When I took ill as a child, my father administered his remedy of choice for everything - whisky water. He'd bring me or my sister a small glass and as we drank it, he'd recite this little verse..."cures coughs and colds and sore assholes, spots on the belly and spinal decay." Family lore has it that the jingle was created by a "black sheep" relative who was tarred and feathered and run out of Saskatoon on a rail because of his antics selling this medicine. I never heard the name of the relative or the elixir - only the jingle.
The thing was - we all knew this ditty and would recite it whenever anyone took medicine. It was a family tradition and sort of cathartic. It was our version of "tsk tsk...everything will turn out alright." Out of the mouths of babes, it didn't go over very well and I know I was summarily dismissed from a few of my small friend's homes for the recitation.
In honor of that relative, whoever he was, I looked for patent medicines ads or labels to offer for the prompt this week which features Walpole's Preparation. The fine, fine print on the packages is hilarious and the claims made range from silly to preposterous. No wonder we had to create a Food and Drug Administration.
My favorite product, of all I tracked down, is the Ambition Pill. As the package states it cured impotency, sleeplessness, enlarged veins, nervous debility - which includes troublesome dreams, evil forebodings, losses, despondency and aversion to society caused by overwork or other excesses. $1.00 per box. Look at the transformation of the chap on the label! So much promise.
Along the same theme, that is medicine at the opening of the twentieth century, we're watching the Cinemax production of the "The Knick" - a series about the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York, about 1900. In it, the star surgeon played by Clive Owen is approached by a drug company to lend his name to one of these elixers and become "rich beyond belief." Clive throws him out on his ear.
|Syphillitic woman with false nose. From "The Knick" - Cinemax|
|The Knick - operating theatre|
|Real operating theatre circa 1900 from the Bonner Collection|
Bonnores Electro Magnetic Bathing Fluid took my choice for second place in the bizarro contest. It must have been exceptionally popular because not only did it cure mercurial eruptions (not temper tantrums, but lesions caused by handling mercury)* but also necrosis, hip disease and paralysis. My own family could have used such a magic potion to cure my paternal grandfather who had a gangrenous leg in 1901.
My father was only two that year when his father William died after having the leg removed by the local "saw bones" in their Lake Clear, Ontario farmhouse kitchen. Nobody in the family seemed to know how his leg became gangrenous, but it did - and amputation was his only chance for survival. The operation was not a success. That failure made a mark on the collective psyche of the family leaving them with a lingering suspicion of doctors. I can recall my aunts refusing to seek medical help until they were literally on the brink of death. Here's my grandfather William, grandmother Lucy and some of their brood. Ultimately, there were nine children - three more, including my father, arrived between the date of this photo and William's untimely demise. My grandmother was left to fend for herself on the farm...but that's another story.
Last and most gross of the patents I googled is Grove's Tasteless Chill Tonic which makes a claim that seems hilarious in view of the nation-wide epidemic of childhood obesity in our country. The tonic was a suspension of quinine in liquid, flavored with lemon and sugar to mask the intense bitterness. It was originally a malaria treatment - somehow it morphed into a weight gain tonic.
Tasteless is right!
*If a thermometer broke in our house, we'd play with the mercury, pushing it around and poking at it. Between the mercury games, sticking our feet in the shoe department x-ray machines and playing around in the DDT fog, as the mosquito sprayers went up and down our streets, it's a wonder any of my generation is alive at all! But then, my mother made us drink the dreaded teaspoon of Cod Liver oil every day and also a generous gulp of Watkin's Beef, Iron and Wine tonic. Too bad she didn't give us the Ambition Pills. Who knows where we might have ended up?