The exhibition “Health for Sale” currently at the Philadelphia Museum illustrates the story of commercial medicine through an intriguing collection of posters hawking nostrums, panaceas and health advice in a time before the FDA meddled in such things.There’s more than 50 pieces featuring alabaster skinned beauties seeking anemia cures, virile men donning electro-galvanic belts, families posed in health-giving underwear, bears swigging cough syrup, the spectral figure of Tuberculosis knocking at the door on Christmas Eve. It’s closing in July, so get there soon. And while there, you must of course drop in at the Mütter Museum. Thanks to Abraham Schroeder for alerting us to the to the show.
Pictures of burning children always catch our attention. Particularly old-timey pictures of burning kids like this one from She Walks Softly. Turns out, this one is a little too good to be true, as it’s not the vintage advertisement for some the kooky product it purports to be, but the work of contemporary designer and illustrator Christian Northeast.
Even though I’d seen this marshmallow roast gone terribly wrong before, I’d assumed it was mere Photoshop trickery, so was surprised to learn these are genuine flesh-and-blood children staging a pyrotechnic stunt for reality TV show pilot. The kids are part of a family of stunt professionals headed by TK TK Dunn, and have performed in many movies including Catwoman, X-Men II, and Scary Movie, and others. No word was to whether the pilot ever sold
Cigarette cards were the bubblegum cards of their Edwardian day. It seems fitting that a cigarette manufacture should produce instructional material on fire safety, though this was only one in a series of hundreds of unrelated to the dangers or ill-effects of smoking, so it would be a bit of a presumptuous to conclude this was offered as a sort of product warning.
The final word in burning children art would have to come from the pen of early German psychiatric pioneer Heinrich Hoffman, who in 1845 created both verse and illustration for his collection of cautionary tales for children Der Struwwelpeter, translated for American audiences by Mark Twain as Slovenly Peter. Peter, a child whose grooming habits were wildly out of control, was one of a host counter-exemplary children, which also included the tale of naughty Pauline (pictured here) whose fascination with matches ends badly despite the best advice of her cats.
Hoffman’s “The Dreadful Story About Matches” was later republished in many editions, sometimes with different illustrations such as this one featuring an older Pauline no longer toting doll and perhaps already on the verge of puberty, a state some scholars have associated with the graphic decision to move the fire from its original location on the child’s back to the more suggestive position shown here.
Regardless when the Rolling Stones offered their smirky musical comment on the subject, the reckless use of prescription meds to counteract suburban angst and ennui is hardly a thing of the past. Yet there’s a certain irreproducible naivete (or is that naked cynicism?) in some of these ads from back in the day.
The last post on medical students of the good old days and their good old gallows humor got me poking around to document some of those semi-mythic stories we’ve all heard about ghoulish stunts with anatomy lab cadavers.
The most widely circulated recent case is that presented in this video and mentioned on Boing Boing in October 2010. Have a look and decide for yourself whether you think it’s genuine as the verdict is definitely out on this one.
Reaching back a little further, we find Mr. Parallel’s delightful horde of old newspaper clippings, where one can read of medical students propping up cadavers as scarecrows, heaving severed heads out windows, staking them on picket fences, nailing loose hands to telephone poles, and hanging dissected bodies in effigy. Good times!
Nowadays before medical students begin their cadaver dissections, they are invited to participate in high-minded ceremonies honoring those whose bodies are soon to be opened, but in the wild and wooly days before the mid-twentieth century, med students lightened this grisly rite of passage with humor, painting macabre slogans on their dissection tables, and sometimes posing the bodies in less-than-reverent situations.
The general phenomenon of anatomy lab photography is thus described by the book’s publisher:
In the 19th and early 20th century, a culture of secrecy surrounded human dissection in medical education. Students could be expelled for divulging the source or the identities of “subjects,” while anatomy professors, demonstrators, and janitors were to guard the dissection room’s secrets-which makes it all the more striking how often medical students documented and commemorated this rite of passage. At the same time that student dissectors were admonished to shield the secrets of the dissecting room, they frequently invited in the eye of the camera to pose with “their” cadavers. For nearly the next half century, through the 1920s, the dissection photo would become one of the most archetypal and ubiquitous forms of medical student portraiture before 1930, yet it vanished almost completely after 1950.
These photographs were made in a surprising variety of forms: class portraits, cartes de visite and postcards, and staged dark humor scenes. Complete with illuminating essays by two experts on the subject, Dissection features 138 extraordinary, rare historic photographs of the unseen world of the rite of passage into the mysteries of medicine.
I’m full of daze, Shock and amaze; For nowadays I hear they’ll gaze Thro’ cloak and gown — and even stays, These naughty, naughty Roentgen Rays.
This little ditty from 1896 sums up the prurient interest that Wilhelm Roentgen’s invention of X-ray technology immediately… err… “aroused.”
By the 1930s the X-ray was still exotic enough to be exploited by the pulps as a tool employed by the mad scientist in his tireless experimentation upon voluptuous semi-clad female subjects. (images via pbase.com/silverghost1951.)
The fascination lingered through the 1950s and into the 1960s as evidenced by this classic Gil Elvegren pinup “Inside Story/Overexposure” and the success of “Sea-Monkey” creator, Nazi, and mail-order huckster Harold Von Braunhut‘s naughty-minded “X-ray Specs.”
Today, of course, these salacious fantasies have been all-too graphically realized in the work of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, whose radiographic images of various acts sex acts have been posted to death since they first appeared on the in 2001. We prefer the more evocative X-ray pinup calendar that appeared in 2010 as a promotional item for medical imaging company Eizo, and has of late been satirically recast as “The Miss TSA Calendar.”
After our last post about dramatic surgical styles, it’s hard not to think of Alexis Carrel, the man who really put the “theater” in “operating theater.” As divine as vintage white surgical gowns might be, the diabolical black shrouds preferred by Dr. Carrel surely have them beat.
Carrel, a French surgeon and Nobel Prize winner working in America in the 1920s and 1930s, believed that black aided the mental focus of his surgical team as well as visually highlighting any dust that might appear in the operating room. He therefore not only insisted his team dress head to toe in black, but even had the walls painted that color. The ominous aura did not go unnoticed by journalists covering Carrel’s surgical experiments, especially since that work involved keeping human organs alive outside the body — heady s stuff for an era fascinated with the mad scientists of pulp novels and early horror movies.
Appearing on the cover of Time Magazine only two months after the release of The Bride of Frankenstein, Carrel was treated both as a sinister curiosity and beloved celebrity, the latter in no small part due to his friendship with aviator Charles Lindbergh, who not only who assisted Carrel with the engineering of a perfusion pump necessary for the doctor’s transplant experiments but also shared some of Carrel’s more esoteric perspectives on shaping humanity’s future. These included the possibility of physical immortality and Carrel’s most unfortunate legacy — advocacy of eugenics.