“Try a bottle of Elexir!”
Dr. Balthasar, Medicine Man, campaigned for everyone’s good health as he presented his wares from town to town. The sign he displayed proclaimed: Miracle Medicine for Man or Beast formulated from an ancient Tibetan recipe. Quite frequently he was referred to as “a snake-oil salesman”, proclaiming this miracle tonic would cure a great variety of ailments.
The character of Dr. Thelonious Balthasar was created by Mike Follin, an education interpreter with the Ohio Historical Society. He thought this would be a good way to educate folks about life and medical treatment during the 19th century. Before each performance, Mike tells the audience a little about life on the frontier, where the visit of a traveling salesman was great entertainment. Then he transforms into frontier Dr. Balthasar, Medicine Man.
Most people appeared at his shows for two reasons: medication and entertainment. Word would spread from house to house when the doctor’s wagon was seen.This slippery snake oil salesman provided gossip and national news, as well as entertainment that cheered the crowd. As he traveled the countryside selling his famous Elexir, one of Dr. Balthasar’s favorite places to stop and tell his tales was in Michigan. There he said the folks were the most gullible and sales were high.
The good doctor, in his rapid fire patter, demonstrated what happened to those who refused his services. A young man who was very ill boldly told the doctor, “I don’t need your medicine.” Six months later that same man came back to another Medicine Show and said that perhaps he should have taken the tonic as the pain became worse and worse. Before the doctor could give him the Elexir, the man exploded. Parts of his body went everywhere and had to be scraped up so the Medicine Man could save them in jars, thus demonstrating the importance of taking his tonic. Perhaps it would keep someone else from having the same fate. You can even see an eyeball peeking through one of the jars.
This skeleton was all that was left of another of his patients who had faded away to nothing because they refused to take his medical advice. “If he had purchased this Elixir for only $2, that man might have been cured of his consumption and still be here today.”
” Some of you see men who have had their hair fall out, just like the stars fall from the sky. Why does a man’s hair on the top of his head fall out? Why doesn’t he lose his whiskers? I tell you, he outgrows his hair because he has too much knowledge.”
Dr. Balthasar’s Miracle Medicine was the answer to all health problems. A free gift was usually promised – free advice. “I stand behind every bottle that I sell of this latest in medical potions,” were his words of assurance. However, the Medicine Man would usually leave town before customers had a chance to demand a refund. His treatment was very effective, unlike the practicing physician, who told patients to come back in two weeks. “When you buy my medicine,” explained Dr. Balthasar, “you will never see me again.”
When the government decided they needed to regulate the sale of medications, the Medicine Man was basically put out of business. Patenting medicine made it necessary to list all the ingredients on the bottle. Thus began the time of medicine sales to further pharmaceutical agencies; unfortunately, home remedies were no longer acceptable.
What were the contents of Dr. Balthasar’s famous Elixir? 150-200 proof alcohol, otherwise known as “white lightning”. It certainly made people feel better for a while and forget their problems.
As he closed the show, Dr. Balthasar held up a bottle of his Miracle Medicine proclaiming, “This is the answer to a long and healthy life. I’ll also give you a bit of free advice. Stay away from two types of people: politicians and traveling medicine men.”
Dr. Balthasar, Medicine Man, recently appeared in Cambridge, Ohio as part of their Dickens Victorian Village presentation. Where will he stop next?