The origins of Beard Day are a mystery. Still, the belief is that Danish Vikings held celebrations to honor their beards as early as 800 BC. Here in Osceola County, Florida, beard contests were held in conjunction with the local rodeos. In the 1950s, Kissimmee downtown merchants were required to grow beards or else pay hefty fines – all done in the name of good fun and community spirit, of course. The beard contests continued for many years. The Kissimmee Jaycees even sold “shaving permits” for $1 during the weeks leading up to rodeo days. The money raised was used to purchase shoes for needy children in the county. Charles W. Bressler-Pettis may have been the first to grow a beard for the purpose of helping to promote a rodeo event in Kissimmee.
The Early Years
The son of Manuel and Nellie A. Bressler, Charles Wesley was born in Grant City, Missouri, on February 12, 1889. For reasons unknown, Charles was pushed by his family to become a doctor, even though he desired to be an artist. He graduated from Harvard Medical School and interned at a Boston, Massachusetts hospital. During World War I, Dr. Bressler served in the medical corps for the British army and later joined the United States Army medical corps. During the war, Charles visited a wealthy uncle living in Nice, France. He was asked to return after the war to serve as his uncle’s personal physician. Returning to Nice in 1920, he cared for the uncle for ten years. Upon the uncle’s death, Charles was left a substantial income for life. A 1922 passport application is the first document discovered showing Charles using the surname Bressler-Pettis (Pettis was his mother’s maiden name). The reason for the name change is unknown, but he used the name Charles W. Bressler-Pettis for the remainder of his life.
The Artist Emerges
When Charles returned to the United States, he married Laura Mead on January 1, 1927. They embarked on a four-year honeymoon, traveling over 78,000 miles by automobile throughout North America, Africa, and Europe. Upon their return, they resided in Wisconsin during the summer and Kissimmee for the winter months. During his travels, Charles had amassed a considerable collection of rocks and created a design for a monument using those rocks. He also solicited donations of rocks from the governors of all the states and officials in foreign countries. The Monument of States was dedicated in 1943 and remains a popular site to visit in Kissimmee today.
At this time, Charles joined the local Lions Club, becoming a delegate to conventions and traveling the United States in his famous gold Cadillac promoting not only Lions International but also Kissimmee and the All States Tourist Club, which he was President for eleven years.
Known for his bigger-than-life-size sculptures, many created for use as seasonal decorations in the median on Broadway, Charles was working on a giant seeing-eye dog to present to the President of Lions International on May 12, 1954, when the sculpture fell on him, dislocating his elbow. Sadly, Dr. Charles W. Bressler-Pettis suffered a fatal heart attack in the hospital later that day. A request was made by Mrs. Pettis, asking the City of Kissimmee to allow his ashes to be interred in the base of the Monument of States. The Kissimmee City Commissioners adopted a special ordinance allowing the internment. However, Mrs. Pettis changed her mind and chose to have them buried in his hometown of Grant City.
Written By Anza Bast
Sources: “Kissimmee Valley Gazette” March 1, 1940; “Kissimmee Gazette” May 12, 1954, May 28, 1954; “Orlando Sentinel” May 9, 1956, January 29, 1970’ Ancestry.com; City of Kissimmee Commission minutes May 14, 1954, May 18, 1954, May 21, 1954