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A “doctor” presenting his miracle cure at a medicine show.

The men stood on platforms so they were a few feet off the ground. That way, the crowds could see them and, more importantly, they could see the displays behind the men at the corner of Baltimore and Liberty streets in front of the Second National Bank in Cumberland. The men called out to the crowds. They cracked jokes, made sales pitches and overstated promises as they tried to sell homemade medicines.

 

On March 30, 1878, The Alleganian reported on the appearance of two worm medicine men who had “eloquence, stale jokes and slang phrases that have emanated from the street orators and wayside druggists. With stentorian lungs of wonderful endurance, they have shouted aloud, all the symptoms that indicate the presence of tape and all other kinds of worms that have ever afflicted humanity.”

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One of the products sold at a medicine show.

 

The men were convincing in their pitches because a majority of the crowds that gathered around them seemed willing to buy a bottle of the medicine. Part of their effectiveness was that the medicine men mastered the fear factor and convinced listeners that “every mother’s son of them had from a quart to a half bushel of the parasites feeding upon his ‘inward,’ and others were satisfied that they had tape worms varying in length from thirty feet to thirteen miles.”

Sickness was something that most people dealt with on their own at this time in Cumberland’s history. The area had only eight doctors at this time to treat more than 11,000 people in the city, not counting anyone outside of the city limits. This created a ripe field for medicine men who promised easy answers to health problems.

As the years progressed, the shows became more refined and elaborate. By the 20th Century, the shows would set up tents on vacant lots in town and advertise their shows in the newspapers. The crowds would come to see the shows.

“Most of these medicine shows had Black musicians and entertainers, but the show would be directed by white owners,” Herman Miller wrote in Cumberland, Maryland, through the Eyes of Herman Miller.

Once the crowd had gathered, the medicines were sold before the entertainment began.

Miller described a snake oil medicine show, which he calls, “One of the most colorful of all sellers of cure-alls.”

A group came to town and rented a room in the building in that existed before the Fort Cumberland Hotel. The showmen keep rattlesnakes in a box that they would take out and drape over their necks and arms. The snakes were defanged, though not everyone realized this.

“The salesmen would then go to work telling all the benefits of rattlesnake oil. They were told the oil would cure everything from toothache to the common cold, bruises, sprains, skin diseases and other ailments,” Miller wrote.

The cost for this miracle cure? A dollar a bottle.

Medicine shows died off as medicines became more regulated and getting healthcare from a doctor became easier.

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Dedication of the first Job Corps Training Center on Catoctin Mountain. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Catoctin Mountain in Frederick County, Md., can boast a lot of interesting history from Camp David to the Blue Blazes Still raid. From an OSS training camp during World War II to Camp Misty for children.

 

“Also on the Government side is the ‘mother’ camp of President Johnson’s Poverty Program,” the Frederick Post reported in 1965.

President Johnson had been the Texas director of the National Youth Administration. It was a New Deal program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt similar in objective to the Job Corps. Johnson convinced Congress it could work again, according to Barbara Kirkconnell in Catoctin Mountain Park, An Administrative History.

The camp, called Camp Round Meadow, opened in January 1965 and served as the place to train people who would be sent out across the country to depressed areas to open and operate other similar camps.

At the camp, 75 people were hired and trained on how to run a poverty training camp. “While these people are being instructed, some 20 persons accepted as trainees by the new program, will be working in the area.

Consideration of using the park for such a site began in May 1964. Federal government officials visited the park and inspected possible sites for the camp. Within a month, the government began converting the 60-acre Central Garage Unit Area in the country’s first Job Corps Center, according to Kirkconnell.

Besides building the camp, officials met with residents of Thurmont, Hagerstown, and other communities where the camp attendees might spend their off hours. They wanted to make sure that there would be a good relationship between the camp and towns.

“Thurmont merchants were wooed by an expected $200,000 in revenue from supplies, equipment and food sold to the camp for the program,” Kirkconnell wrote.

Camp officials spoke at civic meetings and invited officials and organizations out to tour the camp.

“On January 15, 1965, 85 young men between the ages of 16 and 21 arrived at Catoctin MP to inaugurate the job Corps Program at a site “largely unimproved” since the CCC left in 1941,” Kirkconnell wrote.

The Jobs Corps Center was dedicated on February 27.

The center got off to a rocky start with staffing problems and too many visiting dignitaries not only from the federal government but also foreign governments, such as Japan, Canada, British Guinea, England, Israel, the Philippines and the Ivory Coast.

“Continual recruitment brought a total of 157 recruits into the program but 57 left before the end of June.  The bleak winter contributed to homesickness; stark conditions of the camp without indoor recreation facilities and high expectations added to the general ‘depressive atmosphere,” Kirkconnell wrote.

Camp Director C. A. Maxey blamed the high drop-out rate on the recruits who had “temperamental and emotional problems in boys who had known little but failure,” according to a Baltimore Sun article.

The boys had been recruited from families earning less than $3,000 a year (around $23,000 today) and had an average of a 9th grade education. At the camp, they earned $32 a month plus $50, which was put in a bank account for them. “If they made a family allotment of $25 from the $50, the government matched it with another $25,” Kirkconnell wrote.

The program included a half day of work and a half day of education in the winter. The work time increased and the education time decreased as the weather warmed up. The work consisted of park projects, such as building trails, picnic tables, and needed buildings. They also did work improving the Gettysburg Battlefield.

As they mastered basic skills, they were given more-complex work.

“A sign construction program teaching printing, mechanical drawing, hand routing, measurement skills, painting, and organizational skills produced 225 signs for Catoctin, Greenbelt, Cunningham Falls State Park and Antietam Parks in Fiscal Year 1965-1966,” Kirkconnell wrote.

They also performed work in the surrounding community such as building a ball field and picnic pavilion for Thurmont parks.

By 1966, things were running far more smoothly. By the end of 18 months of operation, 439 men had been recruited to the camp. And 102 had transferred out, 165 had resigned, 24 graduated, 16 went back to school or jobs, leaving 111 Corpsmen in camp at the end of June 1966, according to Kirkconnell.

By that time, it became an election year issue. Congress criticized the program and cut funding. Discipline was a problem and so were community relations.

The Job Corps Center finally closed in May 1969.

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At first, parents thought their children had been playing too hard. They developed fevers and some of them got headaches. They symptoms would pass, though, but then a few days later, the children would being to get stiff necks or backs. Some would experience constipation. If they were lucky, that is all that would happen.

Unfortunately, not all the children were lucky. Some of them would be playing and fall over unable to use their legs or arms. Others would wake up in the morning unable to move. A few even died unable to breathe.

The disease was called infant paralysis in 1918, though it is now better known as polio. The epidemic in Franklin County, PA, began in Waynesboro, PA, in June 1918 and continued through the fall. Forty-six cases were reported in the county with six children dying because of the disease. Chambersburg had 15 of those case and two deaths.

Though polio has been around for centuries, major epidemics weren’t seen until the early 20th Century when they began to appear in Europe and the United States.

Polio damages the nerve cells, which affects a person’s muscle control. Without nerve stimulation, the muscles weaken and atrophy. This can lead to paralysis and if the muscles that help the body breathe are affected, the paralysis can cause death because a patient is unable to breathe.

Two years prior to the Franklin County epidemic, there had been more than 27,000 cases of polio in the United States resulting in more than 6,000 deaths.

The first line of defense in fighting polio was to quarantine homes where there were outbreaks of polio and the families had to place placards in their windows as a notice of the quarantine.

Sometimes it would go further. An infant girl of the H. H. Harrison family in Guilford Township was stricken with polio in September 1918. Though she was not in serious condition, “She has eight brothers and sisters all at home and all attending school in Guilford. The school will be ordered closed today by Health Officer Kinter. The home will be will be quarantined today,” the Chambersburg Public Opinion reported.

Sanitary and hygiene campaigns were undertaken to encourage people to drink and bathe in clean water. Better hygiene meant that not only was it less likely a child, or even an adult would develop polio, but also more likely that the symptoms would be mild. However, this also meant that it was more likely that older children would develop polio and it would be the harsher, paralyzing form.

Little more could be done because doctors of the time were uncertain just what polio was and it was decades before a vaccine would be developed.

A 1916 article in the New York Times outlined the problem that doctors faced, noting “fighting infantile paralysis consists largely in doing everything that seems effective in the hope that some of the measures taken will be effective.”

Tony Gould wrote in A Summer Plague: Polio and Its Survivors about some of the treatments used at the time to unsuccessfully cure polio. Doctors would “Give oxygen through the lower extremities, by positive electricity. Frequent baths using almond meal, or oxidising the water. Applications of poultices of Roman chamomile, slippery elm, arnica, mustard, cantharis, amygdalae dulcis oil, and of special merit, spikenard oil and Xanthoxolinum. Internally use caffeine, Fl. Kola, dry muriate of quinine, elixir of cinchone, radium water, chloride of gold, liquor calcis and wine of pepsin.”

Unfortunately for Franklin County, residents had just begun to breathe a sigh of relief from the infantile paralysis epidemic to deal with an even greater threat called the Spanish Flu.

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This week only you can get two award-winning true stories about love gone wrong from James Rada, Jr. The Kindle version of A Love Returned is free this week!

CoverTrue love can take tragic turns

Here are two award-winning true stories from James Rada, Jr. This short work shows that history can be just as interesting, and sometimes, stranger than fiction.

A Love Returned (Associated Press 2003 Best Feature Story)

Steve Shaw finds a 30-year-old girl’s class ring at a Boy Scout Camp in 2003. He sets out to discover the owner and return the ring. He hunts down clues and slowly uncovers a decades-old love story that takes some surprising turns before its surprising conclusion. Steve also finds out that some loves never die.

The Death of Young Lovers (Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association 2015 Best Local Column)

Charles Twigg and Mary Grace Elosser were to be married on January 1, 1911. However, while sitting alone in a closed room on New Year’s Eve with Grace’s mother just in the next room, the couple was somehow killed. Just how they were killed and by whom remained a mystery for weeks as investigators sought information and witnesses. The case generated national headlines until the answers finally came from a cat and a rabbit.

Both of these stories were among the most popular articles I have written. I got dozens of calls about both of them.

“The Death of Young Lovers”, in particular, had a lot of excited readers. It ran in two parts, but apparently a lot of people missed the note at the end of the first part telling readers that the second part would tell what actually happened to the dead lovers. I got calls and e-mails from people asking me to tell them what had happened, or chastising me for leaving them hanging.

I hope you enjoy the stories as much as I did. They both hold a special place in my heart. If you do download a copy, please leave a review on Amazon. It will help me with my future marketing efforts.

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A young boy has his first experience using ration cards. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

During 1942, the people of Cumberland were worried about things. The Nazis were on the move and their sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers were being drafted. However, as summer turned to fall, a new worry entered their daily conversations.

 

Coffee was going to be rationed.

“Judging from the talk we have heard for several weeks past, there are those in this community – and the same is likely true elsewhere – who consider coffee, rather than bread, the real staff of life and have been in mortal terror lest this so-called necessity would be completely taken from them,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

Coffee wasn’t the only thing or even the first thing to be rationed in order to make sure American servicemen didn’t have to go without, but it seemed to be the one raising the most concern.

Rationing began with tires in January 1942 because the Japanese had interrupted the supply of rubber used in making them. Gasoline soon followed. By the summer, plans were in the works to ration food items. By the following year, coffee, sugar, meat, cheese, butter, lard, margarine, canned foods, dried fruits, jam, gasoline, bicycles, fuel oil, clothing, silk or nylon stockings and shoes had also been added to the list of rationed items.

Early in November 1942, the Cumberland War Price and Rationing Board, a volunteer three-person board, announced that coffee would begin being rationed on November 26. To prepare for it, not coffee would be sold during the week prior to the rationing.

This quickly led to hoarding, particularly when it was announced that the allotment would be one pound of coffee every five weeks for everyone over 15 year old. The board stressed that overall this should only represent a small reduction in a coffee drinker’s usual intake.

“In virtually every large family there is somebody who does not drink coffee at all or who drinks it sparingly. These persons, provided they are more than 15 years old, will, of course, be entitled to a ration book and there is no reason why their share of the coffee shall not go to other members of the family,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

It was estimated that a pound of coffee could be used to make 50 cups. Some estimates were even higher, but the more coffee each pound made, the weaker the coffee. For a stronger cup of coffee, newspaper articles recommended coffee essence, which had no coffee in it. When mixed into a cup of coffee, it made it stronger.

The Rationing Board also tried to discourage hoarding by writing that a count of coffee on hand would need to be taken before anyone was issued a war ration coupon book and for each pound over the first pound, a coffee ration coupon would be removed from the book.

Each person in the country was issued a war ration coupon book with a set of coupon stamps in them. The OPA then set what each coupon could be used to purchase, how much of the product could be purchased with it, and when the coupon was valid.

 

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A WWII  ration book.

Cumberlanders adjusted to drinking little or no coffee. It was the least they could do for the war effort.

 

Then at the end of July 1943, the Cumberland Evening Times announced that due to ships being built with more cargo space and the success of Allied forces against German U-boats, coffee rationing would be lifted. When President Franklin Roosevelt made the announcement, he also hinted that the war ration of sugar would soon be increased. That was certainly good news to people who liked their coffee sweet.

Almost as soon as people started celebrating that their coffee was back, rumors started around town that coffee would soon be rationed once again. Some people started hoarding their roasted coffee.

The Cumberland Evening Times ran a story saying, “While it is true that the forthcoming Ration Book No. 4 contains coffee stamps, these will be removed before the book is issued, or else made applicable to some other commodity.”

The lifting of coffee rationing could be considered an early victory in WWII. It showed progress was being made in the war and it lifted people’s spirits. All rationing was finally ended in 1946.

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charlatan-9781400136070-lgI wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when I bought Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam, but the topic caught my attention. I have to say that I loved it. It was a narrative type of non-fiction that I like to read and Pope Brock can tell an intriguing story.

Of course, he also found a great subject to write about, which is half of the battle.

In the early 20th century, confidence man John Brinkley came up with his ultimate money-making scheme. He would use surgery and goat testicles to restore male virility. It makes most men cringe nowadays, but think about some of the odd things we still do to maintain our youth that involved surgery.

Brinkley also developed a sideline of selling potions and pills that turned out not to contain what they claimed to contain. This sort of thing was going on before Brinkley with snake oil salesmen and still continues today.

I found myself reading the book and thinking how could people fall for this, but then I thought about the modern equivalents and wondered how many times I’ve been taken in without knowing it.

Brinkley made a fortune off his quack theories and inspired a lot of copycat “doctors.” He also left behind dozens of dead and maimed people, all the while claiming success.

So, if Brinkley was the antagonist, the protagonist would be Morris Fishbein, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not sure about other readers, but I just didn’t like Fishbein. I actually found myself hoping that he would fail in his efforts to destroy Brinkley. On the other hand, I found myself cheering for Brinkley at times because he wouldn’t be stopped. He kept reinventing himself to work around the restrictions that were thrown at him. I admired that even though I hated what he was doing.

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“Dr.” John Brinkley looking like a medical professional.

 

I’ve seen a few movies and read some books lately where I didn’t like either the protagonist or antagonist. Who do you root for then?

Besides his gross medical malpractice, Brinkley also had an impact on politics, radio, and country music.

One reason why Brinkley was successful with his scams was because he was a master marketer. His initial marketing efforts dealt with newspaper advertising and direct mail. He recognized the marketing potential of the new media of the day, radio, and made the most of it.

When the government started to crack down on how the airwaves were used, Brinkley moved south of the border and opened a radio station in Mexico that eventually broadcast more than a million watts. Not only was this more powerful than his Oklahoma radio station had been, it was more powerful than all of the U.S. radio stations combined.

Besides pitches for his products and surgeries, Brinkley also presented entertainment. Many of the performers he chose went on to become pioneers in country music.

When Fishbein started to have an impact on Brinkley’s goat gland empire, he used his radio popularity to move into politics and very nearly became elected governor of Oklahoma as a third-party candidate.

I found Charlatan to be a fascinating story. I kept guessing at what Brinkley would do next to outwit Fishbein and his other detractors.

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92a5f9aaef69885e223940203475c214The 25th Annual Academy Awards gave Americans the opportunity to sit in their living rooms and feel like they were mingling with the stars.

“Tonight’s the night movies and television get married, with the rites taking place at the 25th annual academy awards,” the Oakland Tribune announced on March 19, 1953.

Up to that point, most people never saw they award ceremony. They read about it in the newspaper or heard clips on the radio or saw clips when they went to the movie theater.

How It Happened

NBC offered the Motion Picture Academy $100,000 for the broadcast rights, and the academy accepted it. Six cameras were set up in the theater to capture the New York ceremony from all angles.

Bob Hope hosted the 1 ½ hour ceremony that was broadcast in the U.S. and Canada. The show had the largest audience in commercial television history at the time.

“Television sets were scattered all over the theatre, and a huge television screen at the back of the state dwarfed the performers.

“Even Bob Hope, the master of ceremonies, couldn’t compete with the commercials that the audience had to sit through. The commercials interrupted the handing out of the awards at frequent intervals,” Frank Morriss wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press.

He also noted that the actors had to wear baby blue because of the demands of the television broadcast and that it “didn’t suit John Wayne.”

Bob Hope Hosts The Academy Awards

The Academy Awards

Shirley Booth and Gary Cooper were favored to win the Best Actress and Best Actor awards. “High Noon” was favored to win Best Picture.

The ceremony featured a few surprises, though. Though Booth won Best Actress for “Come Back, Little Sheba” and Cooper won for “High Noon,” long-shot “The Greatest Show on Earth” captured the Best Picture award. It was the first Cecil B. DeMille movie nominated.

Other top awards included John Ford getting his fourth Best Director Oscar for “The Quiet Man,” Anthony Quinn getting Best Supporting Actor for “Viva Zapata!” and Gloria Grahame winning Best Supporting Actress for “The Bad and the Beautiful.”

“It was a brilliant, star-lit affair. As rain poured down on Hollywood boulevard and crowds sat on bleachers or stood, they covered their heads with newspapers and watched the automobiles disgorge mink-clad, bewilderingly beautiful ladies of the cinema,” Morriss wrote.

This was the first time the top six awards went to six different movies. It has only happened three times so far. The other two years were 1956 and 2005.

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