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Southern Drugstore:  Medicines from the old days that kept our Southern ancestors "well."


Back during the Great Depression, my late great Uncle Mont Hill from Thomasville, North Carolina, who spent most of his life in Kannapolis, North Carolina, was a patent medicine salesman in the early to mid-1930's.  He and my grandfather, Willie Jerome Peebles, used to make their own "brand" of medicine "by hand" in a shack behind his house on Juniper Street in Kannapolis.  These "concoctions of hope" had names like "Nux-i-ron," "Vitonia Prescription # 97," or "Catawba's Indian Cure" which he sold for a dollar a bottle at his local medicine show.  From what I heard, they were mostly just bottles of caramel-colored alcohol, mixed with a lot of aromatic perfumes and flavoring.

His big claim to fame was being known as "Mont the Wizard" where he did a Houdini-like, "break-out-of-locks-and-chains" magic/illusionist show, wherewith my Grandfather Peebles helped him sell the patent medicine afterwords.  Uncle Mont was a locksmith, knew "sleight-of-hand," was a sometime carnival barker...and boy could he "brew a spiel" about how his wonderful medicine could "cure the worst case of drunkenness overnight" and "woman's trouble."  (I guess the latter was a "catch-all" term for various female blights!)  The following is a testimonial letter from around 1934 or 1935 that told of how wonderful Mont's homemade medicine had cured this poor lady of everything:

I am glad to say the Herb Medicine I got from you Has done me lots of good.  I am 76 years old and have had kidney and bladder trouble for several years.  I was just like a child at night.  From the very beginning I have got good results.  My back has quit hurting and I can sleep good at night(.)  I have taken one bottle.  Please send me another bottle as I want to keep one in my home.  Yours truly,
Mrs. W. D. Huse

(Selling this medicine was a great way to get through the Great Depression!  His best customers were the local farmers, who still had some money to spend.)  

But several years ago, when I had to attend a funeral at Lady's Funeral Home in Kannapolis, one of the funeral home directors remembered that Food And Drug Administration Agents came to visit Uncle Mont's house and, more or less, they told him that his "homemade medicine" was making "unqualified claims."  And that he had better cease or desist making it, or face the brunt of Franklin D. Roosevelt's new government regulating/enforcement agency for food and drugs....the FDA!  So, came the end of my great Uncle Mont's patent medicine business.  But boy what a story that I will probably further elaborate on as this website develops.

But to be sure, patent medicine shows kept on going forward in the south well into the 1950's.  Maybe even into the 1960's in more rural areas.  And the nostrums weren't just limited to the roadside/street corner entertainments.  The corner drugstores of the day sure had their share.  Some of them, no doubt, did the trick.  Others may have just gotten one sort of drunk.  Hadacol, discontinued in the 1950's, was one of the most famous nostrums of them all.  Here is a sampling of some of the old drugstore medicines from my personal collection.  I'm sure that you will find them interesting...and perhaps a little humorous, too.

This one came from good old Charlotte, North Carolina, possibly around 1910, give or take a few years.  It was known as Mullen's Hornet's Nest Liniment.  For starters, it had 66% absolute alcohol!  It also contained Chloroform...and Tincture of Opium!  (I guess it did cure pain!  My those Edwardians sure were getting bombed.  And for the record, the bottle is empty...it was never filled.)  It could be used "internally and externally."  It got rid of "Cramp, Colic, Diarrhoea, Headache, Toothache, Neuralgia, Rheumatism, Sore Throat, Croup, Coughs, Colds, Asthma, Dyspepsia (old word for upset stomach), Palpitation of the Heart, Bruises, Sprains, Sores, Burns, Cuts, Stings of Insects, Corns, Chilblains, Frostbites."  (Shew, what a list!)  And it was even covered by the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906!  (This federal act, issued under the progressivism of President Teddy Roosevelt, had little enforcement power.  All it more or less said is that manufactured medicines couldn't put the word "cure" on the bottle label, such as perhaps, "Dr. Quack's Cure For Cancer.")  One other thing about this label, it does show a hornet's nest, owing to Mecklenburg County's Revolutionary War days, wherein British General Cornwallis called the then small crossroads of Charlotte, "A hornet's nest of rebellion."  All well and good there, but the insects buzzing about the paper-made nest on this label appear to look more like honeybees....than hornets!  OK, moving right along.

You gotta love the name of this old medicine that I bought out of World War II veteran's shed several years ago:  Dr. Thacher's Mixture for Diarrhoea (note the strange spelling) Due to Dietary Indiscretions.  (It's as if "sins" were implied in the title.  Read on.)  This was a two-fluid ounce bottle that contained the active ingredients, so it says on the box, of Gambir, extract of rhubarb, extract of cinnamon, extract of clove and glycerin.  (The side label said it was supposed to not contain any alcohol or narcotics.)  It's manufacturing address was the Thacher Medicine Company on 16th and Gulf Streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Although, an internet search turned up very little information for this company, according to one bottle digging website forum, the bottles are quite common and have been around since the late 19th century until about sometime in the early 20th, and have been found in bottle digs from Texas to Ohio.  An earlier name for this concoction was called Dr. Thacher's Blood Syrup and Kidney Remedy, or something to that effect.

The side of the box states that Dr Thacher's remedy "Gently relieves diarrhoea due to dietary indiscretions, overeating or eating the wrong food, and for cramps or colic due to gas, without the attendant evil of causing constipation afterwards.  Used and approved by many thousands of people."  Gosh, it gets rid of evil, too, as well as dealing with "indiscretions!"  The other side of the box continues by saying, "Each genuine package bears the fac-simile signature of Doctor H. S. Thacher, as signed below, and is guaranteed to give relief for these disturbances or money back--(give the name of your dealer if asking for a refund.)--Doctor H. S. Thacher."  The bottle is a more modern screw-on cap type...and I'm thinking it might be from either the 1920's or 1930's.  But what a name:  Dr. Thacher's Mixture For Diarrhoea--Due To Dietary Indiscretions.  Dietary indiscretions--it was way ahead of it's time.




Again, out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, we have M. A. Thedford's Black Draught (pronounced "draft" or "drawt") or known as "Hepalina" in the "foreign trade."  I guess the sober "Moses-like" face on the box made users feel more comfortable in using it.  It's been around since America's frontier days of 1840.  I'm not sure that it's still around today.  I saw a commercial for it on TV as late as the latter 1980's.  The medicine may have then only had cache in the black community.  For the televised commercial showed a black family having a rather opulent house party, until one heavy-set black lady tells everybody at the party that she's constipated.  But another black lady, rather slender, tells the heavy-set black lady that, not to worry, take Black Daught (or Draft)...."and you'll laugh!"  Later, the heavy-set lady comes back to the party and says, "I took Black Draught...AND I LAUGHED!  (And everybody at the party convulses into laughter.)  Mercy, that stuff must have worked quick.  I only remember this commercial being shown late at night.  I don't doubt that this stuff worked.  Country singer, Dolly Parton, once sang a commercial jingle for it back in the 1960's.

 
Well, here's a venerable old product from the quite historical city of Wilmington, North Carolina:  Astyptodyne.  (I'm not even sure how to pronounce it.)  Been around for over 100 years, being discovered by accident in a turpentine plant in Wilmington back in 1906.  It's still being sold...and even has a website wherein you can order it!

According to their website, Astyptodyne's "discovery in 1906 was due to an accident in a turpentine plant.  A steam pipe burst severely injuring three workmen in a turpentine plant in Wilmington, NC.  In finding their way out of the steam-filled building, one of the men fell into a pit of what is now known as ASTYTODYNE, a by-product of the Long Leaf Pine, which had no use.  This man recovered from his burns quickly with practically no pain and little scaring. His co-workers suffered for many weeks from pain and scars.  Learning of this miracle, doctors and chemists throughout the Southland began a series of experiments.  As a result, it was found to be a natural healing oil."

It seems, it was quite a help during the Spanish Flu (Influenza) epidemic of 1918.  Their website continues by saying, "During the "flu" epidemic of 1918, families used ASTYPTODYNE as a preventive medicine by adding a tablespoonful to a quart of boiling water and placing it around the house.  Family members not stricken were prevented from the infection by inhaling the vapors.  Families today use vaporizers to accomplish the same result as used in the earlier days.  Whooping cough, asthma, bronchitis, hay fever and other bronchial complications have benefited by vaporizing ASTYPTODYNE!"

The old box says that this medicine is "An Unmixed Oil Of The Southern Pine."  And is "A valuable aid to Nature in the treatment of minor injuries, such as:  Open Cuts, Superficial Burns, Scratches, Abrasions, Sunburn, Mosquito Bites."  And it only costs thirty cents! 

Well folks, I'm not endorsing Astyptoodyne as that it is still around.  I've never used it.  Just seen old bottles of it on display at the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington, and have this old box thereof in my old-time medicine collection.  But it's kind of nice to see that an old-time medicine from my great-grand parent's day....has survived to this day!

I'll leave you with some 1930's ads for Alka-Seltzer and their sister elixir, Dr. Mile's Nervine.  In this ad, it was stated that Alka-Seltzer, "first relives the pain of everyday ailments and then by restoring the alkaline balance, corrects the cause when due to excess acid.  Alka-Seltzer is not a laxative.  (Good to know.)



And while we are at it, Dr. Miles Nervine takes care of "Sleeplessness, Irritability, Restlessness, Nervous Headache, Nervous Indigestion, Functional Hysterical Disturbances, and Travel Sickness."  Special emphasis on "Functional Hysterical Disturbances."  Use only as directed. 

   
You are now leaving Dirk Allman's "Open-All-Night" Pharmacy.  Continue to read and enjoy the other interesting pages of Carolina History Project.

Just a small disclaimer here:  Many of the ephemeral artifacts foun on this website are now, due to age, now in the public domain and are from my personal collection.  Items and quotes of a more recent vintage, that are used here in part for newsworthy commentary and/or educational purposes, are covered by the Fair Use Act of The US Copyright Law. 

 dirkallman@carolinahistoryproject.com   

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