Friday, August 27, 2010

Hydrophobia and Mad Dog Bites in Philadelphia

This article appeared in the free monthly HSP Newsletter, History HitsClick here to subscribe.


Advertisement of Daniel Goodman
Philadelphia newspapers, particularly for the 18th and 19th centuries, are filled with accounts of individuals unfortunate enough to be bitten by rabid dogs. The dog bites led to the dreaded disease known as hydrophobia, an often fatal malady.

On May 5, 1811, Roberts Vaux wrote to Robert L. Pitfield concerning the “Mad Dog Scare in Philadelphia.” Dogs in the city were required to wear collars in order “to prevent their biting the citizens.” In the previous century, Dr. Benjamin Rush had spent a considerable amount of time corresponding with other physicians, asking for their suggested remedies to cure victims of mad dog bites. Treatments at the time included multiple bleedings and “pouring cold water on the bitten part & heads of victims.”

A curious advertisement appeared in Benjamin Franklin’s famed Pennsylvania Gazette on April 7, 1779, in which Daniel Goodman (by profession a baker) claimed that he had been able to cure the “BITE of a MAD DOG” for years, as many in Philadelphia could attest, and added that:
“My ancestors, for upwards of 150 years, did successfully practice the same cure in Old England, when the ablest of physicians there…have failed therein.”
City Directory

Beginning in 1818, the Philadelphia City Directories list a Mary Goodman (widow of Samuel Goodman) who “cures the bites of mad animals.” Goodman resided at 12 Kunckel Street or Kunkle, now Dillwyn, located in the Northern Liberties section of the city. She continued to pursue this occupation for a number of years until she was simply listed as a “gentlew,” short for “Gentlewoman,” implying a certain amount of wealth or property.

Mary Goodman died on Monday evening, October 25, 1830. Her obituary, which appeared in Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, simply states that she was “age 75 years,” and that her funeral would be held at her Kunckle Street residence “to which her friends are invited.”

What exactly was the “Goodman cure” for hydrophobia?  It is never actually described; however, one can assume it might have been what is referred to as a mad stone. This stone was a curious substance that was heated, applied to the wound, and thought to absorb poison from the victim.

Letter of Dr. Samuel Davies to Dr. Benjamin Rush, for 1801
The correspondence of Dr. Benjamin Rush includes a letter from Dr. Samuel Davies of Petersburg, Virginia, who in 1801 relates to Rush an account of one such stone used in Matthews County. Davies stated that:  “…the stone was put in warm water, wiped-applied to the lower wound, which it was secured by a tight bandage for 12 hours, then taken off…on its being put into the warm water after the first application, there issued from one corner of the stone a stream of bubbles which the owner told me was the poison…” 

Such tantalizing information reveals the medical practices and beliefs of an earlier generation.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mines: Mysterious Discoveries and Miracles?

As I write these words, an attempt is being made to rescue thirty-three trapped miners, deep inside the San Jose gold and copper mine at Copiapo in the country of Chile. Plus, August 27 is the 47th anniversary of one of the most famous mining disasters and rescue operations to have occurred in Pennsylvania, which captured both the country and the world's attention, of which I'll shortly return and give a brief account.

Mines, and the subterranean world in general, have for centuries entered the realm of legend, myth, folklore, as well as history, as repositories of the unknown. Well-known accounts range from the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine of the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix, Arizona, to totally fictional novels like those of Jules Verne's famed 19th-century work, Journey to the Center of the Earth, to Stanton A. Coblentz' Hidden World, first published in 1935.  Such stories have continued to capture the public's imagination.

But mines can truly be strange places indeed, as revealed by numerous large 'dinosaur tracks,' discovered for years and removed from the roofs of coal mines in central Utah, to that of the 'perpetual fire' that has continued to burn since 1962, in a strip mine underneath Centralia, Columbia County, Pennsylvania, within the state's anthracite coal region.

Mining excavations carried out in northern Italy, from 1871-1958, have uncovered some fifty individual skeletons of a primitive ape-like creature, referred to as Oreopithecus bambolii or the 'swamp or hill ape.' However, perhaps the most bizarre discovery was recorded in Latin as long ago as the 15th century, by the Italian writer Baptista Fulgosus. He relates the discovery by miners, in the year 1460, while digging within a 'metal ore mine' at Berne, Switzerland, high in the Alps, at some 50 fathoms or 300 feet beneath the earth, of an entire ship, 'with anchors of rusted iron, broken masts, shredded linen sails and the carcasses of some 48 men!'  As Fulgosus himself states, this excavation was carried out within 'his own time,' and that the arti-factual and human remains were seen by "many grave and sober men," from whom he "received a personal account of it."

Which brings us to the events on August 13,1963, at Sheppton, located in the anthracite coal belt of Schuylkill County in eastern Pennsylvania where the famed Sheppton Mine Disaster and Rescue transpired. Three men were trapped some 330 feet beneath the earth after the collapse of a mining shaft. Some two weeks later, on Tuesday, August 27th, two of the miners, Henry Throne and David Fellin, were brought safely to the surface, after rescuers successfully drilled a 17 1/2-inch and later 28-inch borehole into their chamber, while the third miner, Lou Bova, being trapped in another part of the mine, regrettably perished.

The story of Throne and Fellin's survival and rescue were enough to captivate the world's attention, but it was what they claimed they saw and heard, while entombed, that fascinated the public, statements which both men swore as to their authenticity, both separately and publicly, emphatic declarations which they took to their graves, though others believed they had simultaneously witnessed the same hallucinations.

David Fellin's 'affidavit' was printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 29, 1963, wherein he remarked how, "Now they're trying to tell me those things were hallucinations, that we imagined it all. We didn't. Our minds weren't playing tricks on us. I've been a practical, hard-headed coal miner all my life. My mind was clear down there in the mine. It's still clear."

Fellin went on to remark, how some of the things he and Throne saw, they couldn't explain in words, while on the other hand, he stated that, "On the fourth or fifth day, we saw this door although we had no light from above or from our helmets. The door was covered in bright blue light. It was very clear, better than sunlight. Two ordinary looking men, not miners, opened the door. We could see beautiful marble steps on the other side. We saw this for some time and then we didn't see it..We saw many other things like that that you couldn't explain. But I'm not going to tell you about them because I feel too deeply about all this."

Both men would also claim that they were visited by Pope John XXIII, who had died some ten weeks previously, prior to the mining disaster, and that the deceased pontiff had in reality stayed with them a full eight days!

Whether one wishes to believe the above statements in regard to artifacts discovered within mines over time, or the above statements by the late David Fellin as miracles or hallucinations is not my concern. I simply share with you some of the strange things that are connected with mines and mining disasters, some of which have transpired here in Pennsylvania, partly available here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania as part of its varied collection.

*For further information relative to the Sheppton Mine Rescue, one can consult the following:

James A. Goodman, Two Weeks Under: The Sheppton Mine Disaster/Miracle (Coal Hole Productions, March 2004)

J. Ronnie Sando, The Famous Sheppton Mine Rescue: The Untold Story: The Blood and Sweat of the Rescue Team (Publish America, July 16th, 2007).

"Rescued Miners Tell Own Stories of 14-Day Ordeal." Philadelphia Inquirer, August 29th, 1963, p.3. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Antarctica: The Lost Continent

As a follow-up to my recent post on Antarctica, I wanted to add this article which appeared in the free monthly HSP Newsletter, History HitsClick here to subscribe.


During the middle of the summer heat, we thought we’d focus on one of the coldest places on earth—the continent of Antarctica. It is unknown when Antarctica was first discovered. The ancient Greek geographer and astronomer Hipparchus and others hypothesized of the existence of a southern continent somewhere at the South Pole. Modern cartographers, including Harvard professor Charles H. Hapgood in Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (1966), have used ancient and medieval maps in an attempt to prove that someone in antiquity had accurately mapped the large land mass. 

We began to learn more about the topography and fossilized plant and animal life in Antarctica after explorers visited in the 19th and 20th centuries. There is a book in HSP’s collection titled Antarctica, published in Philadelphia in 1902 and written by Edwin Swift Balch, a Harvard-educated Philadelphia lawyer and prolific writer. This seminal volume includes an interesting map of Palmer Peninsula (pictured below). This peninsula, formally known now as the Antarctic Peninsula, was discovered by Nathaniel Palmer (1799-1877) of Connecticut in November 1820 during his sealing ventures. Later many fossilized or extinct animal species were found in this area, particularly upon Seymour Island in the Weddell Sea, one of the largest ice-free areas in all of Antarctica.
Also found in the book is an account of a mysterious discovery made by Norwegian whaler Capt. Carl Anton Larsen. While on the ship, the Jason, on November 18, 1893, Larsen reported finding “balls made of sand and cement, resting on pillars” on Seymour Island. “We collected some fifty of them, and they had the appearance of having been made by man’s hand,” Larsen wrote. Despite Larsen’s account, conventional science ridicules the idea of ancient visitors to the South Pole. 

HSP also holds an image of Lt. Charles Wilkes of New York City. Wilkes is well known primarily for his involvement during the Civil War in the Trent Affair of 1861, but Wilkes (pictured below, right) is also known for leading the “United States Exploring Expedition,” or the “Wilkes Expedition” with five vessels. He left Hampton Roads, Virginia, with great fanfare in July of 1838, and arrived in Antarctica in December of 1839. Pictured below is a letter written by Lewis Warrington to Lt. Wilkes, dated July 23, 1838, in which Warrington refers to the upcoming expedition.

Letter of Lewis Warrington to Charles Wilkes, July 23, 1838
Charles Wilkes

One of the first individuals to traverse parts of the southern continent by air was Navy Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd of Virginia, who traveled there as early as 1929. During his fourth and final expedition to the frigid South, Byrd sent a telegram (pictured below)dated February 7, 1947, to a John B. Givin, sending “warmest greetings from the coldest place” and asking if he’d like “to stake out a claim … at the bottom of the world.”
Like so many other individuals, topics, or subjects in history, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is a storehouse of information, not restricted to Pennsylvania’s past alone.  Explorers and their discoveries at the South Pole or that mysterious continent we call Antarctica, is certainly no exception to this rule.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Lost World of Antarctica

Recently, within my other publication here at the Society, History Hits (which may be obtained free by subscription here), I wrote a short article with graphics entitled, "Antarctica: The Lost Continent."  Writings of famed Antarctic explorers such as Charles Wilkes, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, etc., can be found here within the Society's collections, which has prompted me to give some additional background information to the above article for this Blog, plus add a few things not included in those remarks, information largely unknown to the public.

Many years ago, while residing in the West, I came across a work about the 'frozen wilderness' of Antarctica entitled, Antarctica: The Worst Place in the World, (1966), by Allyn Baum. The author gives an account from the journal of Captain Carl Anton Larsen, who in November of 1893, in the ship Jason, made anchor off Seymour Island, located on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

For years now, many fossils of ancient life have been discovered in this remote area, as well as within the 'dry valleys' on the continent itself, from dinosaur remains to ancient botanical specimens, showing how at one time the area was tropical in climate.  Purportedly however, no human remains have ever been discovered. Yet according to Baum, Capt. Larsen specifically makes mention of the discovery of some "fifty balls set on pillars...these (balls of clay) had every appearance of having been made by human hands."

One can imagine if the above is true, it would be one of the most important scientific discoveries, since according to conventional theory, the present ice-sheet blanketing the Antarctic continent has existed for millions of years. Naturally I wanted the source for such a statement, though Baum failed to give one. Writing to the author, he stated he'd lost the reference. Thus, began a search that covered many years, in my attempt to locate the original or primary source for this provocative and mysterious statement.

In university libraries from California, to Utah, to Kentucky and on to Pennsylvania, I examined multiple volumes and numerous publications concerning the Antarctic, but nothing contained any data relative to the aforementioned discovery by Capt. Larsen. Twenty-five years ago however, when I first became employed here at 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania,' and 'on a whim,' I checked the card catalog of the Library, and surprisingly found one volume actually on Antarctica, by Philadelphia lawyer and writer, Thomas Willing Balch, entitled simply, Antarctica, published in Philadelphia in 1902, a seminal volume on early Antarctic exploration, which actually included Larsen's discovery in 1893. Quoting from his diary or journal, Larsen remarked how on Saturday, November 18th, at Cape Seymour, they found petrified wood and worms, while,

"At other places we found balls formed of sand and cement which lay upon pillars of the same kind.  We collected in several places some fifty of them; they had the appearance of having been made by the hand of man." 

The above work then in turn, gave as its source, the famed Geographical Journal, No.4, Vol.IV., for October, 1894, a published article entitled, "The Voyage of the "Jason" to the Antarctic Regions," being an 'Abstract of Journal kept by Capt. C. A. Larsen,' on pp's. 333-344, which quotes once again, Larsen on p.333, who states how, "At other places we saw balls of sand and cement resting upon pillars composed of the same constituents. We collected some fifty of them, and they had the appearance of having been made by man's hand." 

Dr. Charles W. Donald, also observed the above "pillars," during his visit to Seymour Island on the ship, the Active, part of the Scottish Dundee Whaling Fishing Company, which was in Antarctic waters at approximately the same time as Capt. Larsen of the Jason, stating his belief that the "balls formed of sand and cement" were actually "columns of basalt which had crumbled into concentric scaled balls."

Regardless, since the late 19th century, Chilean archaeologists have reportedly found 'arrowheads' at Antarctica on King George Island of the South Shetland Islands, believed to have been left there by voyagers from the South American continent. Also, Charles H. Hapgood, the late Harvard cartographer who attempted to show in his famous work, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings (1966), that Antarctica was mapped centuries ago by some ancient maritime civilization, as revealed by the famed Piri Reis Map found in Turkey and dated to 1513, as well as certain other maps of Medieval vintage, based perhaps in turn on ancient Greek or Phoenecian works (see for example, "New Analysis Hints Ancient Explorers Mapped Antarctic," New York Times, September 25th, 1984, p.C-2).

The point is that much remains to be discovered on the great South Polar continent, but also in often neglected historical repositories like 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania' in Philadelphia. Thus one simply has to be patient, curious and inquisitive enough, if you are ever going to truly find, the Hidden Histories,' that are 'out there,' or here, simply waiting to be discovered.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Forgotten American Hero: Capt. John B. Page

***This article appeared in our free monthly HSP Newsletter, History HitsClick here to subscribe.***

Today the general public continues to be fascinated by the American Civil and Revolutionary Wars, while such conflicts as the War of 1812 or the Mexican-American War are in many cases ignored. But those less-known wars were significant in both national and international affairs. By the time the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed with Mexico on February 2, 1848, more than 100,000 Americans had served, resulting in some 1,500 battle casualties and almost 11,000 deaths from disease and exposure.

President Zachary Taylor

Military or political notables such as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Zachary Taylor, and many other famous officers obtained their first important "trial by fire" in the Mexican-American War.  Though many soldiers gained national notoriety at the time, others were completely ignored or largely forgotten by both historians and the general public. One such individual is Captain John B. Page.

Page was born in Maine in 1795 and became a lieutenant in the Federal Army in February of 1818. He was involved in implementing the "Indian Removal" policies of the government in the South, specifically with the Creek and Seminole peoples, for whose plight he expressed empathy in both word and deed. He was eventually transferred to the 4th Infantry, and on April 30, 1830, was raised to the rank of Captain.  Page later became involved in the Mexican-American War, serving under "Old Rough & Ready" General Zachary Taylor, head of the U.S. forces and later the 12th president of the United States.

Battle of Palo Alto
The first significant engagement between American and Mexican forces occurred a few miles north of what is now Brownsville, Texas, on May 8, 1846. Known as the Battle of Palo Alto, Capt. Page's 4th Infantry was supporting an artillery unit commanded by Major Samuel Ringgold, whose first wife, Maria, had been the daughter of Revolutionary War General  John Cadwalader of Philadelphia.

What is described in contemporary sources as a "perfect hurricane of grape and canister" soon fell among the forces of Page and Ringgold, resulting in the death of the latter. Page was not killed in battle, but it is reported that his face was injured, described as having "a cannonball tearing off the lower part...."  Ulysses S. Grant, who was also serving in the U.S. 4th Infantry during the battle, was an eyewitness to the events. Writing home to his wife Julia and to a John W. Lowe, on May 11 and June 26 respectively, he remarked how one 9-pound shot had taken a man's "head off," while another had "broke in the roof of" the mouth of Capt. Page as well as "nocked the under Jaw entirely away...The under jaw is gone to the wind pipe and the tongue hangs down upon the throat. He will never be able to speak or to eat."

Brigadier General Zachary Taylor, in his official report of the Battle of Palo Alto, mentioned on May 16, 1846, how Capt. Page had been "seriously wounded." The Philadelphia Public Ledger, on June 15, 1861, reprinted a soldier's narration of the scene, stating how a "six pound shot carried away the lower jaw of Capt. Page...The blood of poor Page was the first blood I saw; he was knocked down in the grass, and as he endeavored to raise himself, he presented such a ghastly spectacle that a sickly, fainting sensation came over me...."

The wound and fate of Capt. Page soon became one of national interest and concern. From May through July, newspapers throughout the country, including those in Philadelphia, reported about the health and potential recovery of Page. On June 13, 1846, the Philadelphia Sun ran the heading: "POOR CAPTAIN PAGE!!! Who has not shed the sympathetic tear over his deplorable condition! From one end of the land to the other, the wonder has been universal, that the unfortunate soldier could have lived for a day, with a large portion of his face carried away by a Mexican shot!!"

Newspapers reported about Capt. Page's grief-stricken wife as  well, and of her travails and travels from Baltimore to make it to the side of her wounded husband, which she eventually succeeded in doing. Though hope was continually expressed toward his survival, the inevitable occurred.  Niles Weekly Register for August 8, 1846, recorded how near Cairo, Illinois, on July 12, "Capt. Page breathed his last" on board the steamer Missouri, though a Dr. W. W. Mercer had been "unremitting in his attention" toward the soldier.  Page's remains were interred at the Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis on July 13, 1846.

Capt. Page would not be completely forgotten.  Present-day Page County, Iowa, was named in his honor.

Copyright 2008 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

'Looking for the Drowned Dead: With a Loaf of Bread and Mercury?'

An antiquated custom, which at one time was popular both in Europe and the United States, was the search for individuals who had drowned by using 'quicksilver,' an archaic term for the element mercury.

The famed American writer, Mark Twain, in his familiar work, Huckleberry Finn, relates an example of the superstition of local villagers in Missouri, searching for a drowned corpse, by placing quicksilver in a loaf of bread. This was then thrown into the water near the site where the deceased individual's body was believed to have been submerged. Purportedly, the corpse would then float to the water's surface and thus be retrieved by the seekers.

An early example of the above belief can be found in a prestigious London publication, that of The Gentleman's Magazine, for April of 1767. An inquistion "on the body of a child," was taken at Newbury in Berkshire, the one year old having "fell into the river Kennet, and was drowned." The account continues by stating how the body "was discovered by a very singular experiment...a two-penny loaf, with a quantity of quicksilver was put into it, was set floating from the place where the child, it was supposed, had fallen in, which steered its course down the river...before a great number of spectators...The loaf suddenly tacked about, and swam across the river, and gradually sunk near the child, when both the child and loaf were immediately brought up, with grablers ready for that purpose."

Newspapers throughout the United States during the 19th century, also printed examples of drowned persons being found by the same procedure as discussed in English publications. For example, the National Intelligencer republished an incident recorded in the Pennsylvania paper, the Spirit of the Times and Carlisle Gazette, on April 13th, 1819, stating how a "young lad about 16 years old...the son of Simon Nichols (then sheriff of Montgomery County, Maryland), who lived then with Mr. Robert Peter, not knowing how to swim, slipped when bathing, into a deep place in the Potomac...After several unsuccessful attempts to recover the body...," all was "in vain." 

The Intelligencer goes on to record, that "some persons present mentioned the loaf of bread and quicksilver. It was procured and put into the river; after moving some small distance where it was put in, the body of the drowned person, bounced up near the loaf---I say bounced, because it rose with force, so that ten or twelve inches of the body came above the water, and again sunk to the level...There are at least a dozen persons now living who know the fact and were eyewitnesses of it."

The editor or reporter of the above incident, claimed it had occurred, "at the close of the Revolutionary War...I was talking to an eyewitness about it, not three weeks ago."

The Daily National Intelligencer, published in Washington, D.C., for March 19th, 1819, referred as well to a similar event, published in Vol.3, No.3, of Dr. Baldinger's Medical Magazine, which recounted how a university student had drowned, whose body could not be located. A passerby informed the searchers to "procure a large loaf, to scoop out part of the crumb, and fill in the cavity with quick-silver; he then directed them to throw this quick-silver pye upon the current, and averred that it would be stationery at the place where the person drowned was lying.  They followed his advice, and actually found the body."

Entitled, 'Strange But True,' the Germantown, Philadelphia (PA) Telegraph, for November 4th, 1863, related an incident which had transpired at Terre Haute, Indiana, after a bridge had collapsed, drowning a number of persons. All the bodies were retrieved but one, that of a 'Miss Thralls.'  Searchers were about to give up the attempt to locate her corpse, when the suggestion was made to place "quicksilver in a loaf of bread," then by "putting it in the water it would stop directly over the body."

A loaf of bread was then filled with "over two ounces of quicksilver,"  then thrown into the water some fifty feet above the bridge. It then "floated down in the current...suddenly stopped, and circling around, was apparently about to sink, when a gentleman in a boat caught it, and grappling hooks being put down, the body was found directly beneath," in from eight to ten feet of water."

Many other accounts exist in American newspapers of this method of discovering drowned persons, at least as late as 1872.  Whether such methods were truly effective or are simply examples of superstious folklore will be left up to the reader. The above renditions of the practice simply show once again, the fascinating and mysterious information which can be found about early America here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.