Tag Archives: quackery

Hocus Pocus —Untangling The Sutherland Sisters

Hocus Pocus —Untangling The Sutherland Sisters

I have always called these gals ” The Sanderson Sisters” because of my love of the film Hocus Pocus, but in reality they were the Sutherland Sisters.

In the late 19th century, though, the most startling, erotic thing you could do as a stage performer is let down your Rapunzel-esque floor-length hair. In fact, according to their biographer, the first real celebrity models in the United States were known as the Seven Sutherland Sisters, who had 37 feet of hair among them. Sarah, Victoria, Isabella, Grace, Naomi, Dora, and Mary Sutherland sang and played instruments—but no one really cared about that. No, the crowd came to ogle their magical, mythical, uber-feminine hair.

Flaunting all that awesome hair onstage wasn’t quite enough to launch the Sutherlands from abject poverty to riches, so the sisters’ father, the Rev. Fletcher Sutherland, concocted a patent hair-growing tonic. Because Victorian women coveted the sister’s luscious locks, the cash came flooding in. The family grew rich beyond its wildest imaginations, as the sisters knocked serious political issues off the newspapers’ front page with their outrageous celebrity antics. By the mid-1880s, none of the sisters could walk down the street, their flowing tresses dragging behind them like dress trains, without being mobbed by starstruck fans.

The famous Sutherland Sisters Mansion. Located on Ridge Road. Built in 1892, it was destroyed in a fire in 1938.
Cambria, New York

In 1893, the seven, now world-famous, returned home determined to live together, erecting a tremendous mansion in rural Cambria, New York, where their family’s log cabin once stood

There’s a new house, a modest modern one, where once stood the mansion of the Seven Sutherland Sisters. The showplace of the countryside, built on the Ridge Rd. northwest of Lockport, in 1893 with the hair tonic dollars of the Seven Sisters “with the longest hair in the world,” burned to the ground early on the evening of Jan. 24, 1938. Only two of the sisters were living then. Seven years before the fire, Grace and Mary had been forced to leave the farm on which Sutherlands had lived for 122 years. Their fortunes had gone into a tailspin, the hair tonic million had long been spent and for four poverty-pinched years, the last two sisters lived drably in the mansion where once all seven had lived so grandly.

The house had risen in all its Victorian elegance in the heyday of the Seven Sisters’ fame and wealth. They spared no expense when they built the ornate wooden pile on the family acres they called “Sutherland Farm.” It was the talk of the fruit country, that house with its 14 rooms, its term bedrooms, one for each sister; its seven hallways, its marble bathrooms with running water, novelty at the rime; its black walnut woodwork, its inlaid hardwood floors, its massive chandeliers and its three furnaces.

A life-size portrait of the Seven Sisters, in color and in all the splendor of their trailing tresses, adorned the wall of the higb-ceilinged living room. Once the roomy third story attic was crammed with Saratoga trunks, containing bottles of the hair grower. Expressmen at Lockport dreaded the sight of those trunks. They were inordinately heavy. In the old days there were spacious lawns and barns and stables for the numerous Sutherland pets. The main barn, unpainted for years, is still there. The stately oak trees which once shaded the front lawn are gone, victims of the fire. Gone too is the summer bouse where once the sisters, scantily clad and with their great masses of hair piled high upon their heads under towels, sunned themselves.

No trace is left of the cinder path where once the sisters rode their high-wheeled bicycles in bathing suits to the dismay of some of their prissy neighbors. This was Sutherland mansion on Ridge Road north west of Lockport where sisters “with the longest hair in the world” lived. It burned in 1938. their pets were buried, each in its casket with its individual name plate and each in a marked grave, long since yielded to the plow. Others tend the gardens where once the sisters flitted about, each wearing a cloth mask to protect features and treasured locks from the sun.

One by one the sisters passed on until only two were left. Naomi died in 1893 and Victoria in 1902 when the golden tide was running high. Isabella went in 1914, when the family fortunes were beginning to slump. Dora ran the Canadian business and kept the hair tonic sales going in Alberta until the bobbed hair craze which swept the States hit the prairies, too. She was killed in an automobile accident in Winnipeg in 1919. But she had her eccentricities among them 17 pet cats.

After her death the house was mostly unoccupied for eight years. Henry Bailey, and his children spent some summers there. In 1927 Grace and Mary retutned to the mansion, living only in the upstairs rooms. They were old ladies and there was that same year Sara died still with the famous locks at 73. Their tresses had lost their value and neighbours called her “the sensible one.” There was no gold in the family. She was the family balance wheel. Old neighbours recall the pitiful circumstances of the two sisters in their last stay in the big house. Mary was ill. She had “strange notions” and there were bars at the windows of her room. Sometimes there wasn’t enough to eat but Grace was proud and still held her head high and told her neighbours she wanted no gifts of food.

In 1932 the place was sold to the Cecil Carpenters of Lockport, who were restoring it to much of its oldtime elegance when fire leveled it. Mary lived until 1939. Some of her last days were in a sanitarium, some in the Niagara County Infirmary. Grace died in Buffalo in 1946. She was well over 90, the last of a fabulous sisterhood, which lives on in the lore of the fruit country. One afternoon when the apple blossoms were shedding their fragrance on the air, Clarence O. Lewis of Lockport, Niagara County historian, who has collected a mass of data on the Seven Sisters, drove out to Mike Gorman’s place on the McClew Rd. in the town of Newfane. Michael Gorman and his wife are getting along in years but their memories of the sisters were still alive.

They lived on a farm diagonally across the road from the Sutherlands. In those days Sara was the only permanent occupant of the residence. Grace and Mary, who “lived around” in Lockport and Buffalo, were there occasionally. The wheel of fortune was no longer spinning for the family but they tried to keep up appearances. Gorman was hired sometimes by Sara to drive the family carriage, usually to meet trains when one of the clan came home for a visit. He remembers when big Dora landed one day at Lockport wearing a muskrat coat so heavy it was hard for him to lift her.

Mrs. Gorman sometimes helped out at the mansion, especially when Sara had guests or there was one of the family’s extraordinary funerals. She well remembers the nearly two weeks that young Fletcher Bailey was laid out in the house before his aunts would bury him.The house was full of cats. Sara knew every one by name. One day a Gorman son caught one of them in a trap he had set for rats. The animal was so badly hurt it had to be shot. Mike told the boy to bury it and say nothing, hoping Sara It was a vain hope. The next week a newspaper advertisement appeared, offering a reward for the return of the missing pet. Sara was grief-stricken when a favorite horse was burned to death in a Lockport Mery stable fire. The animal was 15 years old and had been raised on the farm from a colt. Its carcass was identified by the gold-plated shoes it wore. So Sara had the horse’s remains hauled home. A carpenter made a casket and the animal was buried ceremoniously in the pet cemetery. – Mike Gorman still has one of those horseshoes but most of the gold plating has rubbed off.

There is an undocumented tale that a pet dog belonging to a Sutherland sister had its own bed and that at the head of the bed was a bell which the animal rang when he wanted attention. But there’s no fiction about the seven dolls. Each belonged to a particular sister and the hair of each doll came from the head of its owner. The dolls stood nearly 3 feet high. The seven dolls went with the Seven Sisters on tour and were part of the hair tonic sales ballyhoo. The maids who combed the seven magnificent heads of human hair also had to look after the seven dolls. The doll which had been Sara’s is now owned by Mrs. Thomas Buckley of North Tonawanda, the Gorman’s daughter. Sara gave it to Mrs. Gorman before she died. For all their almost incredible eccentricities, the Seven Sutherland Sisters are revealed as a warm-hearted, impulsive, open-handed lot. Shyness may have accounted in part for their clannishness. They loved their own so much they were loath to commit their bodies to the earth. They loved their pets in life and honored them in death. They made a fortune and they spent it grandly. They held their heads high to the last. They were colorful and different and will be remembered forever.

The Buffalo Times
Buffalo, New York
14 Jul 1918, Sun  •  Page 19
Calgary Herald
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
29 Jun 1918, Sat  •  Page 16

Chicago Tribune
Chicago, Illinois
10 Feb 1889, Sun  •  Page 16

Chicago Tribune

Chicago, Illinois16 Aug 1908, Sun  •  Page 34

A sibling for sale: Historic Four Sisters house on the market

Nellie Thurston –Balloonist Maiden Voyage in McFarlane Grove

  1. Women in Peril– Betrayed by Heartless Scoundrels 1882
  2. Dead by Her Mother’s Lack of Faith–Odd StoriesSearching for the Red-Headed Wench of Carleton Place

Have you Heard About Nellie Bly?

Nothing But Lizzie Borden

Lois Lyman–A Hair of a Blunder!

Things Borrowed from my Grandmother — Human Hair Nets

Would You Smoke a Hornet’s Nest?

Would You Smoke a Hornet’s Nest?

The relationship between quack medicine and religion is more than casual. Early European settlers in North America brought with them the belief that God placed specific remedies for ailments in the areas where the ailments existed thus the interest in native plants and animals as cures.  One documented medicine cures for asthma as being 1) sleeping on a pillow with a rabbit’s tail in it and 2) smoking a hornets nest.

I am all for natural herbs etc.. but diagnosing $600 worth of natural medicine for someone who has terminal cancer and less than a week to live reeks of quackery. I told that to the naturopath that who prescribed the herbal drugs for my late husband.  No one understood me except her bank account.



At the end of the 1800s, there was a guy named Clark Stanley, who was selling a liniment that he claimed had snake oil in it,” Kang replied. “And he was saying basically it could cure everything.”

As for what was actually in it? “It had beef fat and pepper and turpentine,” said Kang. “But there was no snake oil in it. And he made a ton of money off of it.” —Mo Rocca


Dr. Lydia Kang said, “They used it for everything under the sun. So, you know, if you’re having a bad day, you would take some opium. You’re nervous? You take some opium. If you have some crying babies at home and you’re busy parents trying to go to the factory, you dose ’em up with some opium.”

Heroin, a derivative of opium, was once even sold over-the-counter by Bayer for sore throats and respiratory ailment-Dr. Lydia Kang


The cover of a 1906 issue of Collier’s Weekly, a muckraking journal that published Adams’ report on the evils of the patent medicine industry. It furthered the notion that nostrums were the cause of ultimate moral decay, death itself, and caused immense public fear and disapproval of homeopathic remedies.


Federal regulations eventually cut off this free trade of drugs, as did exposés like a 1906 issue of Collier’s that depicted the industry as “death’s laboratory” with an illustration of patent medicine being pumped out of a skull flanked by moneybags. Nevertheless, you can still find popular treatments like Sloan’s Liniment and Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound nestled in the drugstore, survivors from the golden age of quackery.


The consumption of blood is not itself an oddity, and became part of the tonic offerings in patent medicine through manufacturers like the Bovinine Company in Chicago. A truly unsettling 1890 ad for Bovinine shows a woman with her eyes closed, a small glass of red liquid beside her, and the words: “Look on me in my lassitude reclining / My nerveless body languid, pale and lean; / Now hold me up to where the light is shining / And mark the magic power of BOVININE.”

When the postcard is held up to a light, suddenly her eyes open and a ghostly steer appears outside the window with the words “My life was saved by Bovinine.” And the drug probably was quite eye opening, being a tantalizing and alcoholic mix of beef blood, glycerine, and sodium chloride (salt)


Radioactive solutions emerged in the early 20th century after radioactive decay was identified in 1896. One of the more infamous of these was Radithor, a patent medicine with distilled radium, made by self-proclaimed doctor William Bailey, who had previously sold strychnine as an aphrodisiac.

Socialite and industrialist Eben Byers took Radithor following an arm injury in 1927, and continued consuming it through the 1930s, when he slowly died a grotesque death involving snapping bones and lost teeth. Byers’s demise prompted an investigation into Radithor, and ultimately its removal from pharmacies, although poor Byers was buried in a lead coffin due to the contained radiation in his body. As a 1932 Wall Street Journal article quipped: “The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off.”


Godfrey's Inhaler | The Quack Doctor

Medicine for Weak Women — Hokum Era

Drugs of the 1950s from Mac William’s Shelves– Iodine, Liniment and Camphor Oil

The Remedy Women of Lanark County

I Will Take Some Opium to Go Please —The “Drug Dispensary” at the Chatterton House Hotel

Was Lipstick Banned and the $64,000 Question

What the Heck was Electric Soap? Chatterton House Hotel Registrar

When the Spanish Fly Kicks In !

If Quackery Poison Gets You!! Blue Poison Ointment

Constipation Guaranteed to be Cured in Almonte

It’s Electrifying! Dr Scott’s Electric Corset

We’re Off to See the Wizard — The Poisoner’s Handbook?

When the Spanish Fly Kicks In !

When the Spanish Fly Kicks In !

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Robert McDonald photo from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

The druggist, doctor or local medicine man was always ready to share his potions for all that ailed you– including the matters of Cupid. Instead of smiles or wise words he offered some nasty stuff put into beer or spread on bread. Yes, bread.

In the Georgian era medical blistering, also sometimes known as vesiculation, raised a blister on the skin, and was thought by Georgian doctors to be an effective tool to deal with certain medical issues. Among the issues and problems blistering was thought to correct or aid was hysteria, hypochonriasis, gout, certain types of simple inflammation, and fevers, as well as cases of insanity. Blistering was achieved with applications of a fine powder usually composed of cantharides (a powerful-blistering substance often obtained from blister beetles, sometimes called Spanish Fly.

Have you ever heard of Spanish Fly?  It’s actually an insect that can be found in hay and it can be really poisonous if eaten. Livestock have died after eating this insect and can you imagine there were people who used this poisonous liquid as an aphrodisiac? It is documented as really doing the job but it hasn’t killed you the next day you might be one of the lucky ones.  Due to its toxicity, it was some also used as a poison.


Uses of Oil

It was used sometimes as a rosy blush when applied to the cheeks– if your cheeks didn’t blister or peel off. After a popular potion of  a foul mixture of pigeons’ droppings, cumin, horseradish and beetroot didn’t work to grow hair people tried Spanish Fly. There is no doubt both remedies caused a scalp tingling sensation that felt as if it might be doing something positive, but the droppings probably didn’t win many friends and the Spanish Fly caused the scalp to bleed and blister profusely. Extreme ideas were the norm of the day back then. Feast your eyes on the 1891 animal remedies clipping below:



Clipped from Vancouver Daily World,  24 Jan 1891, Sat,  Page 3



Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun andScreamin’ Mamas (USA)

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.




The Peculiar Case of Jeanetta Lena McHardy

If Quackery Poison Gets You!! Blue Poison Ointment

Constipation Guaranteed to be Cured in Almonte

It’s Electrifying! Dr Scott’s Electric Corset

Screenshot 2017-08-15 at 18.jpg

I have been writing about downtown Carleton Place Bridge Street for months and this is something I really want to do. Come join me in the Domino’s Parking lot- corner Lake Ave and Bridge, Carleton Place at 11 am Saturday September 16 (rain date September 17) for a free walkabout of Bridge Street. It’s history is way more than just stores. This walkabout is FREE BUT I will be carrying a pouch for donations to the Carleton Place Hospital as they have been so good to me. I don’t know if I will ever do another walking tour so come join me on something that has been on my bucket list since I began writing about Bridge Street. It’s always a good time–trust me.

Are You Ready to Visit the Open Doors?


If Quackery Poison Gets You!! Blue Poison Ointment



The Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum posted this picture yesterday and I ago curious.

This is an antique poison tin which held Blue Ointment that contained one third Mercury. It shows the skull and crossbones and, in small print below the word “Poison” it says: “A.C. Co. 70”.  Gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia ran rampant during the Victorian era. … with urethral injections, irrigations, calomel, and treated mercurial ointments

This got me thinking about how our ancestors managed to maintain health on their units, especially when there were little to no effective medications available that didn’t involve the hideous sounding mercurial ointment or the downright hazardous, hyposulphate of soda.

Blue ointment is the name for a skin treatment that was used in the early part of the 20th century. Comprised of a mixture of mercurial ointment and petroleum or lard in a ratio of 2:1, respectively, blue ointment was often used to kill body lice, cure syphilis, and soothe troublesome skin irritations that did not respond to other poultices or salves. It was also put on the neck for lice removal especially with soldiers.



The tin was made by the McDonald Mfg in Toronto, Ontario. No idea where the ointment was made.


MacDonald Mfg. Co. Limited
Other names MMCo.
Dates & places of birth and death Established 1899, but had a fire
Occupation Lithographed Tinware Manufacturer
Notes This Toronto firm made large quantities of lithographed tinware, such as tea tins, biscuit tins, shortening tins. Some of its McCormick Biscuits tins were also marketed as “Patriotic Lunch Pails”, as they could be re-used for this purpose after the biscuits were used up.
The company had begun in 1899 (but had a fire). Once re-established, the factory at 401 Richmond Street was expanded in 1903 and in 1923. The MacDonald Manufacturing Company was purchased in 1944 by the Continental Can of Canada company (used a triple CCC mark) and they owned the factory until 1967.

Some of the containers they made were:
-Snowflake Brand Shortening
-Chocolate For Our Soldiers Places of residence Toronto, Ontario
401 Richmond Street

Blue Ointment was everywhere.. It was extremely popular.


 Boxed & Labeled “Poison” Blue Ointment Tubes “Brooklyn,N.Y.” early 1900’s

In local treatment,  the chancre (or sore) would be excised and cauterised, or frequently bathed with types of solutions. Rubbing in a mercurial ointment will hasten the disappearance of any syphilitic skin lesion. For joint affections a dressing is applied. For chronic ulcers, the use of a mercurial ointment and the local application of salvarsan for those on the leg or to the tongue. For general treatment, there were three drugs: mercury, iodine and arsenic.[5] Arsenic?? Yes! Salvarsan is an arsenic-based drug (and mishandling of the injection could and did result in arsenic poisoning on occasion). Syphilis caused open and weeping sores called chancres–these did not itch or cause pain, but were incredibly unsightly.

We’re Off to See the Wizard — The Poisoner’s Handbook?



The Almonte Gazette 1902

Mrs. Adam Clark, of Port Elmsley,who sought the aid of the Wizard in Carleton Place as related last week, came back on Sunday after also visiting friends. Though having positively guaranteed a cure, when confronted she quailed. She would not now guarantee, the product. 

To be so thrown down after making that long journey was a species of cruelty and callousness of the fibre of a car wheel. She came straight back, deceived up to the hilt, but not in despair, having formed the resolution to nourish her own vital essences and see if perchance the antidote may not lay at hand within her own system.


Who or what was ‘the Wizard’?

Hamlin’s Wizard Oil was an American patent medicine sold as a cure-all under the slogan “There is no Sore it will Not Heal, No Pain it will not Subdue.”

First produced in 1861 in Chicago by former magician John Austen Hamlin and his brother Lysander Butler Hamlin, it was primarily sold and used as a liniment for rheumatic pain and sore muscles, but was advertised as a treatment for pneumonia, cancer, diphtheria, earache, toothache, headache and hydrophobia. It was made of 50%-70% alcohol containing camphor, ammonia, chloroform, sassafras, cloves, and turpentine, and was said to be usable both internally and topically.

Traveling performance troupes advertised the product in medicine shows across the Midwest, with runs as long as six weeks in a town. They used horse-drawn wagons and dressed in silk top hats, frock coats, pinstriped trousers, and patent leather shoes—with spats. They distributed song books at the shows and in druggists Performers included James Whitcomb Riley, singer and composer Paul Dresser from Indiana, and southern gospel music progenitor Charles Davis Tillman.

At these gatherings John Austen Hamlin delivered lectures replete with humor borrowed from the writings of Robert Jones Burdette.

Grinnell College research points out that the Hamlins claimed efficacy for Wizard Oil on not only human beings but also horses and cattle, one poster displaying an elephant drinking the stuff by lifting the bottle with the trunk. Bottles came in 35¢ and 75¢ sizes.[Carl Sandburg inserted two versions of lyrics titled “Wizard Oil” together with a tune into his American Songbag (1927).

In 1916, Lysander’s son Lawrence B. Hamlin of Elgin, by then manager of the firm, was fined $200 under the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act for advertising that Hamlin’s Wizard Oil could “check the growth and permanently kill cancer”. –Files from Wikipedia

Read the Almonte Gazette here

Did You Know Who was Cooking in Back of Lancaster’s Grocery Store? Dr. Howard I Presume! – Part 3


Part 1- Dr. G. S. Howard of Carleton Place — Just Call Me Master!

The Shenanigans of Dr. Howard of Carleton Place – Part 2


This is J.G. Lancaster’s Grocery Store in 1947 – now the Eating Place in Carleton Place on Bridge Street. Before Lancaster opened, our dastardly devil of Carleton Place, Dr. Howard, was busy making and marketing his elixirs in that every same building. Knowing of his past history in Carleton Place I have no doubt there was probably some dispute over rent, and he moved on from Lancaster’s to the building once know as Carleton Mill Supplies on Franktown Road. I can bet my last dollar it was somewhere in the back property where the new Tim Horton’s now exists.

snedden2 (1)

In late nineteenth-century physicians were scarce and poorly educated. Treatments were based on the now-discredited theory of the four bodily humors that had to be kept in balance. These might include such treatments as bleeding (sometimes using live leeches), cold baths, blistering agents, and other remedies that were worse than the ailments that they were meant to treat!

Many people placed their faith in patent medicines, pitched by traveling salesmen who never failed to entertain the crowds before offering cure-alls. Modern advertising was born during this area, as patent medicine companies printed almanacs with useful information and humorous quotations mixed with plenty of advertising for mail-order herbal remedies. The newspapers and magazines of the day were crammed with ads for medicines and miracle-cure devices. Most of these medicines were at best harmless; many contained generous quantities of alcohol, opium, or cocaine, ensuring a quick feeling of well-being for first-time customers, followed by the possibility of habitual use. Bayer was the number one producer of heroin for their medicines and arsenic was used for arthritis.

Howard’s popular “Stop That Cough!” – was made at his Orien’s Manufacturing Co in Carleton Place. He had elixirs that cured everything from hair loss to cancer. Consider some of the names of once popular forms of medicine—sugartits (sugary medicine for babies), booty balls (silver mercury pills), cachets (crude precursors to capsules) and folded powders (easier to swallow than pills or tablets). And consider some of the medicines themselves:bat dung (guano), juniper tar, nux vomica, turpentine, hog lard, nutgall, pomegranate, stinging nettle and sarsaparilla..

Howard’s building on Franktown Road that he rented from Mrs. Gillies was painted with huge signs claiming:

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“Orien’s Manufacturing Co.”

“Lumbermen and Contractors Supplied at Wholesale Prices”

“Manaca Bitters- guaranteed to cure Dyspepsia–Torpid Liver and Constipation”

“Dr. Howard’s Great Tonic- Only five drops make a dose. 200 Doses for One Dollar”

“Use Oriens Sure Cure for Corns”

“Oriens Linfament relieves Muscular pains, sprains and bruises, frostbites,chilblains and sore joints

and the list went on.

Modern-day medicine has its faults, but it’s is a lot better to be sick today than in yesteryear.I don’t think I could have put my faith in Dr. Howard in anything.

Photos- Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum