Elixir of Death

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Patent medicine being poured into a measuring spoon.

In 1886, when Berrien County desperado Ben Furlong overdosed on laudanum  some thought it was accidental, others thought intentional. By the time of Furlong’s death, the dangerous potency of patent medicine narcotics was well known.  In Georgia newspapers and elsewhere overdose deaths of adults were frequently reported as suicides.

But many victims were infants and children fatally overdosed with mislabeled narcotic patent medicines by their well-meaning parents. “Hints to Mothers,” in 1865 observed that “three-fourths of all the deaths that take place from opium occur in children under five years of age, and it has been alleged  that thousands of babies died from patent medicines which were eventually identified by the medical community as “baby-killers.”

For centuries parents had been told teething was a particularly dangerous period of childhood development, perhaps because teething  coincided with infant mortality from causes which were not at all understood.    Doctors routinely reported teething on mortality schedules as a cause of infant death. The anguish of teething infants was met with anxiety by 19th century parents. Marketers of patent medicine teething elixirs  preyed on the fears of parents and offered the promise of science and medicine to protect the lives of their children.

In the 1880 Berrien County  mortality schedule deaths of two white infants were attributed to “dentition” and “teething” by attending physician Dr. H. M. Talley.  Cause of death for a black infant attended by Dr. James A. Fogle appears to have been initially recorded as “Elixir of Joseph Bain,” but that notation was crossed out and replaced with “poisoned.” Elixir of Joseph Bain, one of the first cocaine-based patent medicines, was introduced after the Civil War. Cocaine drops were used in the treatment of dental pain.  Three children in Lowndes died of teething, two in Brooks County.

Among the most notorious of “baby-killer” patent medicines was “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup” for teething infants.

From its introduction in 1849, Mrs. Winslow’s advertisements and testimonials appeared almost continuously in Georgia newspapers and elsewhere.  One 1880 testimonial published in the Columbus, GA Daily Enquirer claimed “Vast quantities of the Soothing Syrup are daily sold and used here [New York]. We think Mrs. Winslow has immortalized her name by this invaluable article, and we sincerely believe thousands of children have been saved from an early grave by its timely use and that millions yet unborn will share its benefits, and unite in calling her blessed. No mother has discharged her duty to her suffering little ones, in our opinion, until she has given the benefit of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Mrs. Winslow’s claimed to contain “no narcotics, nor harmful ingredients of any kind.” But, like laudanum, Mother Winslow’s was in fact opium-based.

Mrs, Winslow's Soothing Syrup

Mrs, Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

 

Elixirs were made of all kinds of narcotics. Patent medicines eventually recognized as “baby-killers” included concoctions like:

  • Dr. Fahrney’s Teething Sirup – Alcohol, chloroform, and morphine
  • Hodnett’s Gem Soothing Sirup – opium
  • Dr. Winchell’s Teething Sirup – morphine
  • Children’s Comfort – morphine sulfate
  • Dr. Fehy’s Pepsin Anodyne Compound – morphine sulfate
  • Dr. Fowlers Strawberry and Peppermint Mixture – morphine
  • Dr. Grove’s Anodyne for Infants – morphine sulfate
  • Hoopers Anadyne, Infant’s Brand – morphine hydrochloride
  • Jadway’s Elixer for Infants – codeine
  • Dr. James Soothing Syrup – heroin
  • Koepp’s Baby’s Friend – morphine sulfate
  • Dr. Miller’s Anodyne for Babies – morphine sulfate and chloral hydrate
    Dr. Moffet’s Teethina Teething Powders – powdered opium
  • Victor Infant Relief – chloroform and marijuana

 

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was available for teething and colicky babies. The company claimed that this product would greatly facilitate the process of teething, allay all pain and spasmodic action, regulate the bowels, and “give rest to mothers and relief and health to infants.” However, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup contained morphine and alcohol, and caused coma, addiction and death in infants.  – Food and Drug Administration

 

These were the days before the Food and Drug Administration. There were no laws regulating the sale of narcotics and medicines were not required to disclose what they contained…The children’s deaths did not go unnoticed. By the 1880s, doctors and journalists were starting to crusade against Winslow’s and its contemporaries…. In 1911, the American Medical Association added Winslow’s to its list of “baby killer” patent medicines.  A 2018 Smithsonian Magazine article called the era, “America’s first opioid epidemic.” In his 1998 book, “The Excruciating History of Dentistry,” James Wynbrandt called those days, “The golden age of drug abuse.” Fueled by doctors and journalists like Adams, Congress finally passed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. It required medicine labels to clearly disclose what they contained. Opiates weren’t actually regulated until the Harrison Act of 1914.- Baby-Killer Drug Invented in Maine

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A Passage to Cuba

In the Spanish-American War, a number of Berrien County men were serving with the 3rd Georgia Regiment, U.S. Volunteer Infantry when the regiment embarked for Cuba on Friday the 13th of January, 1899.

The Third Georgia Regiment sailed for Cuba aboard the steamer Roumanian, which had been acquired by the US Army Quartermaster's Department in 1898. In March, 1899, the Roumanian was renamed US Army Transport Crook, photographed here clearing Savannah in June, 1899.

The Third Georgia Regiment sailed for Cuba aboard the steamer Roumanian, which had been acquired by the US Army Quartermaster’s Department in 1898. In March, 1899, the Roumanian was renamed US Army Transport Crook, photographed here clearing Savannah in June, 1899.

Among Berrien County, GA men of  Company D, 3rd Georgia Regiment were Walter A. Griner, Carl R. O’Quinn, Pythias D. Yapp, Zachary T. Hester, W. Dutchman Stephens, Samuel Z.T. Lipham, James M. Bridges, Charles A. Courson, Love Culbreath, George C. Flowers, James L. Jordan and George A. Martin.  Aaron Cook served as a private in Company E, Third Regiment, U.S. Volunteer Infantry. Other Berrien countians serving in the Third Regiment were Luther Lawrence Hallman and William F. Patten, both in Company B.

The Third Regiment had been organized at Camp Northen, Griffin, GA over the summer of 1898 and mustered into the service of the United States on August 24, 1898 with 43 officers and 1,243 enlisted men.  Assigned to Second Brigade, Third Division, Second Army Corps on October 7, 1898, the Third Regiment left Camp Northen on November 21 and arrived at Savannah, GA on November 22, 1898. There, the Third Regiment  encamped at Camp Onward, awaiting embarkation.  There were numerous delays in arranging transport passage for the regiment.  The original transport was to be the S.S. Chester, but the ship broke her propeller on the return from delivering the 15th US Infantry to Nuevitas, Cuba and had to be put in dry dock for repairs.

SS Roumanian being loaded with supplies for the trip to Cuba.

SS Roumanian being loaded with supplies for the trip to Cuba.

 

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed dockside in 1918.

The Roumanian had been purchased by the U.S. Government for $240,000 from Austin, Baldwin & Co. on July 12, 1898 and assigned to the U.S. Army Transport Service for duty as a troop transport.   The ship had a capacity of 1100 men, 45 officers, and 50 horses.

In spite of the efforts of the Quartermaster Department, the US Army Transports were less than excellent. The crowding, the heat, insufficient sanitary facilities, and the resulting stench made the transports anything but pleasant.  It was very uncomfortable as the vessels sat in the hot sun with inadequate sewage control and a build up of animal wastes.

A soldier who shipped aboard the Roumanian to Puerto Rico in 1898 was not in the least complimentary of the vessel:

“The sleeping quarters were at the bottom of the “black hole”, reached by a crude ladder that ran down through the port hatches, past two decks of houses, into the darkness. Hammocks were hung at night in double tiers between rows of upright posts, and so close together that elbows touched. The air was hot and stifling and the sight of the mass of legs and arms protruding in all directions, in the dismal half gloom from the lantern, recalled Dore’s pictures of the Inferno. The ship having been used for years as a cattle boat, the reminiscent odor combined with the smell of bilge water and stale provisions can convey no adequate appreciation by mere description. From the cracks in the boards that covered temporarily the rough bottom a dark slime oozed and made the footing insecure. One could hardly stay there without feeling giddy, but that is where the men were expected to sleep and eat. A soldier found on deck after taps had sounded was summarily ordered below, on penalty of arrest . . . Only the guard relief and the sick men were allowed to sleep on deck . . . The ship being shorthanded, soldiers were asked to volunteer for stoker duty. The reward was food: three portions of sailor’s stew a day. The temptation to get something beside weevily hard-tack, spoiled canned beef and rotten tomatoes, drew many a sturdy lad to the fire-room . . . Few of the soldiers could stand the test for more than one shift, although the promise of food was hard to resist . . . The water supply provided for the men was warm and polluted. The steward of the boat made a nice profit selling ice water at ten cents a glass and warm beer at half a dollar a bottle, till stopped by the commanding officer . . . The sanitary arrangements or disarrangements of the ship transcend all description. Let it be said in short that the “Roumanian” was considered the very worst transport that ever went out, and its faults were added to by the incompetence of the captain-quartermaster in charge, who it is a pleasure to say afterward went to jail, and by the indifference, to put it mildly, of a regular army martinet, who confessed no love for volunteers, but might have, if he chose, somewhat ameliorated their condition…”

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed dockside in 1918.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed dockside in 1918.

There was certainly a feud aboard the SS Roumanian, between the Steward and the Captain. The Atlanta Constitution, Dec. 21, 1898 reported the dispute:

Savannah, Ga., December 20 [1898] Steward lHugh] McClain, of the transport Roumania, was discharge by Quartermaster Wrigley upon the arrival of that vessel a day or two ago. McClain at one began circulating reports against Captain Wrigley, who is a former citizen of Rome, Ga. and a volunteer in the army service.
McClain’s charge was that Captain Wrigley had been feeding the men on the transport a very small amount, though allowed 75 cents a day, and that he had been pocketing the difference. Captain Wrigley says he has been feeding them on less than 75 cents, and so reported to the quartermaster general.
On account of the circulation of these reports Captain Wrigley will have a warrant sworn out in the United States court charging McClain with larceny of government property, it being alleged that he took certain silverware and that he made away with commissary stores by selling them to soldiers. McClain’s attorney does not object to this course being taken he said tonight and he threatened to swear out a warrant charging Captain Wrigley with embezzlement under the charge referred to above.
McClain had Captain Wrigley arrested this afternoon by a state officer on a warrant charging him with pointing a pistol at him.
Wrigley denied the constable’s right to arrest an army officer, and refused to submit. He went, however, to the justice court and entered a protest. The Justice let him go for the present and now has the matter under consideration.
The Roumania will leave the city in the morning with eight companies of the Sixth Missouri regiment under Colonel Letcher Hardeman and will return the early part of next week, at which time it is now anticipated that these cases will get into the United States court, as both parties declared their intentions today of swearing out warrants.

Steward Hugh McNair alledged that he and Captain Charles Wrighley had a deal to sell liquor to the troops on the ship.

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Atlanta Constitution
Sunday, January 16, 1899

The Third Georgia Leaves.

Transport Starts with the Boys for Cuba.

Thick Fog Detains Vessel at Mouth of River and She Anchors Over Night.

Savannah, Ga., January 14 -(Special.)- There will probably be a number of court-martials of the Third Georgia men when they are caught and carried to Nuevitas. Some fifteen or twenty members of Colonel R. L. Berner’s regiment who were on hand the day before failed to respond to their names when the roll was called on board the transport Roumanian this morning, and the vessel left shortly after 7 o’clock a. m. without them. Those who can be found in the city will be taken in charge by the provost guard here and sent to Cuba on the next available transport. A few of the boys were discharged before the regiment left and others were waiting for discharges in vain, so they decided to remain behind anyhow. On account of the early hour and the fact that the Roumanian was at the extreme eastern end of the docks, there was no crowd on hand to tell the Georgia boys goodby.

The embarkation point at Savannah was under the direction of Depot Quartermaster Ballinger, who gave “Time from Tybee Roads to Havanna of a ship making twelve knots, two days and two hours; ten knots, two and a half days.  Thus the Roumanian with the Third Georgia Regiment arrived at Nuevitas about January 19, 1899.  There being no wharf at Nuevitas the regiment had to be brought into port on lighters, the entire process consuming nine or ten days time.

In a letter written January 24, 1899 from Nuevitas, J. A. Morrow related the Third Georgia Regiment’s passage to Cuba. Conditions on the vessel seemed much improved.

Much could be said of the voyage from the shores of home to this Cuban port. Despite the sadness of departure, the Georgians soon became interested in the novelty of a sea trip and their faces brightened and their hearts grew light. But later there were many brave soldiers who fell as martyrs to their patriotic desire for service – as victims to that indescribable malady which surely deserves a harsher characterization than that brimstone laden definition of war by General Sherman. Scores of the men went right up against it. They did contortion acts, they tossed and tumbled but still the nausea pursued them and forced them repeatedly to the rail. It seemed that every rare and precious tribute was offered up, but the demon of seasickness was inexorable and heaped upon them tortures infinitely worse when they were bankrupt. Chaplain Warren and Lieutenant Brock, above all others, now know the effects of a tussle with Neptune. But at last Chaos ceased to rein in the stomach, the dismal brown taste left the month, the muscles responded to the will and life became more worthy of consideration. After this trip was one of complete pleasure.
     The United States transport Roumanian which brought the regiment over, is not noted as one of the finest transports, but its record in the service shows that it has been one of the most efficient. It has handled thirteen organization of troops without an accident. While in the service the ship is under the command of Captain Wrigley, of the quartermaster’s department who certainly proved himself a capable and faithful officer and a courteous and cultured gentleman. His thoughtful kindness, his unfailing consideration and his affable personality won the highest admiration of every man under his care on the voyage. And in return he was most highly pleased with the regiment and asserted that it excelled any of the regiments transported by the Roumanian in the courteous and soldierly bearing of its officers, the willingness and efficiency in giving assistance to the ship’s officers, as well as in the high character, patience and obedience of the men. It is no small tribute to the Georgians and they appreciate it highly. No ship ever had a more worthy and capable set of offices than the Roumanian, and every man of them won the esteem and gratitude of the Georgians.        To show their appreciation a detail of soldiers under the command of that popular and efficient officer, Lieutenant Chester Elliot of Company G, were immediately upon unloading put to the task of cleaning ship and the officers say it could not possibly have been done more completely, Lieutenant Elliot did not go ashore for four days in order to perform this work.

Soldiers on deck of former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed in Alaska in 1929

Soldiers on deck of former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed in Alaska in 1929

Following her service in the war, in 1899, Roumanian was used by the government to return the bodies of men who had died in Cuba and Puerto Rico during the war and afterwards. She arrived in late March in New York with the remains of  554 soldiers who were killed or died in Cuba, and 120 from Puerto Rico.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) at sea, date unknown.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) at sea, date unknown.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) at sea.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) at sea.

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed in 1929

Former SS Roumanian (USAT Crook) photographed in 1929