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111 years ago, news was: skase, mighty skase

Health care reform might have gone better if the the nation had realized how effective and cheap good health care was in Columbia in 1900, when the 'best cure for Pile' was 25 cents. -CM

By "Jim"

"The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley."

These words, penned many a century ago by Bobbie Burns, the Scottish ploughboy and poor man's philosopher, still give bountiful measure when weighed on the scales of enduring truth. My intent (yes, yes; I know all about the sad conclusion of good intentions) was to do this week's column from the February 14, 1900 News as a nod to Ms. Lera Williams 111th birthday last week.

Silly me.

I'd forgotten that in 1900, the Adair County News was still a mewling one-sheet (that is, four pages) paper not quite three years old; that geopolitical news and advertisements dominated the limited space; and that local news was, as my Mama was wont to say, "Skase, mighty skase." At this particular time, newly-elected and sworn in Kentucky Governor William S. Goebel had been assassinated barely a week earlier, and the aftermath of that tragic event took up a fair number of the available column inches.

Perhaps a brief aside is in order here.

We live in era of instant communication when the flutter of a butterfly's wings in China can be frontpaged on a thousand web sites in seconds, followed closely by instant analysis by everyone who has an inkling of what a butterfly is (and any number of folks who wouldn't know the difference between a butterfly and a jarfly). By the time the butterfly has fluttered those gossamer wings a second time, Fox News will have blamed the Democrats, and the Democrats will have called a press conference to yet again solemnly pledge to organize as a political party just any day now.

The flow of information wasn't quite that fast in 1900. For example, the Louisville daily papers went from Louisville to Lebanon via train; from there, they traveled by hack to Campbellsville where they were transferred to another stagecoach for delivery to Columbia, the latter part of the trip alone taking some three hours. An article in the February 14, 1900 News explained why some of the previous week's papers had even later than usual:

The sack containing the paper mail to Columbia accidentally dropped from the stage this side of Cane Valley Friday afternoon, hence that part of our mail did not reach here until Saturday morning, Mr. Spears bringing it in.

And too, in 1900, the forerunner of the Food and Drug Administration had little muscle to flex and generally little iinclination to flex what it did have, and ads for elixirs vitae, nostrums, pain pills and general restoratives claimed to cure just about every disease, affliction, aliment, ache and pain known to man and woman. Among the ones found 111 years ago:

Laxative Bromo Quinine Tables. These little miracle workers cured colds in a single day! (Yep, colds. Don't ask. I don't know. I don't want to know. The knowledge would drive me crazy. Crazier.)

G.F.P. (Gerstie's Female Panacea). This ad had testimonials from no fewer than four ladies from such exotic places as Arkansas and the foreign nation of Texas. All four, of course, stated that the G.F.P. had given them a new lease on life but one lady went so far as to give the Panacea credit for removing a tumor. (Again, don't ask. I don't know. I don't want to know. My delicate constitution and fragile psyche would shatter into shards at such detail.)

Bucklen's Arnica Salve promised to heal burns, scalds, cuts and bruises and to cure fever sores, ulcers, boils, corns, and all skin eruptions. If you were so unlucky as to no need the Salve for any of those malingering maladies, you had once chance left, as Bucklen's was also billed as the "best Pile cure on earth." All that for one-fourth of a dollar!

There was also Chamberlain's Pain Pills, Dr. King's New Life Pills, Dr. Miles' Heart Cure, Morley's Sarsaparilla and Iron, and Electric Bitters ("expels malaria; kills disease germs and purifies the blood; aids digestion; regulates liver, kidneys and bowels; cures constipation, dyspepsia, nervous diseases, kidney troubles, female complaints; gives perfect health.")

But, as I was saying, local news in this edition of the News was skase, mighty skase. The front page carried a lengthy obituary written by a grieving brother, and page two carried four newsletters, one of those being from the nearby Duchy of Jamestown. Page three was entirely boilerplate and advertisements, some of which weren't even for patent medicines! And finally, page four. An ad for "W.H. Walker's Cheap Cash Store" took up the top third of the page; the remainder of page carried two newsletters (one from the Northern Kingdom of Rollinsburg) and several dozen short news items, such as:

Mr. A.R.Barbee has sold the Columbia and Campbellsville stage line to his son, Mr. J.B. Barbee.

And my favorite:

Burkesville claims that she has been given first place for the Methodist training school...

In other news, the Columbia Mill Company had so much business it was running most evenings; Green River had been considerably higher than usual the previous week; there were reports that there were more fish than usual in Russell Creek and in anticipation of same, the anglers were getting their tackle in order; and a longtime Columbia purveyor of fine patent medicines recently had suffered a grievous loss and informed the world about it in this classified ad:

Stolen, a large thermometer from my store door. On the frame is an "ad" of Dr. E. Classe's medicines. /s/ M. Cravens.

Humbly submitted, Yr. Scribe, "Jim."

This story was posted on 2011-02-13 12:08:51
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