Drink Whiskey, Pray, and Set the Bed on Fire: A Glimpse into Pandemic Life 120 Years Ago

This was originally posted in my personal blog a few years ago, but besides being a glimpse into how people dealt with pandemics 120 years ago, it references a few things some of y’all might find especially interesting, including folk remedies, patent medicines, home and herbal remedies, speculations about cats and/or comets being the cause of yellow fever outbreaks, and rural Alabama life at the turn of the century. Since my personal blog is mostly dedicated to family and regional history, I approached via the avenue of family history and focused on the areas where I had ancestors at the time *and* access to some actual records, which is mostly along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Louisiana.

It looks like the Florida Memory site won’t let you link directly to pages within its exhibits – I tried, but everything seems to spit you out a level or several above where I wanted to link to. Sorry about that.

Florida Memory has an online exhibition called Pestilence, Potions, and Persistence: Early Florida Medicine which is fascinating (and disgusting, too – don’t forget disgusting). There’s a lot of cool stuff here, including sections on midwifery, yellow fever, hookworm, and an outbreak of bubonic plague in Pensacola in the 1920s, which I didn’t know about ’til I read this. But poking around that got me thinking about how huge a presence yellow fever was in so many of my ancestors’ lives.

Yellow fever, so called because of its tendency to cause jaundice, could be a killer, and medical understanding of it in the 1800s still had a ways to go. If you grew up around it — as you might if you lived in East Africa or Barbados — it might only make you mildly ill for a few days. But if you didn’t have acquired immunity — if, say, you were a European colonist in Barbados, or New York, or Philadelphia, or Santo Domingo, or the Mississippi River Valley — it could kill you and half the people you knew very quickly.

And nobody really understood what caused it. Until the early 1900s, nobody knew it was a virus spread by mosquito bite. Medical understanding of it more than slightly resembled medieval medical understanding of plague – maybe the air in an area basically got miasmic, infected, dangerous. [1] Maybe infected people could infect you, somehow, too, so you’d better stay away from them just in case it’s spread that way. Maybe herbs or fumigation could help. Or maybe you should just relocate until the whole outbreak blows over – hope you can afford to!

Some blamed yellow fever outbreaks in the New World on the wrath of God. Some blamed it on newcomers to the area or unsanitary neighbors. Some blamed it on convergences of things like insect populations, filth, global volcanic behavior, the presence of lots of dead cats, the “putrid exhalations” of a coffee shipment spoiled during import, and/or comet activity. [2] Medical colleges advised burning gunpowder and using vinegar and camphor. [3] People were urged to avoid intemperate consumption of alcohol at the same time they were surrounded by newspaper advertisements for things like Duffy’s Pure Malt Whisky, “A Scientific Remedy, not a Beverage!” [4]

During a Florida outbreak in 1888, Dr. John P. Wall wrote of its “having its origin probably in the filth of the slave ship” and warned about “the necessity and importance of sanitation,” explaining that “the atmosphere of the city where it is prevailing sooner or later becomes infected – poisoned with its morbific agent.” [5]

Wall quotes United States Army surgeon Dr. Sternberg who wrote in 1884 that yellow fever, “like cholera, is contracted in infected localities.” He characterized it as a poison: “In infected places the poison seems to be given off from the soil, or from collections of decomposing organic matter.” [5]

This was your prevailing medical opinion – these were the experts. Nobody knew yet. So how did ordinary people deal with yellow fever outbreaks? Well, that could depend on where they lived, whether urban or rural, whether there was any kind of local health official or not, and whether they had the resources to do things like burn all their bedding or relocate for a while or whether they had to stay put and make do.

Continue reading “Drink Whiskey, Pray, and Set the Bed on Fire: A Glimpse into Pandemic Life 120 Years Ago”

services and stuff update, N.B. 2015 folks

Oils and Other Formulas

I’ve been able to order some essential oils and herbs and they should be getting here any minute now. So I’m getting pretty close to being good to go on a full range of regular condition/dressing oil formulas.

Same with common bath/floorwash crystal mixtures, and this will enable me to make a decent range of mojo bags and pakets, too. It’ll probably be a minute before I’ll be able to have a dozen of every type of whole root in my cabinets ready to go on a moment’s notice — who knew it then, but those were the days! — but hey, one foot in front of the other, right?

Getting there on the vodou oils, but not quite there on all the specialty/esoteric oils. Some of that stuff costs a stupid amount of money and/or effort to source and I figure I better get the basics going strong before I focus on things that have a narrower appeal. (I doubt I ever sold even 50 bottles of Damballah oil in 13 years, you know?) In some cases, if there’s enough request for a certain formula and I can get a couple of y’all to maybe commit to purchase within a certain timeframe or something, I might be able to get it going sooner. But like I’ve been saying, just write me if you have any particular requests and I’ll prioritize it if I can.

I’ve had a few inquiries about Cool Heads, Warm Hearts, which is a type of specialty peace water for the home that is made with Maggie’s Cleansing and Blessing Water [*], and I’m actually dying to make this water again because I want it to have around for myself, too. But since I last made this, I’ve learned that not every supplier is as scrupulous as they could be about using proper preservatives in their hydrosols and/or labeling clearly as such and/or making that information available to their buyers.

So in addition to sourcing the essential oil ingredients, I’m still researching the best way to formulate this so nobody ends up spraying sweetly-scented mold water around their house. I’m looking at suppliers for hydrosols and their track records, and I’m looking at paraben-free preservatives, but I haven’t ruled out just changing the formula to an alcohol-based one, either. But then by the time I do all of that, it’s quite possible that this stuff would cost so much nobody would ever buy it, because I am not and do not want to be in the business of buying and storing 55 gallon drums of anything, but sometimes you really have to buy in serious bulk to get prices that make the product worth fooling with.

And then if it’s alcohol-based, I’m not sure what the selling point is to recommend it over just buying a bottle of Lanman & Kemp, you know? (sigh) In any case, I’m looking into it. I’m definitely not ignoring y’all that have mentioned it, but I want to do this right. [**]

If you guys expressing interest in “Cool Heads, Warm Hearts” and/or “Maggie’s Cleansing and Blessing Water: *compare to Murray & Lanman Florida Water” have any input on this formulation question, chime in!

 Altar Work and Consultations

I am offering consultations again and some altar work services now that I’ve mostly got all the usual herbs and oils and such lined up. I do not have an extended selection of every whole root under the sun, like I was saying above, but I’m aiming to keep at least a couple of everything on hand in the very near future.

2015 Clients

I also found most of the readings/consultations and reports that are likely to have fallen between the cracks in 2015, I believe. I know what folders i need to go through anyway as I check each one, and I do need to check each one. In some cases I’ll have to ask you if you ever got the report, though, ’cause Lord knows that filing system fell the hell apart there at the end and just ’cause something *says* it was delivered doesn’t guarantee it got where it was supposed to go. :/

If I owed you a service report or consultation and you still want it — though obviously for a new issue most likely (grimace) — email me and I’ll bump you to the top of the list. We can even do it via phone if you prefer, if our schedules are compatible.

Or if you’d like a store credit or gift card instead, I can do that right away, too.

If I owed you a service report or consultation and you just want a refund, I understand, and I am still doing like I outlined in the “2015 reparations info page” – going down a list, figuring out what’s what, and reaching out to folks one order at a time.

It is NOT going quickly, but I have been making progress. People have received refunds. I can only send out what I have, though, so the speed of this endeavor is directly tied to how quickly I can get the new shop self-sustaining. And I’m working very, very hard on it.

 


[*] In the past, I called this “Maggie’s Florida Water Spray” or the like in print at least once. I swear I checked before I did it, but I must have been looking at the wrong column or had the wrong tab pulled up or just gone cross-eyed, because I was sure I had managed the name in a way that was not a trademark violation. And I was wrong. I even had a customer mention it and I reassured them. I don’t remember who that was, but if you’re reading this, you were right lol…

Lanman & Kemp does own the rights to the name “Florida Water” with or without the word “cologne” even though the recipe predates their freakin’ existence as a company. Or, rather, the rights once owned by Lanman & Kemp and then by Murray & Lanman are now owned by Lanman & Kemp-Barclay & Co. (That might have been the source of my problem – I might have looked at an out-of-date company name and seen that the registration was dead and not considered that it was alive under a later iteration of the company name. Either way it was a stupid mistake on my part.)

And while it’s true that other companies manufacture something they call “Florida Water” that is a cologne just like this, they aren’t U.S. based companies, and that right there is the rub.

So anyway, this isn’t Florida Water. This is my mother’s cleansing and blessing recipe from back in the day that you will find smells and works a lot like Murray & Lanman Florida Water. 🙂 But it’s not! It’s Maggie’s Cleansing and Blessing Water.

Dear Lanman & Kemp-Barclay and Co. et al: please don’t sue me. I couldn’t pay anything you’d win in court anyway. I’d just have to go out of business and then you’d have to fight with the student loan people over my pathetic mortal remains to get any cash out of me.

[**] This has also occasioned my spending an awful lot of time on various suppliers’ forums and message boards, and let me just say that there are a ton of people out there making bath and body products who have no freakin’ idea what they’re doing and it is terrifying.

Folks, don’t be afraid of preservatives. I know we’ve all been told thousands of times how bad preservatives are blah blah blah, but don’t just let those mantras occupy your consciousness so you have a knee-jerk reaction to them. Sure, there’s such a thing as *food* that is over-processed and “full of preservatives” and is generally just all-around crappy. I don’t think anybody on the planet needs *more* sodium nitrite in their diet.

But that doesn’t translate in any way, shape, or form to cosmetic or body products or, really, any kind of thing you’re gonna spray around your house or on your linens. This is apples and oranges. And if you have a product you’re going to put on your body or spray all over your clothing or bedding and it contains water, it needs a preservative. Not just an antioxidant, a flippin’ preservative.

Preservatives are how you make sure your nicely scented, boutique, organic facial toner doesn’t turn into a very expensive bottle of boutique microbes. Preservatives are how your body wash and shampoo aren’t full of Pluralibacter gergoviaewell, hopefully. You see a face cream for sale at the flea market made with fresh pureed pumpkin and spice, and there’s a big sign saying “organic” and “all natural” and “unprocessed” next to it in Crayola marker? And you pause and are actually considering it? God, I hope you know how to read your cosmetics labels. And people. And that you don’t get tempted by some half-baked ideas about “organic” and “all natural” always being better. You know what else is organic? Freakin’ botulism.

Preservatives are not inherently evil.

All-natural is not always better.

Don’t fall for dumb shit.

(Credo Beauty has a good blog post about what they call FOP, short for Fear of Preservatives, why we shouldn’t succumb to it, and what we should do instead.)


Image credit Skitterphoto | Pixabay.