It’s been many years since listening to a tour narration has made me so sick to my stomach and that I’ve had to leave the room, despite enjoying the tour content and having a genuine interest in what was being discussed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that my experience at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum was bad, quite the opposite, it was just more than I had prepared myself for.
It had always been my intention to visit the Pharmacy Museum that day but I unwittingly stumbled across the daily interactive presentation (I’d thought it was only a self-guided tour, turns out they often do one presentation per day, at around 1pm – FYI). I’d seen the museum the previous evening on a ghost tour and had heard the story of it’s devious history – which is thus:
Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. was the first licensed pharmacist in New Orleans. From all historical accounts, he was a very kind man with a genuine interest in treating the ailments of his fellow citizens and was quite beloved by the community. After his death, the pharmacy moved into the hands of Dr. Dupas – who by all accounts was not a nice man. Dupas, it is said, used to lure the sick and indigent into the pharmacy with promises of treating them free of charge. Once they entered the however they were never seen again. Due to the transient nature of New Orleans, this went relatively unnoticed for many years and it was not until much later that authorities discovered several dead bodies hidden in a crawl space between the first and second floors of the building. It is thought that Dupas conducted several experiments on pregnant slaves as well as attempting to find a cure for syphilis by experimenting on all those poor souls he had lured to the pharmacy for ‘treatment.’ By all accounts, his experiments were not successful.
As our tour guide described, Dupas had a clever plan for disposing of the bodies of his victims, and it involved the crawl space. Allegedly he would let the cavern fill with corpses until it was full, after which time he would release the trap door beneath the hidden room, which opened onto the carriage way, where the contents would drop into his waiting carriage, to be taken to the river, where the bodies could be disposed of, never to be seen again.
While the ghost tour had been very informative, it did not enter the building and so, as you might imagine I was keen to get inside the next day, to see some of the old timey equipment and further avail myself of the remedies and paraphernalia which previous generations had used on themselves.
I certainly did get to see a great many horrific instruments before I had to leave, including: lead nipples for baby bottles, arsenic tonics, lead based make-up, old fashioned syringes and assorted other items that looked like they were out of a horror film.. which brings us to another implement, the one of my undoing, the civil war era amputation saw.
Adding insult to the injuring of seeing the saw was the discussion on how amputations during the civil war were performed, specifically the ways in which amputated limbs were dressed and stumps sutured. Nope. That was more than I needed to here. All gangrene and joking aside, there is a limit to how far my mind can wander and, congratulations to the tour guide, I hit the limit that day.
The museum is fascinating with no end of intricate and curious exhibits but be wanted, only stay for the narration if you’ve got a cast iron stomach.
You can see more about the Pharmacy here: http://www.pharmacymuseum.org/
It is located at 514 Chartes Street in the French Quarter