Heart of Louisiana: French Quarter Apothecary
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - There is impressive and even startling history tucked away in this French Quarter Creole cottage. Nearly two centuries ago, it was an apothecary - a drug store - and it opened at a time when the citizens of New Orleans needed some healing.
"We're looking at between four and six hundred recorded deaths a day during the summers in the 19th century in New Orleans," said Owen Ever. "So sickness was abundant."
Ever is a curator and docent at this pharmacy museum, filled with authentic artifacts that are more likely to scare than heal you.
"So this is the lead needle which they didn't know about the injurious qualities of lead, namely that it's a neurotoxin," Ever said.
It was a time when leeches and beetles were believed to cure diseases.
"It does secrete a super toxic substance that causes extreme blistering, which was used blistering was a purgative method," Ever said.
A variety of blades was used to pierce the flesh.
"The basic concept behind bloodletting is that if you are chronically ill, it's because your blood is harboring sickness and you have to get rid of that blood so that within the vacancy, new blood can move in," Ever said.
Foul-tasting ingredients were mixed with sweet soda water to make them easier to swallow. And pharmacies were free to experiment and promote and sell any concoction they could dream up and put in a bottle. At the dawn of the 19th century, there were no licensing requirements in the United States for pharmacists. But that first changed here in Louisiana in 1816.
The first person to become a licensed pharmacist was Louis Dufilho Jr., who opened this New Orleans drugstore in 1823. Some of his original belongings were found discarded in the backyard privy.
"We found some ointment jars that were handmade bearing his name," Ever said. "We found some syringes and most significantly we found his original wax seal that he would use to mark his official documents."
All of these artifacts piece together a shocking, even macabre view of diseases and not-so-curative treatments, a time when even gold- and silver-plated pills could do more harm that good.
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