ feet long. On September 28, 1567, there was a large fire in the town that caused a panic. Steininger usually kept his beard rolled up and stuffed in a pocket, but during the commotion he was running with it hanging free. In the midst of the chaos, he stepped on his own beard, sending him tumbling down a flight of stairs and breaking his neck. After his death, Steininger was honored with the epitaph, and lest the years of work it must have taken for him to grow his beard be lost, the long length of facial hair was cut off and preserved separately, becoming an important town heirloom.