When you visit your local drugstore trolling for stellar deals on cans of cling peaches, Billy the Bigmouth Bass or salve, do you take a moment to consider how drugstores came into being? You don't? Well, the next time you're in the Vieux Carré, and need a break from drinking inordinate numbers of Hurricanes, be sure to stop by one of my favorite museums ever, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. You might not know this, but the histories of carbonated beverages, perfume, cocktails, and voodoo all intersect at the pharmacy.
The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum resides in what used to be the apothecary shop of the first licensed pharmacist in the United States, Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. The museum is a beaut, with tall dark wood cabinets and a dazzling array of chemists' bottles and medical tools. Upstairs is a large historical display of spectacles. You can also weigh yourself on an antique scale (only a penny!); it will give you your fortune, which will invariably say something about taking it easy on the liquor. I guess that was something everyone could relate to back then.
You can learn all sorts of useful information at this museum. Everyone knows about the cocaine that used to be an ingredient of Coca-Cola, but did you know 7-Up had lithium? Now that's some peppy sodey! Also, you can read that prescriptions for medicinal whiskey during Prohibition never specified the amount. It certainly paid to make friends with the pharmcist!
Many medicines are poisons, and vice versa- the dose is what determines the effect. This explains the number of old-time medicines containing belladonna, arsenic and other goodies. For example, how about some tampons containing opium and belladonna? And, who can beat the flowery language of 19th century medicine labels- exhortations to drink as much of Dr. Cyrus Goodfellow's Liver Tonic as your belly can hold? Or, promises that one's child will grow to be a "king among men" if you feed him Chocolated Worm Syrup? There were lots and lots of medicines for the liver, for the nerves, for the digestion, leading me to believe that people probably didn't eat too well back then.
For two bucks, visitors receive a guided tour of the exhibits on the ground floor. Some of the attractions include a jar full of live leeches, information about amputation in the olden days (the textbook states that most anyone should be able to hack off a limb in 17 seconds, "as long as he isn't an idiot"), elixirs that claim to restore feminine charms and masculine virility, a vintage soda fountain, scary-looking medical implements, hand-blown glass jars and voodoo potions. You really get value for your admission money here!
The docent my friends and I met was absolutely charming and happened to know the most shocking details about medicine in the 19th century. After the tour, visitors are free to gaze in disbelief at the shelves and shelves of obscure potions, extracts and tools as well as to explore the herb garden in the courtyard outside, and the second floor display of various antique items.
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
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