Tag Archives: Quakers

Onions vs. Cancer

anti-onion gas mask

What’s the connection between Quakers, whalers, cancer and onions?  Here’s some unexpected medical history from the Hoosier State.

While flipping through a few of the oldest Indiana newspapers, we ran across several “vintage cures” — including a couple of surprising ones for cancer, a disease that was as feared in 1816 as it is now, though the pioneers suffered from exponentially lower rates of it.

Oddly enough, the first remedy here, which claims to be able to treat cancer with onions, might not be bogus.

Modern medical research agrees with “folk” doctors on one thing, at least:  regardless of the real havoc wreaked on your breath, garlic and onions are potent cancer-fighting foods.  These veggies rank up there with broccoli, wild berries, ginger, olive oil, and a daily glass of wine as one of nature’s best weapons against tumors.

Onions have figured into medical practice for far longer than chemotherapy and radiation.  Alternative practitioners and cancer patients often claim that vegetable-based remedies are at least as effective as chemo and radiation therapy — and they avoid the psychological side effects.  Red onions, containing high amounts of a “flavonoid” called quercetin, are a strong antioxidant, antihistamine, and natural antibiotic.  Quercetin helps protect cells and DNA against damage and reduces cholesterol and inflammation. Not only do onions lend a hand in preventing cancer to begin with, they seem to help rid the body of it.


onions 2


Believe it or not, an onion remedy for cancer appears (as a reprint) in Indiana’s oldest newspaper, the Vincennes Western Sun.  This 1811 remedy — published when Vincennes was still the capital of Indiana Territory and just a few months before the Battle of Tippecanoe — isn’t too far off from the “onion juice therapy” still touted in alternative medicine.

It’s doubly interesting that the list of “signers” who vouched for the cure is headed by a woman, Jane Starbuck.


starbuck

(Western Sun, Vincennes, Indiana, June 29, 1811.)


Genealogical records indicate that the Jane Starbuck who had apparently gotten involved in “folk medicine” and tried to help cancer patients was probably a Quaker named Jane Taylor Starbuck (1755-1834).   Her “receipt” (i.e., recipe) for an onion-based cure made its way into the Vincennes Western Sun by way of a copy of the Raleigh Star that was brought from North Carolina to the Wabash Valley and read by editor Elihu Stout.  (The Western Sun contains almost no local news, which would have traveled by word of mouth in a small place like Vincennes.  Stout, however, was always eager to pass on news from back East and down South.)

Jane Taylor Starbuck lived in Guilford County, North Carolina, birthplace of several thousand Quakers who began moving north to Indiana just before the War of 1812.  Most came for new land, but many came to get away from slavery, which most — not all — Quakers opposed.  Jane Taylor Starbuck seems to have stayed in the South, but her son Edward Starbuck, who also endorsed the cancer cure, joined the Quaker exodus to the Midwest.  Edward, born in 1777, settled just east of Fountain City in Wayne County.  His brother William Starbuck, another Quaker pioneer, is thought to have bought twenty-one slaves in North Carolina before he came north — a clever move against slavery, perhaps, since he set them all free when they got to Indiana.  (Even free African Americans moving north often traveled with and settled near Quakers for protection.)

If the name “Starbuck” means more to you than coffee, you’ve probably read Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.  The Starbuck family, into which Jane Taylor married in 1776, were prominent whalers on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.  While the Starbuck who served as chief mate of Captain Ahab’s doomed Pequod — sunk by the white whale in the South Seas — was a fictional cousin of these Hoosier pioneers, Melville’s story was based on the very real fate of the Essex, a Nantucket whaling ship that was crushed and sunk by a sperm whale in 1820.  The Essex’s crew, floating around the Pacific Ocean on rowboats, were reduced to cannibalism and drew lots to see who would die next.  One of the unlucky victims was a teenage sailor from Nantucket, Owen Coffin.


moby dick 2


Now if the name “Coffin” means more to you than a casket, maybe you’ve visited the home of the “President” of the Underground Railroad, Levi Coffin, in Fountain City, Indiana.  Coffin’s house is just a few miles from Edward Starbuck’s farm.  One of the bravest men in Hoosier history, Levi Coffin was another ardent Quaker from Guilford County, North Carolina.  He moved to Indiana in 1826 and began funneling escaped slaves toward Canada almost as soon as he arrived.

Like the Starbucks, Levi Coffin was originally from New Garden, North Carolina, but had Nantucket family roots. He almost definitely knew Jane Taylor Starbuck and her son Edward. (Both families belonged to the New Garden Quaker Meeting.) Coffin himself was a cousin of Jane Starbuck’s husband, William, who was a Nantucket native, reared among the whalers and seafarers of colonial Massachusetts.  From his Indiana farmhouse, Levi Coffin showed as much fearlessness as his New England cousins and grandparents did sailing the remote seas.


Levi Coffin

(Levi Coffin, 1798-1877, who with his wife Catherine fought the cancer of slavery and survived to see its death, lived just north of Richmond. Their Indiana home has been called the “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad.  They helped thousands evade slave catchers.)


In his memoirs, Coffin mentions an Edward Starbuck.  He and the man who offered a cancer remedy in 1811 appear to be one and the same. (Coffin wrote that an Edward Starbuck also helped him found an anti-liquor society in Fountain City — then called Newport — in 1830, when the fugitive slave conductor was also beginning a “War on King Alcohol.”)  Edward Starbuck himself lived on a farm between Whitewater and Fountain City, a few miles from Ohio.  At some point, Starbuck apparently left the Quakers to become a Methodist minister.

Here’s the onion cure — which called for more than onions, by the way.  It also required puccoon root (blood root), used in both European and American Indian pharmacology for generations as an antibiotic.  (American Indians also used it as a dye.) The Western Sun of Vincennes printed this alleged cure on June 9, 1811.


Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (1)

Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (2)

Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (3)

Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (4)

(Western Sun, Vincennes, Indiana, June 29, 1811.)


A decade later, “cures for cancer” were still coming out in American newspapers.  The 19th century turned out to be a golden age of questionable — if not downright dangerous — panaceas, some of them offered by doctors, some by quacks.  Even some university-trained practitioners swore they could make a patient cancer-free.

It’s hard to blame anybody for trying, but this cure, reprinted in the Richmond Weekly Intelligencer in 1822 and which seems to recommend some kind of cauterization, would be impossible to vouch for.


Richmond Weekly Intelligencer, August 28, 1822 (1)

Richmond Weekly Intelligencer, August 28, 1822 (2)

(Richmond Weekly Intelligencer, August 28, 1822.)


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James Dean: “Let Me Go Quickly Like a Candlelight”

James Dean Death -- Fairmount News, October 13, 1955

On a darkening California highway one September evening in 1955,  Indiana native son James Dean careened to his death in a Porsche 550 Spyder nicknamed “Little Bastard.”  Speeding to an auto race in Salinas and riding with a former Luftwaffe pilot and Porsche mechanic named Rolf Wüterich, Dean tried desperately to avoid a crash as a 23-year-old Cal Poly student, Donald Turnupseed, turned onto the highway.  Sometimes ironically misspelled”Turnupspeed,” the other driver was judged not at fault, but Dean was severely mangled and died before arrival at the emergency room.

Less than a month before the release of his greatest film, Rebel Without a Cause, the 24-year-old actor was being readied at a morgue out West for his last trip home to the Hoosier State.

The date of his death was September 30 — sixty years ago tonight.


Dean Reading Riley 2
Dean reads Indianapolis poet James Whitcomb Riley during a visit back to Grant County.

Hoosier State Chronicles has recently digitized seventy-five years of James Dean’s hometown newspaper, The Fairmount News, which will be going up on Newspapers.com this November.  All Indiana residents can access over 1.25 million pages of Hoosier newspapers for free through the State Library’s INSPIRE portal.

A town of about 3,000 in Grant County, an hour northeast of Indianapolis, Fairmount was shocked by Dean’s horrific death.  He’s still the town’s greatest attraction today, and the onslaught of tourists and movie buffs visiting Fairmount’s Park Cemetery has hardly slackened since 1955.  One biographer has even referred to the hometown actor as an “industry” and “one of Fairmount’s most lucrative commodities.”  Doubly lucky, the community is also the childhood home of Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis, born in 1945.

The Fairmount News will be a boon to researchers trying to put together a fuller picture of the actor’s youth and background in this Indiana farm town.


James Dean Death -- Fairmount News, October 13, 1955 (5)
The Fairmount News, October 13, 1955. Before he moved to California to attend UCLA in 1949, James Dean — who was raised in an Indiana Quaker household — played basketball for Fairmount High’s team, the Quakers.

James Dean Death -- Fairmount News, October 6, 1955 (2)
The Fairmount News, October 6, 1955. The actor’s body came through Indianapolis International Airport en route from California.

The Fairmount News will also undoubtedly give insight into Grant County’s not always flattering history, especially in the 1920’s. Dean’s biographers have been quick to point out the actor’s feelings about the area’s history as a major base for the Ku Klux Klan a century ago.  (He wrote a negative poem about his hometown when he lived in New York.)  Times have changed in Grant County, but the past is never truly dead.  As William Faulkner said, it’s not even past.


Freedom's Banner, Marion, Ind., July 23, 1910

(Grant County history was tarnished by the most famous photo of an American lynching in 1930, just one year before Dean’s birth, but its past is more complicated.  Under the subtitles “We Want Justice, Not Charity” and “Liberty for the Masses–Not the Classes,” Freedom’s Banner, a short-lived Socialist newspaper, was once printed at 120 East Fourth Street in Marion, the county seat, back in 1910.  A selection of Indiana Socialist papers also goes online this fall.)


One looming figure is Fairmount’s history is a woman alleged by Jack Shuler, a historian of lynching, to have been the Hollywood star’s great-aunt.  This was the little-known “Quaker Klucker,” Daisy Douglass Barr, mentioned on Hoosier State Chronicles last week and in an article on HistoricIndianapolis.com.

A reformer gone astray, Barr died in 1938 when Dean was seven and she is buried just a few rows away from him at Park Cemetery.  In the mid-1920’s, she served as head of the women’s auxiliary of the powerful Indiana Ku Klux Klan.  Barr was also an influential evangelical Quaker minister, having taken to the pulpit at age 16 and led revivals and tent meetings all over the state — one of the few women to preach and lead congregations in those days.

From 1903 to 1910, Barr had been pastor of the Fairmount Friends church, the same church James Dean grew up attending and where his funeral was held in 1955.  Though Daisy Douglass Barr moved to Indianapolis around 1917 and died in a car wreck near Jeffersonville in 1938, the future star of East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause almost certainly met her.  He was born in 1931.  It’s tempting to think he may have attended her funeral in Fairmount.


The Fairmount News, April 7, 1938 (4)
The Fairmount News, April 7, 1938. Barr was the head of the WKKK in Indiana from about 1923 to 1925. A Klan hospital on North Alabama Street in Indianapolis, never built, was to be named after her.

Another “specter” from Dean’s past will likely surface in The Fairmount News.  This was a minister, close friend  and mentor of the young Dean’s who gave a eulogy as his funeral.

The Reverend James A. DeWeerd, a Methodist preacher educated at Taylor University, Marion College, and Ball State was at the time of the actor’s death the pastor of Indy’s influential Cadle Tabernacle.  By some accounts the largest church in America, Cadle Tabernacle, too, had a dark history dating back to the 1920s, when the Invisible Empire held many rallies there.  Its founder, evangelist Howard Cadle, had allegedly lost control of the place, but managed to turn it around.  Cadle Tabernacle became the base of a popular evangelical radio ministry in the ’30s and James DeWeerd preached there in the 1950’s — as did Civil Rights heroes Martin Luther King and Billy Graham, for the record.

DeWeerd, who “grew to be Jimmy’s ‘hero’ during high school years,” is also thought by several biographers to have molested or had a relationship with Dean, whom most scholars now recognize as having been bisexual.  Hoosier State Chronicles won’t weigh in on that — many people in Fairmount dispute it — but the charge against DeWeerd continues to be a controversial and interesting part of James Dean scholarship.


James Dean Death -- Fairmount News, October 13, 1955 (2)
The Fairmount News, October 13, 1955.

James DeWeerd yearbook pic
James A. DeWeerd was born in Olivet, Illinois, in 1916, to parents who had been missionaries in South Africa. DeWeerd, who died in 1972, is also buried at Fairmount’s Park Cemetery.

Here are a few other historic clips from The Fairmount News from the fateful year 1955.  Look for more on Newspapers.com when the paper goes live this November.


The Fairmount News, Special Dean Edition
The Fairmount News, special edition, October 1955.

The Fairmount News, January 13, 1955
Dean’s former high-school basketball team, the Quakers, won the Grant County basketball tournament in January 1955. They won the sectionals in March.

The Fairmount News, January 27, 1955
An ironic victory for Dean’s old team… The Fairmount News, January 27, 1955.

The Fairmount News, Special Dean Edition (2)
Reverend James A. DeWeerd read a poem by Black Elk Speaks author John G. Neihardt during Dean’s funeral. The pastor’s words were later reprinted in The Fairmount News.