Tag Archives: children

Books vs. Candy

Curious Cabbage vs. Fighting Tailor

Nineteenth-century American newspapers overflowed with medical ads.  Many touted quack panaceas, remedies for everything from dropsy and tuberculosis to STDs and impotence.  At a time when even “scientific” medicine was often little better than the variety promoted by “snake doctors,” folk medicine and spurious innovators actually helped keep newspapers afloat — as underwriters paying for ad space.

Six years before the Civil War broke out, the editors of the Brookville Indiana American put in some clever medical commentary.  Rather than feed your kids candy — a potential medical and dental no-no — why not buy them “toy books,” ancestor of the “pop-up” book?


Indiana American (Brookville), August 31, 1855

(Brookville Indiana American, August 31, 1855.)


A few months later, candy sales must have still been trumping sales of movable toy books at Dr. Keely’s.  The editors reissued their advice:  buy your kids candy for the brain, not sugary venom that “injures the health.”


Indiana American (Brookville), February 8, 1856(Brookville Indiana American, February 8, 1856.)


Was this the dry, brutal utilitarianism of Charles Dickens’ Thomas Gradgrind?  (The satiric Hard Times, which included an overbearing schoolteacher named M’Choakumchild, came out in 1854.)

Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.

What were these “toy books,” competitors of the sugary destroyer?

Modern readers might imagine that the movable revolution in children’s literature is a new phenomenon. Yet the earliest books incorporating retractable parts date back to the 13th century.  Spanish philosopher Ramón Llull, who tried to demonstrate God’s existence through numerology, put spinning paper wheels in his books.  These helped the reader understand the mathematical charts illustrating Llull’s theories about the universe as a thinking machine.

Cosmologists’ use of movable book parts was complemented by Renaissance-era medical men.  One example was Dutch doctor Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body), printed in Switzerland in 1543.  Readers of this anatomical manual could lift flaps covering Vesalius’ illustrations to get a peak at the human innards and even watch a child being born.

Eighteenth-century London publisher Robert Sayer made a different kind of “interactive book.”  Around 1765, Sayer was making books with movable flaps revealing the “inside story” of everything from children’s tales and folk ballads to the story of Adam and Eve and the metamorphoses of Harlequin, a stock character in Italian comic theater.  Sayer’s “Harlequinades” were hugely popular in England and Europe.  Some must have showed up in colonial America.


Harlequinade of Adam and Eve, circa 1770

(Robert Sayer, Harlequinade of Adam & Eve, circa 1770.  A short history of the origins of death.)


By the 19th century, book makers were taking movable illustrations even further.  In England, Stacey and William Grimaldi published a title in 1821 called The Toilet Book or just The Toilet.  The Grimaldis — father and son — promoted the traditional idea that feminine beauty was a mark of virtue.  (“Toilet” referred to beautification, washing, and maintaining one’s health at a time when poet John Keats emphasized that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”)  The Grimaldis’ illustrations of mirrors, perfume bottles, etc., could be lifted up to reveal fortune-teller-like revelations.

In addition to “peep show” and “tunnel” books — paper cut-outs depicting theater scenes — some of the best-known and most successful examples of the “interactive book” before the Civil War were those of Dean & Son, English publishers.  These were probably available at Hoosier bookstores before the Civil War — copies were advertised for sale in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1860.  Paper images were connected to paper tabs that, when levered back and forth, moved the cut-out characters around the page or flipped the entire illustration over to reveal a development in the story.

One of the Deans’ most popular titles was Dissolving Views.  A kind of 3-D forerunner to the stereoscope, which allowed readers to travel to places they would never see in person, some of its illustrations showed exotic landscapes, such as volcanoes erupting — succeeded by fire’s elemental opposite, cascading water.  Others depicted folktales or comic scenes with a didactic message.


Sausage Meat 1Sausage Meat 2(Dissolving Views, publishing house of George Dean, London, 1862.)


With the invention of cameras, improvements in optics, and the advent of more sophisticated magic-lantern projectors (first developed in the 1650s), “dissolving views” became a synonym for early, “phantasmagoric” versions of the cinema.  During the days of Dickens, these motion pictures were big entertainment.  Eventually, they evolved into silent film.


The Times-Picayune, February 21, 1841(The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, February 21, 1841.)


Indianapolis News, November 2, 1870

(Indianapolis News, November 2, 1870.)


Contemporary newspaper advertisements show that several Hoosier booksellers stocked “toy books” in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, they don’t list the titles.  Yet as Brookville’s Indiana American shows, as early as 1831, just fifteen years after Indiana achieved statehood and with much of it still wilderness, even small country towns had access to these children’s books.

In Lawrenceburg on the Ohio River, toy books were sold alongside such things as thermometers, spy glasses, tooth picks, mustard seed, cough drops, and… tweezers:

Western Statesman, January 7, 1831

(Lawrenceburg Western Statesman, January 7, 1831.)


The Indiana Whig, January 25, 1844(Lawrenceburg Indiana Whig, January 25, 1844.)


Brookville American, December 24, 1858(Brookville American, December 24, 1858.)


Evansville Daily Journal, December 18, 1852

(Evansville Daily Journal, December 18, 1852.)


Richmond Dispatch, December 23, 1859

(Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, December 23, 1859.)


Daily Evansville Journal, December 25, 1862(Daily Evansville Journal, December 25, 1862.)


In December 1868, a weary Indianapolis father trudging home in “a half dreamy state” after fifteen hours “at the office” was surprised by a man standing on his roof when he got home.  Santa Claus, whom he insulted as “You confounded Dutch idiot,” was greeting him with a “Hi! Hello! Stop! Hold on!”

Santa showed the man a sneak preview of what he was bringing his children.  This windy story — in reality, an ad for Indianapolis’ Bowen, Stewart & Co. — might rank as one of the longest ads for a bookstore in the annals of American journalism. Fortunately, Santa wasn’t hauling around a bag-load of candy:

Daily State Sentinel, December 23, 1868 (1)Daily State Sentinel, December 23, 1868 (3)(Daily State Sentinel, December 23, 1868.)

Kisses of the Sun

Lewis Hine - Freckles (1)

What do folklore, lemon juice, Amelia Earhart and Calvin Coolidge all have in common?  They all battled freckles.

As summertime dwindles to a close, you might have developed some of these kisses of the sun yourself, especially if you’re fair-skinned and female.  Though scientists have determined that susceptibility to freckles depends on genes — most famously as a result of Irish DNA — anyone can get these marks, which are concentrations of melanin brought about by exposure to UV rays.

Today, definitions of male and female beauty actively embrace what was once considered a serious physical blemish.  Many even think a superficially bespeckled face is a mark of character deep-down.  One beauty commentator considers freckles helpful in building up women’s self-confidence.  “Outside the realm of ‘normal’ beauty,” she writes, “we freckled ladies have had to go against the grain and build our self-esteem without the help of the media.”

A hundred years ago, things were different.  Anti-freckle cream was a commonly advertised beauty product.  (It’s still sold today.)  Mostly directed toward women, nothing, however, prevented men from trying out this solution for “blemished” skin.  As you’ll see below, one man died trying to get “beautified.”

For generations, folklore and popular medicine provided alternatives to commercial freckle cream.  American newspapers promoted a variety of cures both from folk practice and the chemist’s lab.


Brazil Daily Times, October 25, 1912 (1)(Wilson’s Freckle Cream was manufactured in Charleston, South Carolina, but sold nationally.  Brazil Daily Times, October 25, 1912.)


In the early years of the twentieth century, Hoosiers read about some of these popular remedies.

One of the least-scientifically credible cures was, needless to say, superstition, but it peaked the interest of the American Folklore Society, whose findings were syndicated in a Wayne County, Indiana, newspaper in 1928.  Even if this cure had worked, it was far more time-consuming than daubing cream on your face.  Yet Hoosier youth probably gave it a shot.


Cambridge City Tribune, March 15, 1928(Cambridge City Tribune, March 15, 1928)


Twenty-five years earlier, a more plausible-sounding all-natural freckle cure had come out in the Indianapolis News at summer’s end:

Before going out in the sun it is advisable to rub on a little cucumber balm or any good old cream.  At night the face should be bathed with elderflower water, which cools and benefits the skin.

Never bathe the face while it is hot.  Wait until night, then touch up the freckles with a lotion.

One cure is a lotion made by adding half an ounce of lemon juice to half a pint of rosewater, and adding two drams of powdered alum.  Apply with a camels-hair brush.

Another remedy is to wash the face, neck and arms, and hands, too, if necessary, with elderflower water, and apply an ointment made by simmering gently together one ounce of venise soap and one dram each of deliquated oil of tartar and oil of bitter almonds.  When the mixture acquires consistency, two drops of rhodium may be added.  Wash the emollient off in the morning with elderflower water.  (Indianapolis News, September 3, 1903)

In 1916, the South Bend News-Times divulged another solution:


South Bend News-Times, July 24, 1916 (3)South Bend News-Times, July 24, 1916 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, July 24, 1916)


One common commercial anti-freckle ointment was called Othine, sometimes sold “double-strength” at drug stores.  Yet the beauty columnist Lucille Daudet, syndicated in the columns of the Fort Wayne Sentinel in 1916, was concerned about the potentially damaging effects of this kind of patent medicine.  A forerunner to today’s “pro-freckle” approach to beauty, Daudet spoke up against the very need for such products:

Just why these light brown marks of health should be so scorned is an open question, as they are usually more becoming than not.  But the fact is that most girls look upon freckles as the greatest bar between them and good looks.  In their anxiety to rid themselves of these brown “beauty marks” they go to the most ridiculous and often dangerous extremes — dangerous indeed in many cases, for scores of lovely skins have been ruined by the use of so-called freckle removers. . .

A great many of the patent removers contain either bismuth, which is apt to blacken the skin, or mercury or lead, which are active mineral poisons.  (Fort Wayne Sentinel, August 12, 1916)

Daudet recommended, instead, a concoction of horseradish root mixed with buttermilk and strained through a fine cheesecloth.


Huntington Herald, August 2, 1923(Huntington Herald, Huntington, Indiana, August 2, 1923)


One of the potentially “ridiculous and often dangerous extremes” Daudet decried was mentioned in a 1921 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The journal isn’t specific about what went wrong, but the incident concerned an apparently quack “naturopath” in Venice, California.  (For the record, laser treatment and cryosurgery — “a light freeze with liquid nitrogen” –are the more extreme procedures today.)


Journal of the American Medical Association, April 16, 1921

(Journal of the American Medical Association, April 16, 1921)


South Bend News-Times, October 31, 1921 (3)(Toots & Casper.  South Bend News-Times, October 31, 1921.)


Two well-known Americans of the Jazz Age had a reputation for their freckles.  One case was slightly mythic — and a Hoosier woman tried to sleuth her way to the bottom of it.

In 1923, Clara C. Gilbert, a Republican women’s organizer in Kendallville, Indiana, traveled to Washington, D.C., partly to discover if President Calvin Coolidge’s freckles, accentuated in news films, were as “real” in life as they looked on “reels.”  “People have brought reasons and reasons for wanting to see President Coolidge,” quipped the Fort Wayne Daily News, “but no one before had ever seemed interested in the freckle question.”

“Cal” Coolidge had, in fact, been a red-headed, freckle-faced kid back in Vermont, but his hair turned a sandy brown as a teenager and most of the spots on his face went away.  The silver screen’s lighting effects apparently brought them back.


Fort Wayne Daily News, September 15, 1923 (1)

(“Also, I want to see you because I want to see you…”  Fort Wayne Daily News, September 15, 1923.  Click to enlarge.)


Calvin Coolidge 3


A more famous example of sun-kisses was aviator Amelia Earhart, whose battle against freckles might have gone with her to own mysterious death.

In 2012, a broken jar of 1930’s freckle-cream was discovered on Nikumaroro Island in the Pacific Ocean.  Some investigators think this jar is a major clue toward unlocking the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance in July 1937 while flying around the world.  (The trip was funded by Purdue University, where she became a visiting faculty member and women’s career counselor in 1935.  She also spoke at DePauw University later that year.)

The dominant theory that Earhart’s plane ran out of gas and crashed into the Pacific was already called into question in 1940, when the skeletal remains of a castaway turned up on the remote island.  That the famous aviator was also known to have hated her own mild case of freckles provides a tantalizing link to researchers intent on establishing forensic evidence about her demise.  And as Lucille Daudet warned women two decades before, the cream found on Nikumaroro was found to contain mercury.

Though the theory has its critics, it’s fascinating to think that Earhart’s pointillistic sun-kisses might ultimately shine a light on her last voyage — and her still unknown whereabouts.


Amelia Earhart 2

(Amelia Earhart’s flight license, 1923.)


Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 16, 1922

(Joe Zucco, freckle contender of Fort Wayne.  Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 16, 1922.)

Got Cooties? Try P.D.Q.

Altoona Tribune, February 13, 1950

Cooties aren’t what they used to be.  When I was a kid growing up in the long-lost 1980’s, cooties were imaginary germs — and not something you usually wanted.  If you accidentally came into exposure with these fictitious microbes, quarantine wasn’t necessary, though you might get socially ostracized for a day or two.  In fact, that was kind of the point.  In the worst-case scenario, however, unless you were a perennial cootie hatching ground, you could just rub the little critters off onto somebody else.  One definition even calls cooties an “infection tag game.”  The dark side, of course, is the mild sexual harassment hovering over elementary school playgrounds.  And yet. . . some cooties you actually want.  Without these benign cousins — love germs — life might not even be worth living.

Early Clinton-era cooties, though, weren’t the kind that an earlier generation of Americans knew.  A senior colleague of mine at the State Library has just testified that the psychological variety of this make-believe organism has been around since at least the 1950s.  Yet its pedigree dates even farther back than that.

Cooties, in fact, were being mentioned in American newspapers as early as 1918.  The ancestral cootie?  Like most of us, it seems to have had immigrant roots.  As far as journalists knew, this was an annoying variety of lice that proliferated in the trenches of Europe during World War I.

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918

(South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918.)


Were cooties immune to warfare?  Maybe, maybe not. The writer was probably joking here, and might have been telling a big tall tale, but it sounds like one way to get rid of the bug was to give it a good jolt:

South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, July 13, 1918.)


Captain Charles W. Jones, a teacher at Greencastle High School who served on the Western Front, told a Putnam County audience in 1919 about his uncomfortable experiences in France.   Alongside the perils of bombs and poison gas. . .  the little bug called cooties:

Greencastle Heraldn, February 5, 1919

(Greencastle Herald, February 5, 1919)


Etymology meets entomology at the Oxford English Dictionary, whose talented word-sleuths think “cootie” might come from the Malay word kutu, denoting a parasitic biting insect.  Except for one minor naval battle, World War I wasn’t waged in Southeast Asia, so unless Malaysian troops fighting in Europe coined the word, its passage into English is actually quite mysterious.

Yet soon, cooties were coming to America in letters:  literally!

Greencastle Herald, February 21, 1919

(Greencastle Herald, February 21, 1919.)


That was good news for the Netherlands, which wanted to get rid of them:

Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918

(Jasper Weekly Courier, December 20, 1918)


In the event of the next global war — and in an eerie parallel to chemical warfare — the (perhaps mad) English entomologist Harold Maxwell-Lefroy was actually looking at ways to disseminate deadly diseases behind enemy lines by means of propagating mosquitoes, house flies. . . and — get this! — cooties.

South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, May 19, 1920)


In fact, the tiny foe looks disturbing enough:

South Bend News-Times, April 7, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, April 7, 1922)


By the early years of the Jazz Age, these pestiferous creatures had apparently made it “over here” on the backs, in the clothes, and probably in some of the doughboys’ uncomfortable nether regions.

Up in Cadillac, Michigan, folklore, at least, thought the Kaiser’s cooties were refusing to recognize the Armistice and were carrying on the war against American grasshoppers undismayed:

South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, July 2, 1919)


Even venomous snakes, it was believed, got laid low by the dreaded bug:

The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana), November 25, 1918(The Call-Leader [Elwood, Indiana], November 25, 1918)


The New York Tribune thought these lice should have figured into the staggering death toll of the so-called “War to End All Wars.”

South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, July 6, 1919)


Around 1919, somebody invented a children’s board game.  I have never played this game, but according to one description, you put two pill-like objects with BB’s inside a box painted like a World War I battlefield.  A cage — sometimes with a fox hole underneath it — sits at one end of the box.  The challenge is to maneuver the “cooties” over the mine-infested field of death and dispose of them inside the cage.

In 1920, this game was being manufactured by the Irvin-Smith Company of Chicago, who touted it as “good for your nerves.”

Cooties Game (3), 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum

(Cootie Game, circa 1920.  Courtesy Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum.)


Cooties Game, 1920 -- Anglo Boer War Museum


The Cootie Game was offered for sale at George H. Wheelock’s department store in South Bend in 1919:

South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919

(South Bend News-Times, September 27, 1919)


Having cooties on you, however, was no game, and is a genuine part of American medical history.

One solution for the lice was a “liquid fire” called P.D.Q., possibly manufactured at Owl Chemical Company in Terre Haute, Indiana.  The initials were said to stand for “Pesky Devils Quietus.”  Wherever it was made, the squirtable cootie-killer was on sale in Hoosier drug stores not long after the end of World War I.  It sold for the same price as the Cootie Game:  35 cents.

South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922

(South Bend News-Times, August 1, 1922)


Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920(Greencastle Herald, March 30, 1920)


What the exact difference is between cooties and the domestic American chiggers, I’m not sure — and nobody seems to have checked into hospitals recently complaining of cooties.  Sometime around 1950, apparently, these bugs evolved into a mildly harmless children’s phobia.

The cootie’s association with war did, however, survive.  In 1920, a service organization affiliated with the VFW was founded in New York City — the Military Order of the Cootie.  Though no World War I vets are around to tell us about scratching and the other horrors of trench warfare, the order — devoted to community service and, just as importantly, to humor — is still active to this day.

We salute the Cooties!

Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958(Terre Haute Tribune, June 5, 1958)

Harry L. Kramer and the Candy Cathartic

Cascarets ad 2

In the sometimes not-so-good old days, Hoosier newspapers were overflowing with ads for what today we’d call snake oil.  Before the Civil War, when these papers typically only ran to four pages and often lacked enough subscribers to stay afloat, vast amounts of newsprint went to work advertising spurious quack panaceas.  As late as 1900, editors in need of underwriters for the news had no qualms about giving ad space to “doctors” who thought that cocaine could cure a sore throat or that an effervescent ginger “summer drink” could get rid of your cholera.

Nor did the amount of medical ads diminish after the war.

From the turn of the century until World War I, a massive national advertising campaign directed at mothers and kids touted a tasty cure-all with roots in the Wabash Valley:  Kramer’s Cascarets, “The Candy Cathartic.”

Born in Keokuk, Iowa, in 1861, to parents who hailed from Richmond, Indiana, Harry Lewis Kramer was a clever businessman and one of the most energetic and revolutionary advertisers of his day.

In 1890, the 29-year-old entrepreneur, who lived in Attica in Fountain County, attracted investors and started up a health resort at a spot near the spectacular Fall Creek Gorge in neighboring Warren County.

Built around a mineral spring discovered in 1884 by Civil War veteran Samuel Story (a victim of severe arthritis who noticed his ailment getting better when he sloshed around in the mud), the lavish hotel Kramer constructed first went by the name Indiana Mineral Springs, then as the Hotel Mudlavia, after the soothing mud-baths offered there.  A service town that popped up next door to the resort took the name of its postmaster, Kramer, and is still on the map, though the hotel has faded into legend.


Harry L Kramer - Fair Play Sainte Genevieve Missouri September 17 1904

(Kramer made sure his face was all over small-town American newspapers.  This clip appeared in Fair Play in Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, on September 17, 1904.  Printer’s Ink hailed Kramer as “a man of almost superhuman energy — a new Napoleon, perhaps. . . He writes his own advertisements, all of which are characterized by wonderful originality and a desire to get out of the beaten track.”)


Mudlavia Hotel 1

(Hotel Mudlavia near Williamsport, Indiana, around 1917.  This photo was taken by Anna Marie Landis, who worked at the famous resort.  Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library.)


Kramer’s sprawling Mudlavia health spa attracted the rich and famous — including boxing champion John L. Sullivan, Indianapolis poet James Whitcomb Riley, and Hoosier songwriter Paul Dresser. Papers lauded it at as “one of the finest sanatariums in the United States.”  Mudlavia ranked with the great mineral baths at French Lick, Indiana; Bedford, Pennsylvania; and Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The lure?  Not just nature — or the elaborate Chinese garden out back.  Pure mineral waters bubbling out of the Warren County hills offered relief from a vast array of bodily ailments.  Infusing water with mud, doctors and their assistants at Kramer’s resort offered a therapeutic “Magno-Mud” cure (sometimes misspelled “mango mud” in the papers), giving blissful relief to aching joints and muscles.  Kidneys and livers also went away from Mudlavia feeling much happier.


Mudlavia Hotel 2

(A guest at Mudlavia gets a mud bath, circa 1917.  An ad for Kramer’s chewing gum, “No-To-Bac,” hangs on the wall behind him.  Click to enlarge.  Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library.)


Closely tied to Kramer’s investment in this tranquil health spa in the luscious Hoosier woods was his other main business interest: a sugary substitute for the dreaded dose of castor oil once administered by American mothers everywhere.  This was Kramer’s nationally-famous “candy cathartic,” Cascarets.

Dozens of speedy and sure-fire purgatives feature in the annals of 19th-century medicine and journalism.  From a spoonful of old-fashioned castor oil itself to a gentler “Castoria” and a wide variety of sarsaparillas and “fig liver syrups,” our ancestors knew plenty of ways to achieve what they rightly saw as the highly-desirable result of these over-the-counter drugs:  a vigorous flush of the intestines.


warner's log cabin sarsaparilla

(Hoosiers William Henry Harrison and his grandson Benjamin Harrison appeared on this 1880’s ad for a cure-all wonderworker.)


I’m not sure if Kramer ever studied chemistry and medicine or just stuck to the business end of things.  But in the 1890s he made a fortune selling laxatives.  (The Attica entrepreneur also marketed a chewing gum called No-To-Bac, which claimed to help smokers kick the habit.)  Pioneered at a lab in Attica, by 1899 five million boxes of octagonal, chocolaty-tasting Cascarets were pouring out of Kramer’s factories in Chicago and New York.

“Cascaret Kramer” revolutionized American advertising, but he was no medical Napoleon.  Plant-based laxatives, used to flush out the bowels, had figured for millennia into folk medical practice.  The jolt to the nether regions customers got from these candy cathartics came from the drug’s most potent ingredient, the bark of a species of buckthorn tree — the cascara, native to the Pacific Northwest, northern California, and Idaho.  Early Spanish explorers called this diminutive tree the cascara sagrada (“sacred bark”).  Mixed with aloe and the roots of rhubarb, Native Americans on the Pacific Coast and in the Northern Rockies used it as a natural purgative.

By the late 1800s, trainloads of buckthorn bark were being shipped out of the Northwest to pharmaceutical companies around the world in quantities that endangered the tree’s survival.  Much of the bark went to the factories of the Sterling Remedy Company, Kramer’s wildly successful over-the-counter pharmaceutical enterprise.

Like other Americans,  Hoosiers were wild for a good clean-out.  Kramer helped create the craze.  On April 25, 1907, the Indianapolis News ran a full page-length ad (really a medical manifesto). “The Curse of Constipation” was almost certainly written by Harry Kramer.


Indianapolis News April 25 1907


Often Caused by Castor Oil and Salts

A Warning That All Should Read and Heed

Constipation is indeed the curse of mankind.  From a simple bit of carelessness this dreadful destroyer of life gets a hold on its victim and slowly but surely tortures him to a horrible death.

It is a fact that all people at some time or other become constipated, and if the warning be not instantly heeded, and the system put back into working order without delay, the victim is marked for death — a long, lingering one, often so disguised that no one would dream of its original cause.

It is also true that nearly every disease recorded by medical science has its beginning in constipation.  Yes, great learned men have said that if people would learn to keep their bowels in order there would be no disease.  Professor B. Howard Rand, the great professor of chemistry in the famous Jefferson Medical College, as a farewell advice to the newly graduating class of young doctors, always said “Trust in God and keep your patients’ bowels open!”

Going into amazing detail in the pages of the News, Kramer went on to describe how Cascarets “begin to cure the moment you begin to chew them.”  These buckthorn candies give “tone and strength” to the walls of the intestines and (so the ad went) help purify the blood, give “a ruddy complexion; bright eyes; clear, active brain; everything that makes life worth living.”  Kramer promoted his tablets as useful against ills far beyond those affecting the intestines.  Children’s diseases, headaches, nervous ailments, female complaints, skin diseases, appendicitis, oral thrush, and worms could all be kept in check or cured.

Some of the drug’s benefits were almost certainly mythic.  One of many printed endorsements ran: “After taking Cascarets for a few nights before writing, I was able to pass a tape-worm 24 feet in length.  Cascarets have our praise. . . — Mrs. Harry Wood, Kenneth, Indiana.”

Kramer sold his candy cathartic for a dime in handy, pocket-sized metal boxes.  “You don’t know until you try how much good is crowded into a little 10-cent box.”


Gunters Magazine Advertiser

(“Grandfather’s Cure for Constipation,” one of Kramer’s humorous ads, appeared in Gunter’s Magazine Advertiser in 1906.)


Cascarets - South Bend News Times November 20 1918

(Kramer’s clever marketing extended to kids, who often didn’t realize they were taking “medication” when they downed a sweet Cascaret.  “They are harmless and safe for the little folks.”  This ad from the South Bend News-Times on November 20, 1918, shows a “Kid’s Indignation Meeting.”  A marketing genius, Kramer often paid to have his ads run in the regular news columns of papers.)


South Bend News Times November 19 1918 (3)

(South Bend News-Times, November 19, 1918.)


Cascarets - South Bend News Times November 30 1918

(South Bend News-Times, November 30, 1918.)


Cascarets - Plymouth Tribune January 16 1908

(Plymouth Tribune, January 16, 1908.)


The name and popularity of the sugar-coated laxative became so widespread that it entered the popular vocabulary.  A polo team in Anderson, Indiana, took the name “Anderson Cascarets” around 1904.  In New York City, night-workers at banks began to be known as “Cascarets” because they “work while you sleep.”


Cascarets -- Lake County Times, April 5, 1920

(Lake County Times, Hammond, Indiana, April 5, 1920)


Cascarets ad 4


Kramer sold his product rights for the drug to the Sterling Remedy Company around 1918 so that he could focus on his health resort at Mudlavia.  (The company was then based in Wheeling, West Virginia.)

Tragically, on February 29, 1920, a fire in a linen closet reduced the vast wooden hotel to ashes.  Many sick patients at the sanitarium, unable to walk due to rheumatism, were barely able to get out alive.  Some guests jumped from third-story windows, then suffered in the February cold even as Mudlavia smoldered in front of them.  Over fifty-thousand dollars in jewels perished in the flames.

Harry Kramer planned to rebuild the hotel, but never did.  The advent of antibiotics and the coming of the Great Depression effectively ended the heyday of the great American health spas.  (The owners of the French Lick resort in southern Indiana sold it to the Jesuits for use as a school in the 1930s for $1.00.)

Kramer retired to 1012 Ferry Street in Lafayette and died of a heart attack in 1935, apparently while visiting the license branch of the Tippecanoe County DMV.  The inventor of Cascarets is buried at Lafayette’s Greenbush Cemetery.

A retirement home and restaurant were built on the site of Mudlavia.  They, too, burned down in 1974.  (Some ghost hunters claim the site is haunted.)  As late as 2008, the natural spring that once made this place famous was still being tapped by an Indianapolis-based mineral water company.  The FDA banned the use of cascara bark in 2008, when researchers discovered the plant has carcinogenic properties and (ironically enough) may contribute to liver ailments.

Harry L Kramer at Mudlavia

(Kramer in his office at Mudlavia around 1917.)


Mudlavia Hotel 7

(Mudlavia Hotel, Attica, Indiana.  Allen County Public Library.)


staylor336 [at] gmail.com

The Where and the What of The When

THE WHEN (3)

Hoosier State Chronicles is getting ready to upload a large run of issues of the Indianapolis Journal from the mid-1890s.  Dominating the front page of Sunday editions in those days are massive, elephantine ads for one of the most colorful clothing stores ever to exist anywhere in the U.S.  This was downtown Indy’s great shopping emporium, The When.

In the days before parking garages and flight to the suburbs plunged downtowns into decline, urban cores all over America were a fascinating architectural wonderland.  Panoramic images of Indianapolis 120 years ago often leave me wondering if I live in the same town, so devastating has been the toll of the wrecking ball, the termite, and (yes) bad urban planning.  Before the auto, pedestrians walked or were funneled down to the business district on trolleys or carriages from neighborhoods not very far out.  And amid the amazing visual spectacle that met shoppers’ eyes at the turn of the century, there stands the ingenuity, humor, and incredible marketing smarts of John Tomlinson Brush.

Born in upstate New York in 1845 and orphaned at age four, Brush was raised by his grandfather, went to business college, then served in the 1st New York Artillery during the Civil War.  Moving from Troy to Indianapolis in 1875 at age thirty, he purchased a brand new, Napoleon the Third-style building at 36 N. Pennsylvania St. and planned to open a branch store of a New York City clothing wholesaler there.

Brush kept changing the opening date.  Probably as a tease to drum up interest, in February 1875 he hung a huge sign outside the store with the simple word (more an exclamation than a question) “WHEN?”  Advertisements in the local newspapers also carried just that one-word tease.  The name stuck, and the lavishly decorated clothing outlet became an instant consumer hit, soon ranked as the biggest of its kind in Indiana.


When Building

(Bass Photo Company.)


the when November 23 1890

(Ads for The When dominated the front page of the Indianapolis Sunday Journal for over two decades.)


2163764238_f458a71d30_o

(New York native John Tomlinson Brush, 1845-1912, was a savvy salesman, razor-sharp humorist, and baseball magnate.)


John T. Brush (some thought his name was John “Tooth” Brush) was gifted with an ample sense of humor and, I hear, was also a clever cartoonist, though I haven’t seen any of his illustrations.  His knack for marketing was far-reaching.  Not only did he see The When “elegantly appointed” with iron balustrades, gas lighting, and a courtyard, he also outfitted it with an array of unusual attractions meant to lure shoppers.  The When had a baseball team, called The When Store team, and a resident brass band, The When Band.  Brush’s musicians played in a second-floor band shell and gave Saturday evening concerts outside on the street and even up on the roof.  As we’ll see below, other colorful attractions also greeted shoppers.

Brush got rich quick in Indianapolis, but unlike many capitalists with Eastern roots, he stuck around for good.  And in the 1880s, The When’s owner became a prominent pioneer of baseball both in the Hoosier State and around the country.

Originally conceived to drum up business for the store, the Indianapolis Hoosiers were a short-lived local baseball team bankrolled by the clothing merchant.  In 1882, he financed the creation of a ball park, Seventh Street Park, also called Tinker Park, at a site now occupied by Methodist Hospital.  The Hoosiers played in the National League from about 1885 to 1889, when they folded.  Brush later bought the St. Louis Maroons, the Cincinnati Reds, and eventually the great New York Giants, which he owned from 1902 until his death in 1912.

Baseball historian Bill Lamb writes:

Local legend has it that Brush first became enthusiastic about the game after reading a Spalding Guide confiscated from an idle store clerk. Or that Brush’s interest stemmed from acceptance of stock in an Indianapolis ball club as payment for a debt. The facts are more prosaic. Brush was first exposed to baseball while working at company stores in upstate New York, a hotbed of the early game. Later he seized upon baseball as a vehicle for advertising The When Store. In 1882 Brush organized a municipal baseball league, building a diamond with a grandstand in northwestern Indianapolis for league games and engaging Jack Kerins as player-manager of the When Store team.


1888_Indianapolis_Hoosiers

(The Indianapolis Hoosiers at Tinker Park, 1888.  I assume Jack Kerins is the man in the center.)


hoosiers 1


As a kind of New Year’s gift to his loyal shoppers in 1895, Brush helped bring a clever attraction to downtown Indy:  a pair of leopard cubs.  The adorable creatures, named Carl and Amanda, were loaned from the great Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, which wintered in its home base of Peru, Indiana.  The cubs spent about a week as a window attraction at Brush’s store while the circus performed at English’s Opera House nearby.


the when january 6 1895


the when january 8 1895


On January 9, the baby leopards got a letter from a bear — and from their mother down the street.  (Mrs. Puss Leopard was quite the gossiper.) The feline correspondence was featured on the front page, in The When’s usual space:

the when january 10 1895


the when january 11 1895


the when january 12 1895


chad ballard

(Chad Ballard, son of Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus owner Ed Ballard, around 1915, possibly in French Lick, Indiana.  French Lick West Baden Museum.)


john t. brush (2)

John Brush lived to see the New York Giants play in three World Series and was married to stage actress Elsie Lombard. Suffering from a nerve ailment after 1902, he died in his private railroad car near Louisiana, Missouri, in 1912.  He came home to a lavish funeral in Indianapolis, attended by many of the greats of the baseball world.

The When Building, which also housed Indianapolis Business College, was sold off to C.S. Ober in the 1940s and came to be known as the Ober Building.  Like much of the city’s former architectural splendor, it was demolished by a wrecking ball and is now the site of a parking garage.


WHEN building


30 N. Pennsylvania St


When Building 2

(Bass Photo Company.)


Though the When is “Gone With the When,” it’s worthy of our deepest praise.  Here are some of my favorite advertisements from Way Back When.


the when December 25 1892 (2)


the when November 9 1890


the When November 22 1891


the when May 20 1888


the when january 14 1895


the when january 22 1895


THE WHEN (4)

(The When Clothing Store stands in the right foreground in this panoramic image of Indianapolis from 1907.)


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