News Flash Home
The original item was published from 4/16/2020 1:45:00 PM to 4/25/2020 12:00:00 AM.

News Flash

News & Town Board Reports (gblist)

Posted on: April 18, 2020

[ARCHIVED] Greenburgh Slice of History

When the Cure was Worse than the Disease: A Look back on When The Medical Profession Wasn’t so Reliable

Town Historian

Traveling Apothecary

When the Cure was Worse than the Disease: A Look back on When The Medical Profession Wasn’t so Reliable:

By: Riley Wentzler & Felicia Barber

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists the symptoms of coronavirus as:

  • Fever

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath

  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

  • Other body aches


Today, most of these symptoms are easily and reliably treated. Have a fever? Take Tylenol. Have a cough?? Take Delsym. Chest pain?  Take aspirin.  However, in centuries past, common ailments were treated using methods that were ineffective at best and drastically harmful at worst.

In the 1800s, the chest pains and other body aches associated with coronavirus would have been treated with snake oil ( Clark Stanley, a.k.a “The Rattlesnake King” was the first snake oil salesman. He claimed that his product came from rattlesnakes and was ancient Hopi medicine to treat all sorts of aches and pains. This was a bold face lie. Mr. Stanley didn’t know anything about Hopi medicine and, consequently, whatever he had in those bottles, it didn’t actually come from rattlesnakes. It was also completely useless as a painkiller. However such was the state of the medical profession at that time that many doctors took him at his word, and began proscribing it ( So naturally, as more doctors began to proscribe it, more charlatans in the mold of Stanley began to sell it ( As ineffective as snake oil was, it was at least not harmful, the same cannot be said for the treatment for fever or the treatment for the cough associated with coronavirus that were equally popular in the 1800s.

In the 1800s, fever was treated with "Martin & Whiteley’s National Tonic for Fever & Ague" (The Historic Glass Bottle Identification & Information Website) .This was nothing more than a mixture of magnesium and strong black ale ( This was of course very unsafe, because magnesium  is highly flammable. This remedy was not discontinued until 1920. If you didn’t blow yourself up trying to cure your fever you were just as likely to kill your kidneys trying to get rid of your cough.

This is because from 1895 - 1913 a severe cough would have been treated with heroin ( The thinking back then was that it was five times more effective and also less addictive than most other cough syrups at that time which had morphine as their primary ingredient ( When patients kept coming back for additional bottles of heroin this caused doctors to re-examine the “research” on the addictiveness of heroin ( This research was little more than guesswork. Today of course, we know that in addition to being far more addictive than morphine (Microsoft Encarta) it also causes brain damage and decreased kidney function or, in some cases, total shutdown of the kidneys ( This is why The Food and Drug Administration outlawed heroin in 1924

In conclusion, medical science has changed a lot over the years. This change has been overwhelmingly positive. Medicine has come a long way since the 1800s and, we are now much safer because of the improvements made. We are still not immune to every disease, but at least our treatments are no longer worse than the disease.

Slice of History


Previous Slices of History include:


Greenburgh’s BROTHERLY LOVE, RELIEF AND TRUTH: A History of The Freemasons in Greenburgh (9/12/18)


Greenburgh and The Arts (9/22/18)


A Final Resting Place for “Man’s Best Friend”: The Peaceable Kingdom (9/29/18)


Greenburgh’s Hall of Heroes: Ferncliff Cemetery Where Memories Live Forever (10/12/18)


Greenburgh at The Great American Crossroads: Greenburgh’s Civil War Story(10/19/18)


A Different Kind of Rebel: Greenburgh’s Contributions to the Underground Railroad (10/27/18)


"The Disappearing Railroad Blues" in Greenburgh: The Fate of the Putnam Railroad Line and the old Putnam Trail (11/6/18)


A Thousand Words Which You Never Knew: The Forgotten Story of the Seal of Greenburgh (11/17/18)


How a Flat Tire led to a Happy Escape: The Story of Carvel in Greenburgh (12/11/18)


The Guardians of History: Greenburgh’s Historical Societies (1/6/19)


A Small House, an Important Meeting, a Huge Victory: The Story of the Odell House (1/12/2019)


The Intersection of Banking, Ballet, and School: Greenburgh’s Warburg Estate  (Updated) (10/22/19) 

Lost History: The Tragedy of Malkasten (1/26/19)


A Beautiful View for the Perfect Event: The Belvedere Estate (2/9/19)


The Power of Wealth and Humility: A Reflection on Two Highly Influential African Americans (2/18/19)


Greenburgh Under the Hollywood Lights: The TV shows and movies Filmed in Greenburgh Part I (2/23/19)


Oh, The Places Your Mail has Gone: A History of The Hartsdale Post Office (3/9/2019)


From Insurance to Symphonies: The Home of Charles Ives (3/16/19)


Greenburgh Under the Hollywood Lights: The TV shows and Movies Filmed in Greenburgh Part II (3/29/19)


From Chasing Rabbits to Setting Records: The Amazing Story of Larry James (4/7/2019)


From Fixing Cars to building Infrastructure: How Massaro Park Got its name (4/13/2019)


There is no church here, but “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated” this ground: The Story of The Little White Church Cemetery (4/27/19)


Irvington in Chains and our Process A History of Slavery in Irvington and A look at how Slices of History are made (and our interview with historian Robert Marchant) (5/11/2019)


From Farmland to Shopping District: The Rise of Central Avenue (5/25/2019)


Like a long lost friend”: The story of how summer recreation has evolved in Greenburgh (6/7/2019)


Abandon Ship!!! The Story of United Nuclear Corporation and their Short-lived Elmsford Facility (6/28/19)


Beyond Heritage Versus Hate Toward Hope and Reconciliation: The story of Mount Hope Cemetery and its Confederate Monument (7/13/19)


Hidden History: The Story of Fairview Fairgrounds Part I (7/27/19)


Entertainers for Justice (8/3/2019)


A Tale of Two Towns: Greenburgh, NY, and Muncy, PA (8/23/ 2019)

  •  When Greenburgh Went  “East  Bound and Down”: Greenburgh  During Prohibition (10/6/2019)



  • Formed By Adversity, Held Together by Faith: The History of the Parkway Homes/Parkway Gardens Community (2/27/2020)

Ashes “Ashes, Ashes!!We all Fall Down”(3/23/2020)


About the Authors:

We are both Assistant Town Historians at Greenburgh Town Hall and we are engaged to be married and are currently looking for permanent employment.

Riley Wentzler:

I was born and raised in a small rural town in central Pennsylvania. In high school, I took every honors course available including four years of Spanish. I received A’s in all of them. I graduated third in my class of 146 students. This brought me to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Once there, I continued my trend of academic excellence. I graduated summa cum laude in Political Science with a minor in Spanish and a Master’s in Communication Studies, with a G.P.A of 3.94. It was also there that I met my lovely fiancée, Felicia Barber. My Master’s in Communication has promoted public speaking, teamwork, and customer service. My Political Science degree has developed my research skills using computer-based tools and provided me with experience using the Microsoft Office products. My minor in Spanish has facilitated my bilingual capabilities. During my internship at Greenburgh, I created the petition for the State Roads project using website tools.  My diverse education and areas of interest have provided me with a wide range of skills. I look forward to finding a career opportunity in business or government. To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at assistanthistorian@greenburghny.comor to help me find employment, you can contact me at 


Felicia Barber:

I was born in New York City and raised in Hartsdale, New York. I graduated from Ardsley High School. I recently earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. It was here that I met my fiancé, Riley Wentzler. As a result of my academic excellence, I won a scholarship every year. I learned and applied many graphic design skills to projects during my summer internships and at school. I am proficient in using Adobe graphic design applications including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. For my Identity/branding course at Edinboro, I created logos to appear on the tee-shirts of Physical Education majors. For a veteran’s upcoming event, I used a typeface to focus the reader to the soldier in the poster. For the State Roads Legislative Campaign project, I created the embedded graphic-photo that accompanied the petition I am looking for a job to utilize my skills as a Graphic Designer in an agency, print shop, company or government To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at assistanthistorian@greenburghny.comTo learn more about my artwork or to help me find employment you can contact me at



Two Interviews with the authors:

Facebook Twitter Email

Other News in News & Town Board Reports (gblist)

Summer Help Wanted

Posted on: March 14, 2023


Posted on: January 27, 2023