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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 12/4/15. Anthony Massotti, left, has his beard judged by Keith Buckner during the Winter Whiskers beard and mustache contest during the St. Elmo Market at the Incline on Friday, December 4, 2015. Massotti won the styled beard category.
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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 12/4/15. Martin Rice, left, and Eric Bruce converse after they won the natural and styled mustache categories during the Winter Whiskers beard and mustache contest at the St. Elmo Market at the Incline on Friday, December 4, 2015.

The origin of Martin Rice's mustache began when his heart was broken 42 years ago.

"You don't know this story," he said to his wife, Judy, who was standing next to him Friday night at St. Elmo's Christmas Market.

He was 35 when the woman he was dating left him. She was interested in another guy.

"She'll be back," he remembers telling himself. So he decided to grow a mustache until she came back. She never did, he liked the mustache and ended up keeping it, and then he met Judy when he was a Russian literature professor.

"And he looked like a professor of Russian literature," she said. "So I fell in love with it the first time I saw it."

Rice's bushy white 'stache was one of four facial hair styles to be crowned a winner at the St. Elmo Christmas Market's Wintery Whisker contest. Rice won the award for best natural mustache — it's called the Sam Elliott Award for the actor famed for his 'stache. The Chattanooga Curl (best styled mustache), Ballyhoo Beard, (best styled beard), and Man or Beast, (best natural beard), were the other three categories.

Each man won a certificate after being thoroughly vetted by a judge — Keith Buckner, better known as "Uncle Pappy," who had a thick gray beard halfway down his chest he started growing May 11, 2014. He was selling beard oils and balms at a booth in the market.

Buckner walked up to each competitor and examined the facial hair from all angles. He asked them a few questions, then moved onto the next man. He was looking to see how many stray hairs the men had. He doesn't like the unkempt or "homeless" look.

"I looked for ones that seemed to be taken care of," he said.

Anthony Massotti won the Ballyhoo Beard Award. His thick beard hung several inches below his chin and was so dark it looked dyed.

"Nope, this is all natural," he promised.

He started the growing process Christmas Eve of last year and thanks his good genes for his facial hair. Almost a year into its life, he plans to wait 24 months to see how long it can get. How does his wife of 11 years feel about it?

"I like it," said Lisa Massotti. "If it gets any longer than this, I may have to have him cut it, though."

She estimated he's been bearded 98 percent of the time the two have been married, and she prefers the bearded look. But when the two met, Anthony had no facial hair.

"I look like a 12-year-old clean shaven," he said.

"Well," Lisa added, "yeah, kinda."

Contact staff writer Evan Hoopfer at ehoopfer@timesfreepress.com or @EvanHoopfer on Twitter or 423-757-6731.

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