Barber's display a public reminder of war's cost

Photo by Sarah Arkin

It's easy to walk right by the Gold Crown Barber Salon on the corner of Clark Street and Balmoral Avenue without taking much notice of the running death toll of Americans in Iraq on the window. Or the 44 soldier portraits or the combat medic's Christmas wish list.

But people do notice.

"We see numbers in the paper and forget that they're actual people," said Rex Mitchell, 40, a soft-spoken barber who has owned the salon for nine months. "It brings it closer to home when you see a set of eyes, or a smile," he said while trimming a client's hair.

Reports of suicide bombers, sniper attacks and unmet political benchmarks have inundated the media. It might be easy for the average American to consider the war in Iraq a remote quagmire with no effect on daily life.

This Andersonville resident is determined to remind passersby.

Mitchell lived down the street from an army base in Portland, Ore., before coming to Chicago. He knows soldiers who are serving in Iraq right now. He says that makes it more personal to him, but that that's not the reason he put the pictures up.

It's not a political message, he says.

"Whether you believe it's a just or unjust war, [the soldiers] are there for you," he said. "People are dying for our rights."

Mitchell pulls the pictures off the Internet. He has received a mixed reaction from the community.

The photograph of 23-year-old Army Sgt. Matthew Weber of Kalamazoo, Mich., who died in April 2006 from injuries received in an explosion five months earlier, brought the war closer for one Andersonville resident, who knew Weber's uncle.

The man told Mitchell that the uncle was coming to Chicago soon and he would bring him by the barber shop to see the display.

Mitchell is awaiting his visit.

In the nine months the pictures have been up, two people have come into the shop to complain that it brings down public morale, Mitchell says.

He says that's not his intention.

"It's public knowledge," he said, "and I'm going to put it on my window."