14 October 2009

Hillsborough's Original Health Care Debate

On October 11, 1842, Peter Stryker Beekman walked into the chambers of the Honorable W.B. Gaston, at the county courthouse in Somerville and presented a long testimonial that he had written out just the day before. Mr. Beekman was duly sworn and deposed, and testified that the facts were exactly as presented. And so began Hillsborough's first great health care debate.

Peter Stryker Beekman (all three names exuding "Hillsborough") was not in court to testify in a criminal or civil case, but rather to make an affidavit as to the astonishing cure he received just seven months earlier after taking Schenck's Pulmonic Syrup.

Mr. Beekman had been stricken about seven years earlier. Here is just a part of the litany of symptoms contained in his affidavit:

"...a pain in my right side, and darting to my right shoulder...cough, which was tight and dry, dizziness in my head...severe pain and soreness in the pit of my stomach...food did not digest...stomach completely stopped...everything I ate was immediately rejected...bowels were costive...flesh was nearly all gone...reduced to nothing scarcely but skin and bone...confined to bed..."

Upon death's door, after exhausting all physicians without improvement, Mr. Beekman was given a bottle of the aforementioned cure-all by local Branchville [South Branch] merchant Peter Van Cleef of the firm Van Nest and Van Cleef, local sales agents for Joseph H. Schenck Pulmonic Syrup.



Almost immediately he began to recover. Over the course of a few weeks time he coughed up yellow matter, black matter, all kinds of sickly matter. He promptly purchased 15 more bottles, at $1.00 a pop, and continued treating himself until he was cured!

Some time after his affidavit, he met Mr. Schenck, and was offered a job as a salesman. Mr. Beekman did quite well for a couple of years selling Schenck's patent medicine - and then he had an idea. And so an ad appeared in 1845 in the New York Tribune under the heading "Beekman's Original Genuine Pulmonic Syrup." The advertisement stated the benefits of Beekman's Syrup and advised purchasers to "be cautious, and see that they get Beekman's medicines, and no other."



J.H. Schenck was not going to take this lying down - and over the next year there appeared a war of words in the New York newspapers, each side claiming theirs was the "original" cure. No doubt the publicity didn't hurt either medicine - everyone involved made some money. And even 20 years later, Schenck was still printing the full text of Peter Stryker Beekman's original 1842 affidavit in his ads!

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