Saturday, April 22, 2017

And if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you…

[Note: George Knutz was my great grandfather's brother]

The year was 1906.  The place was Sedalia, Missouri.  George Knutz, ill after a dog bite, was taken by the night train to Dr. L. E. Stanhope in nearby Nevada, Missouri.  There were plenty of doctors in Sedalia, but none like Dr. Stanhope.  He had a madstone.

George Knutz
Knutz, a carman on the Third street line in Sedalia, was bitten by a local dog known only as “Tramp” on Friday.  By Monday night, his symptoms worsened to the point where he and friend Fred Koyl took the Monday evening train to Dr. Stanhope, who, for $35, would treat him with the controversial stone.

A “madstone,” as the name implies, was used to treat bites that might potentially transmit rabies, or “hydrophobia” as it was also known.  These porous stones were found in the stomachs of cud-chewing animals, but not all of these stones were created equally.  A stone from a white deer was said to be more effective than a stone from a brown deer, for instance.   The stone was boiled in sweet milk until the milk turned green, indicating all poison was removed from the stone.  It was placed hot on an open wound; if the wound had scabbed over, it was re-opened first.  The stone would then adhere to the wound, and draw out any “poisons” that might be present.  When the poison was gone from the wound, or when the madstone was full, it would drop off, and then it could be re-boiled to start the process all over again until the patient was purged of whatever poison had been in the wound.

The process had to be followed exactly, and there were additional caveats.  If the owner of the stone tried to sell it, it would negate the healing power; also, the patient had to come to the owner of the stone, and not vice versa.  Many folklore testimonials can be found attributing miracles to these madstones, while others suggested it was simply placebo, although no amount of placebo can stop rabies.

George Knutz had the madstone attached to the calf of his leg for nine and a half hours, afterward feeling so well that he returned to working his streetcar route on Friday morning.  Dr. Stanhope told him if he had waited another day, his outcome may have been very different.

“There are a great many so-called madstones that are bogus, and, of course, worthless,” stated Dr. Stanhope.  “I have a madstone that has been thoroughly tested, which I apply to bites at a reasonable price, with perfect confidence that it is a sure cure for hydrophobia.”  Besides his usual fee of $10 for the first hour plus $5 for each additional hour, Dr. Stanhope was offering stock in his madstone for the price of $1, which entitled the whole family the lifetime privilege to have the stone applied free of charge for all poisonous bites.

There was no word on the health of the stray dog, Tramp, who bit Mr. Knutz.