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Category Archives: Narcotics

phil jazzNew York Times, November 7, 1926. More highbrow European bloviation about jazz. Read More »

detox1The Chicago Tribune, December 23, 1858. According to Twelve Step lore, alcoholism was universally seen as a moral failing until Bill W. and Dr. Silkworth redefined it as a medical issue in the 1930s. In fact, the Revolutionary war hero and Founding Father Dr. Benjamin Rush had the medical model of alcoholism pretty much down over two centuries ago, and plenty of clinicians wrestled with the problem in the intervening years. As attending physician at Chicago’s “Bridewell,” Dr. Paoli here was squarely on the front lines of treatment. Some of his ideas have aged better than others. Read More »

aoakleyABaltimore Afro-American, August 15, 1903. aothebelleofthemeall One wonders: was she expecting to find money in the negro’s trousers, or was the plan to fence them? In any case, I hasten to explain that, although Annie was a very handsome woman in her time, this story is otherwise pure bullshit. The hapless trouser thief was not the celebrated marksperson but a former burlesque ecdysiast fallen on even harder times. The real Annie Oakley brought 55 libel suits against various newspapers, 54 of which were successful. The Hearst papers were responsible for putting this counterfactual gem into circulation in the first place, and they tried to fight Oakley’s lawsuit by hiring a private dick to dig up some compromising dirt on her. They failed. The Hearst papers were always at the cutting edge of “human interest” journalism. As one Hearst reporter memorably put it, “A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

baldnessChicago Tribune, 26, 1867. This would qualify cocaine as a double boon for balding firemen.

pastorcokepastor2pastor3Chicago Tribune, May 10. 1897. Now if this guy had been a heroin addict instead, I would have gone with Luke 13:26: “By their works ye shall know them.”


[Ahem.] Please excuse me: I do so enjoy playing hackey-sack with Scripture.

Aaaanyway: Maybe you think that clerical scandals are a specifically modern symptom of corruption? Fuggedaboudit. Back in the 19th and early 20th century, there was huge status and power to be acquired in the ministerial rackets; that entailed a correspondingly higher rate of pastoral naughtiness. This here high-society rhubarb is actually kind of tame by the standards of the day, in that the unfortunate Rev. Wisner is not accused off boffing any parishioners. But more narco-Presbyterian tragedy after the jump. Read More »

pipeAWashington Post, January 25, 1900. I wonder when Philadelphia’s last opium den ceased operations. It’s odd that Mary’s death is geographically attributed to “Chinatown,” but the arrested parties all have solidly Anglo names. I sort of respect the forthrightness of the assertion that this story matters inasmuch as the dead girl’s parents are “respectable.” The same principle governs drug-related reportage today, except no one owns up to it.

jazz drugAThe New York Amsterdam News, April 1, 1925. The Amsterdam News was another influential black newspaper, somewhat stodgier than the Chicago Defender.
Like anyone else concerned about “respectability,” middle-class black people in the 1920s were not warmly receptive to jazz, which at the time was signified as the equivalent of gangsta rap, punk rock and death metal rolled into one. It was simply the most depraved thing to happen to music since ragtime. So here’s the paper’s medical columnist warning his public about the addictive and soul-destroying properties of this dangerous music. Read More »

firemenAChicago Tribune, June 24, 1897. That is the single greatest headline in the history of journalism. I’m going to start writing poetry just so I can use that as a title for my first collection.

laudaWashington Post, March 31, 1904. Laudanum was a tincture of opium in an alcohol base, and it was available without prescription. Lots of respectable teetotaling ladies were addicted to patent medicines and nerve tonics containing narcotics and/or cocaine at this time. Another fun fact: opium poppies used to be a significant American cash crop, especially in the South. People have the idea that dope can only be grown in faraway foreign climes, but the poppy is a resilient and vigorous plant that will grow just about anywhere. Also, some poppies have a higher content of opium alkaloids than others, but no poppies have none.
Injections of carbolic acid, aka phenol, were used by the Nazis for small-scale exterminations, when the numbers didn’t justify firing up the gas chambers.