Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Dose of History

By Julie E. Greene, June 09, 2005

The mahogany case has a red velvet lining.

The instrument handles are ebony and one has a split handle with a fishtail design. The kit maker's mark is etched in the metal.

Pretty attractive tools for such a gruesome job - the amputation of Union soldiers' limbs during the Civil War.

"One of the marks of a true craftsman, in the sense of European craftsmen, is not only how useful the tool, ... but to a certain sense the aesthetic of the tool. (It) showed skill and precision with which the tool was made," said George C. Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md.

"We don't need the beauty of them anymore, but still today we have that idea of quality being the presentation that we're given," Wunderlich said. Today's doctors' offices are nicely decorated with art and beautiful carpet and chairs, presenting to patients the idea that this is an accomplished doctor, he said.

The amputation kit, on loan from Dr. John H. Carrill of Hagerstown, is one of many pieces on exhibit at The Miller House in downtown Hagerstown as part of "Doctors, Drugs and Disease: A History of Medicine in Washington County."

The museum was at 135 W. Washington St. The exhibit opened Saturday, June 11, and ran through Saturday, Oct. 1.

The exhibit tells the history of Washington County medicine through objects and photos, Miller House Curator Jennifer L. Dintaman said.

Many of the items have not been on public display before, she said. In addition to items Dintaman found in Miller House's attic, there are things on loan from Washington County Hospital, the Washington County chapter of the American Red Cross and private collectors like Dr. George Manger Jr.

"I have to say for a local exhibit like this, they really had quite a diverse collection of some really cool items," Wunderlich said.

Among those were the amputation kit, which is missing its identifying plaque, although Carrill remembers it as being a Union kit from a letter he obtained with the kit.

Another of those "cool" items are the doctor's saddlebags that belonged to Dr. Victor D. Miller Jr., who practiced medicine from 1900 to 1955, Dintaman said. The Miller House used to be Miller's home and office. He also rented space in an addition for doctors' offices, Dintaman said.

The leather saddlebags, which show some wear, probably date to the late 1800s, she said. Dintaman doubts Miller used them.

The German silver hinge on the two-tiered bags is rare, she said. The bags hold medicine bottles plugged with corks; a few contain medicine from the last time the bags were used.

Several of the medical kits on display hold containers and medicine from the time period in which they were used.

This includes a civilian physician's buggy chest from the mid-19th century with some unopened bottles whose tops are covered with onion skin wrappers, Dintaman said.

This item also is part of The Miller House's collection and once belonged to Dr. Herbert Lee Kneisley, Dintaman said. Kneisley had a pharmacy at Washington Square, where Canine Cuttery sits today.

A receipt from the pharmacy, dated from April 17, 1920, to 1922, shows what appears to be a running tab kept for customer Rena Bester.

Purchases included cotton for 10 cents, three tubes of bromide tablets for $2.50, Johnson Baby P. for 25 cents, Easter eggs for $2.30 and Coca-Cola for 10 cents.

At the bottom is a note reading, "You have overbilled your account 35 which amount I have credited you with."

Other medical kits include an English-made one from the mid-19th century on loan from Manger.

The wooden, cabinet-style kit has a door on the back that can be slid open after pulling a brass lever in the front.

A pill kit containing medications used in the 1920s and early 1930s belonged to the late Dr. Edward W. Ditto Jr.

Among the colorful collection are pink powder alkamints, tiny white phenobarbital pills and shiny, red, ammonium chloride pills.

Dr. Edward W. Ditto III said his father practiced medicine from around 1921 to the 1970s, changing his methods as the medical field developed.

When his father started practicing medicine, he would test for diabetes by dipping his finger in a urine specimen and putting it on his tongue, Ditto said.

"If sweet, that meant sugar and they were diabetic," Ditto said.

The exhibit also features older uniforms of American Red Cross workers, pictures, letters and a timeline showing the history of disease in the county, including the cholera epidemic in the 1830s and the smallpox epidemic in the 1860s, Dintaman said.

Carrill also loaned the museum two Union medical staff dress swords.

One of the more unsightly displays shows pictures of people with skin diseases, including a woman dressed in a high lace collar and jewelry, but whose face is marred by syphilis ulcero serpiginosa.

Near the amputation kit a small item that was used in the early half of the 19th century to cure whatever ailed people, Dintaman said.

The metal object, a scarificator, was used for bloodletting.

With the metal cube against the skin, a trigger was pressed that released 10 tiny razor blades into the skin, Dintaman said.

The exhibit is a fairly unique collection of items that gives insight into the development of medicine in Washington County, Dintaman said.

"I think it's well worth people's time to take a look at," Wunderlich said.

From: articles.herald-mail.com


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