Five Bizarre Medical Practices

From my research log: Five Bizarre Nineteenth Century Medical Practices*

19th century medicine

Does a child have a bloody nose? Try dropping a key down his back between his clothes and skin.  It should swiftly remedy the problem.  It does not, however, have the same effect on adults.

Got a cold? Dip some flannel in boiling water, sprinkle it with turpentine, and lay it on your chest.

Do not visit a sick person if you are sweating or hungry.  These both leave you more susceptible to contracting the illness.

For Concussions: Call for the surgeon who may apply leeches if the brain gets inflamed. Antibilious pills (strong laxatives) may be given to clear the liver and promote better blood circulation. If the patient is unable to keep food down, an injection of equal parts milk and whiskey can be injected into the rectum.

And lastly, for a drowning victim, rub the body dry, clear the mouth, raise the head, and place in a warm bath.  Tickle the nose with a feather or use smelling salts.  When the victim starts to come to, give him a little wine or brandy. And whatever you do, do not hang the victim upside down by his ankles.

*obvious no-duh statement: do not try these at home, or anywhere else for that matter!

Sources:

19th Century Historical Tidbits

Discovering Lewis and Clark

The Book of Household Management

Medical Home Remedies: As Treated by 19th and 20th Century Doctors

Jane Austen’s World

Not Just Coincidence

I never cease to be surprised when things line up in such an amazing way that you know it could not have worked out so well if it was purposely planned.  As a person striving for deepening faith I credit most coincidences as God-incidences.  And that is true as I sought out readers who could peruse my manuscript for historical and technical accChicago's Forgotten Tragedyuracy.

As part of my research, I came across a little gem, Chicago’s Forgotten Tragedy, by Bill Cosgrove.  Though it is primarily an account of the 1910 fire at the Chicago Stockyards that claimed twenty-one firemen, it also includes a wealth of information detailing the history of the Chicago Fire Department.  This was information that all the research I had done had not uncovered.  Being a retired Chicago firefighter, Mr. Cosgrove has extensive knowledge and access to historical content.  Then the thought occurred to me that I should ask him to read my MS and be an expert reader for both the technical side of firefighting and the historical content of the Great Chicago Fire.

You know, as a writer you’re supposed to have a one line summary of your story.  Mine is: It a histocial fiction novel where Backdraft meets Pursuit of Happiness.   As I was researching Mr. Cosgrove to contact him, I learned that he has three other books as well: The Noble Breed, Accident or Arson, and  Robert De Niro and the Fireman.  I also learned that he served as technical director to Robert DeNiro on the movie Backdraft which inspired one of his books (you can probably guess which one).  Did I say Backdraft? Yep, Backdraft!  As in my book is Backdraft meets Pursuit of Happiness!  Holy Toledo I was now very intimidated to ask.  But I sent an email into the mysterious internet world not confident of the outcome.  A few days later I received a voicemail saying that he would love to read through my book.  What??

After he read it he talked me through my book, one major scene at a time.  He was very fond of my book, impressed with my research, and offered minor things to change.  (Thank God I do not have to do a major revision as a result!)  As it turns out, Mr. Cosgrove is also a south side Irish, from a firefighting family.  He, too, lost his father in the line of business.  He was enamored with Mam, my MC’s mother, and how much she reminded him of his own mother.   He said that I really knew the Irish.  I then told him that I’m actually a McDonald myself, though very Americanized, maybe it’s something deep in the blood.  He also honored me by asking his sixth grade grandson (my target reading audience, by the way), to read it.  This young man was not intimidated by the 276 pages to get through.  He enjoyed it as well.

When so many coincidences line up like that, you must know, they are not coincidences.  I will fly high on this praise for a bit and let it give me the confidence to stomp into my next phase: looking for an agent!

Thank you, Mr. Cosgrove.  I hope to send you a polished and published copy of my first edition sometime soon!

 

The First Great Chicago Fire

While many have heard of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, its predecessor is relatively unknown, yet played an important role in both the salvation of the west side of Chicago and the utter decimation of the business district and the north side during the historic Great Chicago Fire.saturday night fire

Where Union Station sits in modern day Chicago was once the site of Chicago’s largest fire.  It held that record for mere hours before it was obliterated.

For days past, alarm has followed alarm, but the comparatively trifling losses have familiarized us to the pealing of the Court House bell, and we had forgotten that the absence of rain for three weeks had left everything in so dry and inflammable a condition that a spark might start a fire which would sweep from end to end of the city.  Chicago Tribune, October 8, 1871.

This prophetic article was published in the Chicago Tribune the morning of the Great Fire.  It was written after the greatest fire Chicago had known to date.  A fire that started at about 11:00 pm on October 7 and lasted seventeen hours.

It was suggested that the fire that began in the basement of the Lull and Holmes Planing Mill was most likely arson, but there was no time for any formal investigation.  This fire began in what insurance companies of the time termed “The Red Flash District.”  It was so named because a large percentage of its occupiers were lumber yards and coal yards.

The Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago railroad tracks ran along the Chicago River, bordering the eastern edge of the west side.  The National Elevator, presumably stocked with grain, was sandwiched between lumberyards, with the tracks on its west flank and the river on the east.   Saloons, wooden tenements, and factories such as a paper box factory and a sash factory filled the rest of the space of this four city-block area.

All of these materials were very flammable and Chicago was at the peak of a terrible drought. Once this fire started, these four blocks were nearly, completely in flames within twenty minutes.  A Red Flash.

The fire department was quick and effective in containing the blaze.  There were some trials along their road to victory, however.

The Chicago steamer was wrapping up a small fire across the river when the call came for this new fire.   Before the fire gained ground, they set up on the north end of the fire.  As they were connecting the hose to the hydrant, the hose burst.

While they were fitting a new hose, the building in front of them collapsed, shooting flames into the street aiming at the steamer.  The firemen had to make a run for it.  With the horses unhitched and tethered safely away, the firemen had to return to pull their steamer by hand or lose the engine to the fire.

The fire soon crossed Jackson Street and spread through the next block as well.  The firemen then relocated the Chicago steamer to protect the National Elevator.  A fire started up a few times, but they quickly extinguished it.  The elevator was one of the only standing structures when the blaze was over.

The great number of spectators who came to watch the free entertainment also had their share of calamity.  A roof of a shed collapsed at Clinton and Jackson under the weight of nearly 150 spectators.  A raised sidewalk gave way, as well.  Each incident doled out its share of injuries.  And several volunteers who were fighting the fire at the lumberyards found themselves in the river when they got caught between flames.  They threw planks into the river and jumped in after them, paddling them across to the other side of river.

Some other volunteers came in quite handy as the fire was trying to spread north across Adams Street. Quirks saloon, on the northwest corner of Adams and Canal, started smoking.  A number of men from the insurance patrol were in the area (perhaps enjoying Quirk’s generosity as he was giving away his stock of liquor and cigars).  They were ready with portable extinguishers and kept the walls wet when they started to smoke.  This action helped keep the fire at bay.  Another set of volunteers were tearing down sheds and fences along the train track when a small hut on the corner across from Quirks caught.  They ran in and brought out a terrified old woman who was caught inside. She lost her home, but her life was safe.

The fire raged for many hours.  It was under control by 3:30 in the morning.  And the last of the fire engines left the scene around 4 pm, Sunday afternoon.  The Chicago steamer was one of them.

After seventeen hours of fighting Chicago’s worst fire to date, the fire department was hurting.  Hoses took a beating, coal was running low, the William James steamer was badly damaged and deemed unusable. The Clybourne hose cart was lost and the 190, or so, firemen who worked it were exhausted, suffering from smoke poisoning, swollen eyes, dehydration, and burns.

Yet, the fire department was seen as the heroes of the event as historian A. T. Andreas captures, “It was not accident, nor extraneous influence that checked the fire here, but calm deliberate, intelligent heroism; and to those heroes Chicago owes eternal gratitude.”

In less than five hours from the time the last engine left the burned district, a new fire started mere blocks away in a little wooden barn that would indeed spread across the city. No cows will be blamed here, however.

The little, great fire began on October 7, 1871 at 11 p.m. on the west side of Chicago, lasted seventeen hours and destroyed four city blocks. With nothing to fuel the great fire these four city blocks that now lay in ashes, saved the rest of the west side from the same fate.

The firemen who did not work in shifts, at the time, were exhausted and hurt. The equipment was damaged, but the morale was high. It was a great victory.

The Great Chicago Fire . . . well, that’s a different story all together.

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Chicago: Ripe for a Fire

Photo Credit Chicago History Museum: The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory

Photo Credit Chicago History Museum: The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory

In October of 1871, Chicago was entering fall riding on a heat wave after a summer’s long drought.  Serious drought.  Less than five inches of rain in more than three months, with less than an inch in the month leading up to the fire.  This certainly effected more than the farmers who surrounded this growing metropolis.

What made this drought so problematic? The city was made, almost entirely, out of wood.    Wooden houses.  Wooden fences.  Wooden barns and outhouses.  Wooden sidewalks.  Wooden streets.  (Yep – mostly in the business district.) The sidewalks and streets were often raised because when it did rain, everything became mud.  The raised sidewalks, some as high as six feet, provided a chimney of air for a wayward spark.  The downtown buildings, some which claimed to be fireproof, were still made of wood.  They may have had a limestone or marble facade, but were wooden underneath.   That’s thirty-six square miles of parched wood.  Do you know that even some of the fire hydrants were wooden?

But there’s more!

It’s 1871 – which means wood burning stoves.  Every house by now would have started to gather its winter supply of wood and kindling, sawdust for tinder.  Kerosene or gas lamps lit the homes and the streets.  Hay, straw, and feed were kept to care for the animals.  Though having a horse was something reserved for the more well -to-do, most houses had some livestock.

Chicago was a bustling city, busy growing.  The business district was budding and there was much money for a serious entrepreneur to make.  Being nicely located at the foot of one of the great lakes, with a river that fed into it, Chicago became a nerve center for commerce in the short thirty-eight years since it became an organized village.  Soon it became a hub for railroad lines too.  What did Chicago have that was being shipped out everywhere?  Grain.  Coal.  LUMBER.  Yep, all flammable.

Robert Cromie, in his book, the Great Chicago Fire, wrote, “It might be said, with considerable justice, that Chicago specialized in the production, handling, and storage of combustible goods.”

So, yes, Chicago was ripe for a fire.  And it had many leading up to the great one.  Next time I’ll tell about Chicago’s biggest fire.  Well, it doesn’t still hold that title.  In fact, it only held that title for a mere six hours or so.

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