A Doctor's Memories
Victor C. Vaughan, M.D.

Table of Contents

Chapter 9

Experiences as a Medical Expert

The study of poisons, their chemistry and their effects upon animals have always had a fascination for me. As I have stated, my first published papers were on arsenic and antimony and much of my research has been devoted to poisons, mineral, vegetable, bacterial and animal. My experience as a medical expert has been confined almost exclusively to cases in which poison is supposed to have played a part. I know nothing about other branches of legal medicine or expert testimony. I admit, now that I am through with all this, that but few experiences ever gave me greater thrills than come from cross-examination by a bright . In such instances I only hoped that my antagonist would fight fair, but if he should strike below the belt I generally managed to direct my thrust at a like part of his anatomy. I do not claim that victory has always been with me or the laugh on my side, but I have escaped grievous wounds. I have faced many eminent criminal lawyers, most of whom have remained my good friends. In a few cases the contest has ended in mutual aversion. There is no other state in which my brain remains so clear and acts so promptly as when I am in the witness chair.

My varied experience as an expert has caused me to formulate certain rules for my own conduct when serving in this capacity. These may be of service to younger men:

(1) Never accept service in a case unless you are convinced that the claims on your side of the case have scientific justification. It is often said that the expert swears for the side which offers him the biggest fee, and that the larger his fee the harder will he swear. In my experience the usual procedure has been as follows: The lawyer comes, lays before the expert the facts that he intends to establish and asks what would be the expert’s testimony provided he did establish these facts. In my own experience quite as frequently as not this consultation has ended in the lawyer not wanting me as an expert. In such an instance the lawyer provides for the payment of my charge for the consultation, and I am free to accept service for the other side if offered.

In the drainage canal suit between the State of Missouri and the Sanitary District of Illinois I declined employment by the latter. The State of Missouri never asked my help, but I am sure that I should have declined had it been asked. At that time I was quite sure that the sewage of Chicago could be poured into the Mississippi River without endangering the health of the citizens of St. Louis, but I did not believe that the plan then proposed and since practiced, was the proper method of disposing of the sewage of Chicago. In the final days of the hearing I did testify as to the interpretation of the vital statistics presented by St. Louis. This helped the Chicago side and I am told that it had some weight in the decision rendered by the court of last resort. Now (1926) I am even more certain than I was twenty years ago that the drainage canal was not then, and is not now, the wise and scientific method of disposing of the immense waste of Chicago.

A prosecuting attorney in Ohio was trying an old man for the murder of his wife. Someone in Toledo had reported strychnia in the remains. The symptoms were those of gastrointestinal irritation and showed not the slightest evidence of strychnia poisoning. The prosecutor came to me twice and urged me to serve as an expert for him. On his second visit I told him that if he did not discontinue the case or modify the charge I would appear as a voluntary witness for the defendant at the trial. This I did, and the accused was acquitted.

An aged couple lived in a Michigan village. Early one morning the husband found the wife dead in bed. About 10 A. M. a large amount of embalming fluid was injected into the abdomen. A few hours later an autopsy was held and various organs in separate receptacles were sent to a competent chemist who reported sixty-eight grains of arsenic in the liver and only a fraction of a grain in the stomach. A sample of the embalming fluid was also sent to the chemist and in this he found no arsenic. Both the prosecutor and the lawyer for the defense consulted me. I advised them that the husband did not administer the poison, that the poison had not reached the liver through the stomach and that the embalming fluid used was arsenical and not that sent to the chemist. Neither would believe me and the prosecution was proceeding when the conscientious embalmer found that he had “mixed” his bottles and had injected an arsenical fluid into the abdomen.

(2) Sentiment should not concern the medical expert. He should confine himself to scientific facts. Sentiment has no place in a trial for murder and certainly the doctor should not resort to it.

(3) The expert should be modest in giving his qualifications. He should ask his lawyers not to magnify his greatness on direct examination; it may cause much embarrassment on cross examination.

In a famous trial in New York City a justly eminent man qualified as an all-round, unlimited medical expert. The next day he was compelled to admit that he knew but little physics, chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and so forth. I have learned by both personal experience and observation to bring to the smallest possible limit my expert qualification.

In a Federal Court in Chicago many years ago when I was young and inexperienced, I qualified as a chemist. I spent the whole of the first day on cross examination in answering questions about the chemistry of the alcohols, though no one of this chemical group had anything to do with the case in hand.

That evening, as my cross-examiner and I sipped our beer, I asked why he had consumed so much time in his irrelevant examination. He replied that he had recently tried a whiskey case and felt posted on the alcohols, adding, “I am working by the day and I hope you are.”

(4) Answer questions on cross-examinations as readily and as good-naturedly as on direct. I have noticed frequently that when the medical expert is turned over for cross-examination he is likely to assume a hostile attitude. He does not sit at his former ease. His face speaks defiance and his tone becomes antagonistic. The medical expert should not try to be facetious or smart but should leave the opening of this dangerous procedure to his interrogator.

The man who begins this play is likely to awaken dislike in judge and jury. If the lawyer begins it, the sense of fair play, both on the bench and in the box, will justify the witness in replying in kind; then the deadly duel is on and the first to lose his temper is lost. In the heat of battle the expert should pray that he may not swear too strongly. I admit that in my own experience this prayer has not always been fully granted.

(5) The expert should know that he has the right to qualify his answer, a right which I have never known a judge to deny. If his own lawyer neglects to secure this right for the witness he should himself appeal to the judge. The interrogator often demands that his question be answered by an unqualified “yes” or “no.” There are many questions that can not be so answered. Of this judge and juryman is fully aware.

(6) The expert should express no opinion of the guilt or innocence of the accused. In one’s social relations with those connected with the case in and outside of the courtroom the expert should make no distinction between those on one side and those on the other.

I will now give brief synopses of a few of the more interesting cases in which I have served. Before doing this, however, I must say something about my qualifications; in other words, I must qualify. When I began giving instruction in physiological chemistry in the University laboratory, work in toxicology was included in that subject and was required of students in pharmacy and optional with medical students. At that time the senior pharmacy class averaged about thirty; each of these was required to supply ten animals; to each of these animals, with only an assistant present, I administered some poison.

Then the student in charge was admitted to the room and began his protocol which contained a full record of time of administration, appearance and progress of symptoms, time of death, observations at autopsy, processes of chemical investigation and the exhibition of findings. The poison administered might be of mineral, vegetable or synthetic origin. With some three hundred cases a year quite a wide range was possible.


In September, 1880, I read a paper or gave a talk to a local medical society at Holly, Michigan. There I met a Doctor Hall, who had graduated at the University some years before and had since practiced at a village near Holly. He told me that his wife had died the preceding spring after a somewhat prolonged illness, during which he had frequent counsel; that now his neighbors were insisting that he had poisoned her; that he proposed, with the approval of the prosecuting attorney, to resurrect her body, have a toxicological examination made, and with the evidence stop the talk. Within a week he, accompanied by an under sheriff, brought me the stomach, telling me not to proceed with the analysis but to hold the organ until further word from him. He said that he was undecided about further procedure. A few days later the same under sheriff came with a letter from Doctor Hall instructing me to turn over the stomach to the bearer. This I did. That day Doctor Hall and the officer met in Detroit and the former went to the city physician, Doctor H. O. Walker, told him that he wished to procure a human stomach in order that he might make some diffusion experiments with it. The city physician, making many autopsies, complied with this request. The same day Hall took a stomach to Doctor Lyons of Detroit, a perfectly competent chemist, and instructed him to test it for poison and make a report. Doctor Lyons could find no poison; but the exhibition of this evidence of innocence to his neighbors did not stop their talk. Gossip grew louder, and the prosecuting attorney, S. W. Smith, for many years since a most worthy and valuable member of Congress, felt compelled to move in the case. He provided for the exhumation of the body of Mrs. Hall, but the grave was found empty and the remains could be discovered nowhere.

At this stage Doctor Hall was brought to trial, in which I was a witness as to fact. I had no expert testimony to give. The jury disagreed. The next year children playing in a straw stack near the cemetery discovered a flour barrel in which was the body of Mrs. Hall. Doctor Prescott found weighable quantities of arsenic in the liver and other organs and a trace of the same poison in the brain. At the second trial the undertaker testified that he had bathed Mrs. Hall’s body with an arsenical fluid, and the question of the diffusion of arsenic through the dead body came up. Doctor Prescott and I answered this question, he in the negative and I in the affirmative. Doctor Hall was convicted and sent to the penitentiary. In this trial the judge admitted some most incredible testimony. For instance, a man, who had been in jail with Hall, was permitted to testify that he had heard Hall tell in sleep how he had poisoned his wife. On account of the admission of testimony of this kind the Supreme Court ordered a third trial. In this the question of the possible diffusion of arsenic through the dead body, or post mortem imbibition, grew more important. Doctor Prescott, aided by others and supported by Taylor’s great book, the authoritative text in a toxicological case at that time, said that arsenic would not diffuse through dead tissue. I now had the cooperation of another colleague, Professor John W. Langley.

Several humorous incidents occurred at this trial, one of which I must relate. The chief counsel for the prosecution, Judge Baldwin, and I were warm friends and our contest in this case did not lessen our friendship. One day while we were lunching he remarked: “I understand that you are to come on the witness stand this afternoon and I tell you now that I have a question that will leave you without a foot to stand on. I will tell you now what it is, since I know that there is but one answer to it. The body of this woman was found in a sitting posture in the barrel where it had been during the greater part of the time since her death. Admitting that the undertaker did wipe the chest, abdomen and limbs with a towel soaked in an arsenic fluid, how could traces of the poison get to the brain? How could arsenic violate the law of gravity and go up instead of down? I am going to ask you if you can mention a substance which thus violates the law of gravity ?” I replied: “Langley is to precede me on the stand; knock him down with that question first and then I will take my turn.”

I did not tell Langley of the misfortune which was to come upon him. The kerosene lamps lighting the courtroom were burning and Langley was on the stand. I could see Judge Baldwin preparing to deal the blow. It came; Langley’s quiet features were not perturbed as he promptly answered: “Yes; the kerosene goes up in the wick.” I did not have to answer the question, and Doctor Hall was acquitted. I entirely lost sight of Hall’s guilt or innocence in the bigger question of the post mortem imbibition of arsenic. If not guilty, Hall was certainly insane; he may have been both. It was known that he was a morphin addict and he died a few years after his acquittal in an insane asylum. However, the Hall case did not finally and fully settle the question of the post mortem imbibition of arsenic.


Scarcely had the Hall case reached its final disposition when the Millard affair came in evidence. In the early eighties Matthew Millard was the leading citizen of the village of Paoli, Ionia County, Michigan. He owned a small bank, manufactured agricultural implements in a small way and had a general furniture store in which he sold cradles for the babies and coffins for those of all ages. Millard’s wife died after an illness of about three weeks, during which time the village doctor saw her as frequently as he deemed desirable, and twice he called in an older physician from a nearby locality. After her death Millard, explaining to his friends that he did not have in his establishment a coffin good enough for his wife, determined to embalm her body while he sent to Detroit for a more costly casket. With this explanation he went to the druggist and asked for some embalming substance. Millard testified that he asked the druggist for arsenic and that he received this substance. The druggist testified that Millard asked for strychnia. Unfortunately the druggist made no record of the sale of the poison as the state law even then demanded. There appears to have been no doubt in the minds of the judge or the jury that Millard secured white arsenic from the druggist. Millard and his brother testfied that they took a teaspoonful of the powder obtained from the druggist, suspended it in a teacupful of water and injected one Davidson’s syringe full into the mouth and the remainder into the rectum of the dead woman. No one else was present when this was done. Millard did not send to Detroit for a coffin but finally used one taken from his own stock. The body lay in the grave one hundred and five days before it was exhumed by order of the prosecutor. The post mortem examination was made under a shed with many citizens, some enemies and some friends of Millard standing about. The various organs were placed in a common receptacle and this was taken to Doctor Prescott at the University for chemical examination. Doctor Prescott found large quantities of arsenic in the lower bowel and liver and appreciable quantities in the other tissues sent him. At this time the brain was not removed and consequently was not examined. The question put to the experts was as follows: “Grant that a teaspoonful of white arsenic was suspended in water and injected into the mouth and rectum of a corpse, might arsenic be found widely distributed and in large quantities after the body had rested in the grave one hundred and five days ?” Doctor Prescott, supported by Doctor Samuel Duffield, a recent pupil of the great German chemist, Fresenius, answered this question in the negative; Professor Robert Kedzie of the Michigan Agricultural College and I answered it in the affirmative. Doctor Kedzie and I made in the courtroom demonstrations of the diffusion of arsenic which we thought convincing. Two of these I will briefly indicate: We prepared two batches of gelatins, one containing arsenic and the other containing hydrogen sulphid. We poured an inch or more of one of these in a test tube and after complete consolidation of this portion, poured on top of it the other preparation. Then day by day in the courtroom we called attention to the extension both downward and upward of the yellow coloration which first appeared at the line of contact of the two layers of gelatine. It made no difference whether the arsenic was originally in the lower or upper layer.

In a second demonstration we suspended a loop of human intestine containing an arsenical suspension in a saturated solution of hydrogen sulphid in a glass beaker and daily called attention to the formation of a yellow precipitate in the outer fluid. At that time Taylor’s book on toxicology was supposed to be the latest and most authoritative work dealing with poisons, and Taylor said that the finding of arsenic in the liver is unquestionable proof of its administration before death and that arsenic could reach that organ only through the circulation. As a result of this trial Millard was convicted and sentenced.

Doctor Vaughan in His Laboratory

The review of this case by Justice Campbell of the Michigan Supreme Court, ending in an order for a new trial, materially modified procedures in cases of suspected poisoning in several particulars. I will mention briefly some of these. During the many days of this trial all experts were required to sit in the courtroom and listen to all witnesses as to fact. After an attendant on the woman in her last illness had testified as to the symptoms as she observed them, each expert was asked something like the following question: “Having heard the testimony of Mrs. W., do you believe that deceased came to her death by poisoning by arsenic?” Justice Campbell ruled that this was clearly error.

In the trial, sentences and paragraphs from Taylor’s book were admitted as evidence. Justice Campbell ruled that this was error; Taylor was not there and could not be cross-examined: he might have been wrong in his statements; knowledge might have advanced since Taylor wrote; and books could be introduced only to contradict a witness. If a witness testified that an author said so and so, his book or other writing might be introduced to contradict this testimony; under no other circumstances could a book be introduced in evidence. This ruling has been generally accepted. At least it has been supported in every murder case in which I have subsequently served. This ruling has relieved the expert from a most distressing condition. In the first Millard trial the witnesses were compelled to answer such questions as these:

You recognize Taylor’s book as the most authoritative work on poisoning there is, do you not? I do.

Taylor was a great toxicologist, was he not? Yes.

Quite as great as you, was he not ? Yes, much greater.

Then do you dare dispute him? Yes, on this point.

Thus the tangle went on, becoming more and more complicated.

The local physician who attended Mrs. Millard testified that her symptoms were such that he suspected arsenical poisoning some days before she died; still he made no attempt to justify or correct this suspicion by examining the vomited matter or by having it examined; nor did he administer any antidote. Justice Campbell ruled that if this testimony was true the physician became particeps criminis and should stand in the dock with the accused husband.

Of course the druggist was scored in Justice Campbell’s decision for not keeping a record of the sale of the poison as the law required.

At the trial an undertaker qualified as an expert, and testified that a suspension of arsenic injected into the rectum of a corpse would be immediately and completely returned without retention of any portion. Justice Campbell ruled that this man could not be qualified as an expert, since an expert should have scientific knowledge as well as practical experience.

During the months that elapsed before the second trial Doctor Kedzie and I were busy in both the laboratory and the library. We wished to make a demonstration of the post mortem imbibition of arsenic that would convince all. Doctor Kedzie tested the matter out on animals. I took a human body, dead only a few hours, and on this I carried out exactly the procedure claimed to have been practiced by Millard and his brother. Having first demonstrated that the body did not contain any arsenic, I suspended a teaspoonful of white arsenic in a teacupful of water and made the injections into the mouth and rectum and buried the body and finally tested every organ in it. Arsenic was found in every tissue.

These results were published and later were confirmed by Witthaus of New York, Rees of Philadelphia, the American editor of the latest edition of Taylor, and others in this country and abroad.

Doctor Prescott watched the progress of my investigations and was as glad as I when the question, which we had interpreted differently through so many months, had been answered by scientific demonstration. During this prolonged controversy Doctor Prescott remained my respected master and I his beloved student. Our personal relations were never in the slightest degree disturbed. I have often wondered if I should have been as honest about it as he was had the final verdict been different. The second Millard trial was short. There was no difference among the experts and it ended in acquittal. I am told that Millard still lives as a humble but lawabiding citizen. Whether he, aided by his brother, made an injection as they testified, I do not know. The question asked me on the witness-stand assumed that they did. My search through the old tomes in the library resulted in a real surprise-indeed quite a shock. I found that the post mortem imbibition of arsenic had been recognized and taught by the great French toxicologist, Orfila, many years ago, and that it had been practically demonstrated by an Irishman, Kidd by name, some years later.

This is not the only one of my scientific discoveries whose halo has been dissipated in a similar way, as I shall have occasion to relate elsewhere. How many recent discoveries in science have a like ancient prototype I will not attempt to estimate.

That there is in the realm of knowledge “nothing new under the sun” may be too broad a generalization, but that many facts have been discovered, lost and afterwards found, is certain, while the number of those lost and not yet found is uncertain. Seneca, who lived in the first century of our era, says that he had seen a model of a house heated from a central plant by means of flues, led under the floors and through the walls. More remarkable yet, he had seen a device which recorded in legible characters words as fast as they were spoken. That St. Augustine, when Bishop of Hippo, in northern Africa in the fourth century, utilized the services of stenographers, there seems to be no doubt. Examples along this line might fill a volume. How much of our present science may be lost and when it will be found I can not say.

I wish to hint at another line of thought awakened by these experiences and leave it for those who care to do so to develop. A great authority, like Taylor, may teach error as well as truth, and the greater the weight given to his teachings the greater harm will his error do. Grains of error in mountains of truth are errors still. In science at least, there must be no Pope, no Ipse dixits. I must not forget that Pliny, nineteen centuries ago, called attention to the harm that might come from a great author’s acceptance of a false statement.

The Hall and Millard cases did much of good, besides that which I have already mentioned. They led to the legal interdiction of arsenical embalming fluids, to more care on the part of druggists in dispensing poisons, and to the better protection of patients by their physicians.


A man in Hastings, Michigan, in attempting to poison his wife by administering strychnia, insisted on calling in a notorious quack from a city near by. The husband asserted that none of the Hastings doctors were competent to treat his wife. He employed an ignorant woman to take care of the sick wife. Indeed this was before a trained nurse had invaded that community. After a severe spasm, his wife, without her husband’s consent, sent for the old doctor who had administered to her ills since early girlhood. The wise old doctor immediately recognized the symptoms of poisoning with strychnia and reported to the prosecutor. Then the two set a trap for the suspected husband. The doctor prepared a glass of medicine, perfectly harmless, emphasized its potency and gave strict orders that no dose of it should be administered until the clock struck a certain hour. A few minutes before this time the doctor dropped in, but found that he had forgotten his thermometer, stethoscope or something else. He sent the husband to his office to bring the article. During his absence the doctor emptied the contents of the prepared glass into a bottle and put another glass of water by the bedside. He took the bottle to the prosecuting attorney, who sent it immediately to me. The husband, growing more impatient because the symptoms did not develop faster, put more and more strychnia into the. glass. Indeed the contents of the last glass which the doctor emptied into his bottle contained undissolved crystals of the alkaloid. I reported my findings to the prosecutor over the telephone as fast as the tests were made, and it will be understood by any chemist that no great time was required. The husband was arrested, tried and sentenced while his intended victim recovered.

Years afterward, during an outbreak of typhoid fever in the state penitentiary, I was examining one of the patients, when looking into my face, he said: “You are the man who sent me here.” “No,” I said, “it was not I, but wise Doctor Woodmansee.”


The scene of this trial was also in Hastings, Michigan. In the country near that village, in a house quite away from a frequently traveled road, there lived an old man, who was reputed to be a miser, but if he ever had any money to hoard no one ever found it. There was in the same neighborhood a peter-do-well by the name of Hughes, who was a jack of all trades and a master of none. One morning, according to Hughes’ story, he went to the home of the recluse. Finding the door slightly ajar he pushed against it and in this way entered. He saw the old man stretched on the floor with his skull crushed and a bloody ax lying by his side. The body was quite rigid and one foot against the door accounted for the resistance Hughes had met with in trying to open it. The marks showed that in the opening of the door the whole body had been moved along the floor. It developed that Hughes had spent the day before in painting the window blinds of a farmer’s house in the vicinity. The paint was green. There was a smear of green paint near the end of the ax helve where the left hand would come in contact with it in wielding the weapon. The ax and a piece of the blind were brought me and I was asked to compare the paints on the two. This I did by microchemical methods.

On the stand I testified that the paints had the same composition, the same adulteration, and that the granules were of the same size, showing the probability that they were ground in the same mill. I had informed the prosecutor that I had studied thirty other samples of green paint found in neighboring places and that all agreed in the particulars mentioned above. I had not regarded my testimony as of importance. It was a plain statement of fact, but when taken with the finding in the thirty other samples, this fact would be insignificant. I sat in the witness chair and heard the prosecutor beating into the heads of the jury, into the consciousness of the court and into the hearts of the crowded room: “These two paints, one from the blind Hughes had painted and one from the ax helve he had held when he committed the murderous deed, were one and the same in composition, in adulteration and in size of granule.” I watched the faces about me and I began to realize that my testimony which I had not considered of importance was deciding the fate of the accused. At this stage I allayed my fear and consoled myself by the thought that the cross-examination would relieve my direct testimony of the exaggerated significance being attached to it. The chief attorney for the defense had more than a local reputation as a criminal lawyer and to him I confidently looked for relief. It was with pleasure that I heard the prosecutor say: “Take the witness.” To my horror I was asked a few irrelevant questions; then, “That’s all.” I sat rooted in the chair.

The defense repeated, “That’s all.” The prosecutor said, “That’s all, Doctor.” Still I sat benumbed. The judge leaned forward and gently said: “Doctor, do you understand that they are through with you?” Then my tongue was loosened and turning to the judge I said: “Your Honor, may I make a statement before I leave the stand?” Then I told of the examination of thirty other samples of paints sold in that county. However, even this did not apparently interest the defense. The prosecutor was, I suppose, justly furious but had no more questions. Hughes was convicted but served only a short time when he was pardoned. I do not know how much weight was given to my testimony by either judge or jury. Possibly it was not a determining factor in the verdict and that I magnified its effect. Had it been a civil case involving only property loss, I would have kept silent, leaving the lawyer to protect his client as is his duty, but in a murder case I could not do so. Whether my action lay within the legal limit allowed an expert witness I do not know. What the judge, a most esteemed personal friend, thought of it, I never learned. It certainly did not help Hughes in the verdict, though it may have done so in the pardon. This is not the only time when, as a witness, I have thrown a helping line to the other side, generally more adroitly; sometimes it has been eagerly seized, while in other instances it has been wholly disregarded or thrown back with a snarl.


In a flourishing city beyond the Missouri River there lived, some thirty years or more ago, in a cottage set back from the street and partly hidden by cedars, a man and his wife. Fortunately there were no children. This pair did not live in harmony. Frequent altercations, at times limited to epithets, at others emphasized by blows, reached the ever open ears of the neighborhood. All sympathy was with the meek and somewhat subservient husband. The wife excelled in the violence of her epithets and the husband could not conceal all evidence of her physical dexterity and superiority. In short he was so plainly the under dog in the fight that he won the individual and collective pity of all who knew the pair. The neighbors believed that there was nothing too mean for the wife to do. In this state of affairs a justly prominent physician in the city was called to the cottage in the dawn of an early morning. He found the husband in bed in a state of coma with pupils contracted to pin points and attended only by his sorrowing spouse. Soon after the physician’s coming the man died. The stertorous breathing and the contracted pupils quite naturally suggested morphin poisoning. In communities like this death throws open the doors to both enemies and friends, and the house and small front yard were soon filled with the former, for of friends the wife had none. After listening to the stories whispered in his ear by the visitors, the suggestion of morphin poisoning was accepted by the doctor as a certainty, and he so reported to the prosecutor. The wife was put under arrest and the stomach of the dead man removed and sent to me. I was instructed to test for morphin and informed that further toxicological search would be superfluous. This seemed reasonable. The man had been seen in apparent health on his way home the evening before. There were no symptoms of gastro-intestinal irritation or strychnia poisoning, and there was the doctor’s report of coma and contracted pupils. I went to work in my search for morphin thinking that I had an easy task before me. There was no question of the interference of putrefactive bodies because there had been no putrefaction. I expected to see the color tests develop one by one in all perfection, but they did not come. I was compelled to send in a negative report. A few days later the prosecutor himself found me in my laboratory; he said that I was incompetent; I admitted that I had doubts about my own competency and that he might be right. He went away bearing the organ, but slightly reduced by my investigation, and saying that he would take it to a real toxicologist. This he did. For some days, Professor Haines of Chicago searched for morphin; then he made a negative report and like myself he was denominated an incompetent. At last the prosecutor did find a chemist who was competent and who did report the presence of morphin in the now much curtailed organ.

The case came to trial and the prosecution rested without Dr. Haines or me appearing. The leading counsel for the defense concluded that he would like to ascertain what we knew about the case; therefore he came to Ann Arbor by the fastest train. I declined to give him any information, invited him to dinner and informed him that the next train for the West was due at 10:40. Did I do right? I have often asked myself this question, and not being able to obtain a satisfactory answer from this source I carried it to a learned legal friend. He said that the defense should have put the prosecutor on the stand and found out from him what part Haines and I had in the matter. Be this as it may, it does not interrupt my story.

The wife was convicted and sentenced; some years elapsed. A negro arrested for some other crime confessed that he, in the pay of the wife, had killed the man. Hidden in the cedars in the front yard, he had struck the man across the head with an iron crowbar, and he said that he had assisted the wife in carrying the body into the house and placing it in the bed. The man’s body was resurrected and a fractured skull was found to corroborate the negro’s confession. I might draw two morals from this story. First, stertorous breathing and contracted pupils do not always justify a diagnosis of morphin poisoning; second, in a medicolegal post-mortem examination every part of the body should be thoroughly inspected.


In a western state some years ago an irregular practitioner of medicine was accused of killing his wife after obtaining a heavy insurance on her life. In order to save the state the cost of investigation the prosecutor turned over the body of the woman to the insurance company for autopsy and chemical examination. An unknown chemist reported morphin, and the man was tried for killing his wife by the administration of this poison. After a somewhat prolonged investigation of the case I was thoroughly convinced that the man had not killed his wife by giving her morphin, but I was not sure that he had not killed her by other means. I consented to go on the stand on behalf of the defense, provided questions on direct examination should be limited to the validity of the tests for morphin, submitted by the prosecution. The defendant was acquitted.


A few years ago Mr. Alcorn, state attorney, and Doctor Wolff, a toxicologist and chemist, both of Hartford, Connecticut, consulted with me concerning a prospective murder case likely to come within the jurisdiction of the former. A Mrs. Andrews had managed an old folk’s home at Windsor, Connecticut, for many years. She had borne a good reputation in the community; had met her financial obligations promptly and had never been accused of cruelty to her wards. She accepted people by the month, by the year, or after a certain age for life. In the last mentioned instances she demanded a fixed price to be paid on entering the institution. Finally, someone called attention to the fact that while those inmates who paid by installments showed no remarkable mortality, those who paid up for life on entering did not live long. This talk spread and the state attorney felt that he must move in the matter. He had known Mrs. Andrews for many years and had no personal prejudice against her; on the other hand, he was disinclined to believe the insinuations as to her character. We decided to proceed in an ideal way, preserving her honor so far as possible, and at the same time securing justice for all. The prosecutor arrested the woman, gave ample time for her to secure legal advice, and announced that on a certain day five of the bodies would be resurrected. The autopsies would be conducted legally and each organ would be divided into three parts, one to be turned over to the state chemist, Doctor Wolff, one to a chemist selected by the defendant, and the third to me.

The defendant secured able attorneys and her experts were Professor Underhill of Yale, Professor Benedict of Cornell, and Doctor Schultze, expert for the prosecuting attorney of New York City. There was no dispute between the chemists about the presence of poison in the bodies. The chief contest centered on one of the bodies in which large quantities of arsenic were found. The embalming fluid contained no arsenic. The experts for the defense were inclined to hold that there had been a mistake, as in a case I have already reported and referred to on page 282 [Click here for the reference] and that an arsenical embalming fluid had actually been employed. They claimed that the large quantities found in the liver and other organs could not have reached these tissues through the stomach during life. In this they were undoubtedly right, but they could not deny that diffusion after death had gone on. Moreover, in this case it was only necessary to examine a drop of the almost clear contents of the stomach under the microscope in order to see the most perfect crystals of arsenic trioxid. The experts for the defense admitted that these could not come from a solution of arsenite of sodium or potassium injected as an embalming fluid. In short, the evidence was plain that the poison had gone into the stomach as white arsenic. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court found some error and ordered a new trial. The second trial had not proceeded far before the woman changed her plea to guilty and threw herself on the mercy of the court. She was then sentenced for life.

An amusing incident connected with the first trial of this case may be related. I never felt altogether comfortable in uniform. The high tight collar and the heavy shoes irritated me, and I cast them off at every opportunity, sometimes in violation of the rules and regulations. At Siboney, in the Cuban campaign, with other medical officers I stood almost continuously at the operating table from Friday evening until the following Wednesday morning, but during most of this time I wore only my pajamas. A wicked correspondent snapped me in this apparel and sent the photograph to his paper.

When the telegraphic call came to me in Washington to come to Hartford, I exchanged my khaki for a Palm Beach suit and the next morning I was in the witness chair. On cross-examination the lawyer tried to embarrass me by inquiring why I was not in uniform. This did not worry me but he was not content and finally drew from me the admission that I was absent from my post in Washington without leave. Of course he threatened to report both of my violations of the rules and regulations. Even this failed to embarrass me. I was excused from the witness chair about noon. I hastened to New York and secured a lower berth on the midnight train for Washington. About ten P. M. I was in my berth. I found that I could not lower the shade over the rear window, but as the night was hot I pronounced this a happy incident. I hung my trousers by the rear window. When the train pulled through the tunnel there was a rush of air through my berth. This awakened me sufficiently to thank heaven for the breeze and to pull the sheet up over me. The next thing I knew the train was standing in the Washington station and the porter was vigorously trying to bring me to consciousness. When I opened my eves I saw the open rear window without screen and I realized that the breeze, for which I had been thankful, had carried away my trousers. I tried to be severe with the porter for neglecting the screen. The poor negro disappeared but was soon back with a pair of his trousers but I could not get in them. I gave him a ten dollar bill, told him to take a taxi, go down town and bring me a pair forty-two inches about the waist, and without regard to length, texture or color. In an unbelievably short time he was back with a nondescript pair in which I encased my nether extremities. I did not lose my equanimity until I stood on the platform and found many inquiring eyes turned upon me. I made a rush through the gate and there it seemed every officer in the United States Army stood singly and in groups. With downcast eyes I fled through them. I was near the last door on my way to the taxi stand when I faced the Chief of Staff, in whose presence I had breakfasted, lunched and dined daily for three months. Again, thank heaven! While his eyes were on me his mind was on bigger things as was proper. Hidden in a taxi I drove to the ladies’ entrance at the Army and Navy Club, which I knew would be untenanted at that early hour. Soon I was in my room on the second floor and donning with joy my regimentals. A few minutes later I was breakfasting with my comrades. The story of my early morning escapade was too good to keep. No one enjoyed it more than General Gorgas, who in speech made all kinds of threats of dire punishments, but whose eyes belied his tongue.

Our British liaison officer, Colonel Goodwin, skilled in pen and ink drawing, made a recognizable sketch which he labeled: “A Highland Officer Reaches Washington.” This hung on the wall of the club for some days and is now in our possession. After this experience I took more kindly to khaki.


I served as an expert in three important murder trials in New York City, in the first for the defense and in the others for the prosecution.

Buchanan was charged with poisoning his wife by the administration of capsules containing morphin and atropin. The body had been in the grave many months before the tests were made. The chemical experts for the prosecution were Doctors Witthaus and Doremus, Jr., while those for the defense were Doctor Wolff of Hartford, Connecticut, and I. Besides the chemist nearly every medical specialty played a part in the prolonged procedure. The prosecution was conducted by De Lance Nicoll and the defense by Charles Brooke. These were among the great criminal lawyers of New York City of that time. The judge was Recorder Smyth and I wish to say that he was a terror to evil-doers. He was always alert, not only listening to what was said, but seeing how it was said. Frequently he would interrupt an examination and take a hand in it himself, His questions admitted no equivocation. Notwithstanding the uprightness and strength of the bench and the excellence of the bar the trial became a most sensational affair. The experts became absorbed in the accuracy of the color tests for morphin in amylic alcohol extracts from putrefying organs. Shortly before there had been very sensational trial involving the same questions in Portugal. In the Portugal case nearly every recognized toxicologist in Europe had become involved, and the weight of expert evidence was that these tests under these conditions were uncertain and non-dependable. In the New York case the experts for the prosecution had relied wholly upon these tests, the accuracy of which was questioned by the defense.

Some one-I do not remember who-suggested that a demonstration be made before the jury. The judge and I retired to his room. I had two porcelain dishes containing putrefactive substances. To one of these a small amount of morphin was added. The judge marked the one to which the morphin had been added and gave the dishes to the experts for the prosecution. The tests were applied and resulted in their locating the morphin in the wrong dish. Besides this, atropin had been reported because a drop of a solution of the extract of the putrefying tissues dilated the pupil of a cat’s eye, but the one who made this test gave the wrong direction to the long axis of the cat’s pupil. There were other breaks, some on one side, some on the other.

To me, and I have no doubt to the other experts, the trial became a most regrettable affair. It made a break in the friendship between Professor Witthaus and myself, which lasted for some years, but which, I am glad to say, was at least partially repaired before his death. Buchanan was convicted and finally executed. I declined to sign a petition for clemency in his case because I was not convinced about his guilt or innocence.

Only older toxicologists can appreciate the trouble we had in distinguishing between the color reactions of certain alkaloids and those induced by unknown putrefactive bodies. For a short time the work of Selmi and others made us quite doubtful about the validity of some of our alkaloidal tests. The amylic alcohol of that time was notoriously impure. There is no longer trouble in this particular. Fortunately science clears away the fogs which it raises. They are only temporary mists which for a time obscure our vision. Sooner or later the rising sun enables us to see clearly. The scientist is sometimes bewildered by his own observations, but ultimately he or some successor lifts the veil.

In the first century Seneca wrote: “Nature does not disclose her mysteries in a moment. We think ourselves initiated; we stand but at her portals. These secrets open not promiscuously nor to every comer; they are remote of access; enshrined in the inner sanctuary.”


A Mrs. Fleming could come into the possession of a large fortune only after the death of her mother; neither could the mother enjoy it, since she had already dissipated her part, while the residue was to go to her children only after her death. Under this state of affairs both mother and daughter lived in comparative poverty. The mother persisted in living, showing no inclination to suicide. One day the daughter, it was claimed by the prosecution, prepared a clam broth for her mother. The mother ate and after a few hours died. The daughter was charged with murder.

The case was tried before Judge Goff. John McIntyre, most capable, conducted the prosecution and Charles Brooke, the defense. The chief experts for the state were Valentine Mott, Jr., a young German by the name of Scheele, and I. I do not remember the names of the experts for the defense. At any rate they were not required to play an important part in the trial. In this case I saw one of the most dramatic exhibits I ever witnessed in a courtroom. It was so thrilling that it practically determined the fate of the defendant and gave her an acquittal. My version of this story is in some respects so different from that told by my old friend, Doctor Allen McLane Hamilton, in his admirable volume entitled Recollections of an Alienist, that I must go into some detail. Hamilton says: “A German expert, of apparent slight experience and reputation, testified that he had found a certain poison in the body of the deceased, and was then pinned down to admit that his operations consumed an impossibly short time. The defense knew that this was doubtful, so they made him enumerate all his reactions and the way they were obtained; and without suspecting the drift of the questions he proceeded to entangle and contradict the testimony he had given when he first went on the stand. It really ought to have taken many days to perform all these investigations, instead of the few hours he claimed. Contradictions of this kind are dangerous in poisoning cases. The jury acquitted the prisoner.”

In a general way Doctor Hamilton’s statements are in harmony with my memory, but he does not touch upon the critical and dramatic point.

Walter Scheele, a handsome young German, a recent pupil of some of the most renowned German specialists in toxicology, had recently come to New York, armed with letters of introduction from his masters. He was prepossessing in manner, and soon after his arrival presented his letters to Doctor Mott, who at the time was examining the remains of the defendant’s mother. Impressed by his bearing and by the letters he bore, Doctor Mott asked the prosecutor to employ Scheele as an assistant in the case. This was done and Scheele checked up on Mott’s findings. How honestly or dishonestly he did this service I do not know. I never saw Scheele until the trial had begun. Doctor Mott had given his testimony in a masterly and scientific way. Then Scheele was put on the stand to confirm Mott. Scheele went through his direct examination with credit. Brooke, one of the shrewdest cross-examiners I ever knew, took the witness in hand, asked him if he had not recently joined a certain Turnverein and was answered in the affirmative. Then he was asked if, at a recent meeting of that society, he had not openly boasted of his employment as an expert in the coming trial and had stated that he held the key to the prisoner’s fate. This Scheele vehemently denied.

Then came the climax. Member after member of the society took the witness chair, and when the procession ceased Scheele stood before the court a discredited man, guilty of perjury. If any eyes of either pity or hatred had rested on the accused they were now turned upon the handsome young German. My turn for the witness chair followed this most surprising and astounding denouement. I never functioned as an expert under such depressing circumstances and it took all the nerve I could command to answer the questions. I dimly heard the prosecutor as he turned to Brooke and said: “Take the witness.” Then, I saw Brooke stand up and turn to me a most kindly face as he said; “The defense does not desire to cross-examine this witness; it admits the truth of all his answers and regards him as a true scientist,” or words to this effect. This was of course most gratifying to me, but it carried venom for the poor broken German by implication.

Of course all this was in the newspapers and it meant worse than death to Scheele. He could never hope to go on the witness stand again as an expert. He sought work even in menial fields. He left New York and found a precarious living in a Baltimore drug store. For years I lost all sight of him. During the World War his name again appeared in the newspapers as one of the German conspirators engaged in the attempt to dynamite the Welland Canal; but I have no personal knowledge of this.


A young man, whom, so far as I know, I never saw until we faced each other in the criminal court of New York, he in the prisoner’s box, and I in the witness box, graduated in the Dental School of the University of Michigan, married a daughter of a wealthy citizen of Grand Rapids and took an expensive apartment on Riverside Drive, New York City. On the death of her parents the wife would inherit a large fortune, but the husband was impatient and apparently decided not to await the slow moving steps of nature. He opened an office in one of the palatial buildings downtown and posted his professional shingle on the door of his attractive waiting room. Everything except the doctor’s practise moved along rapidly and smoothly.

The father and mother of the wife were insistently invited to make a visit to the New York home of their children, to see how happily they were living and how prosperously the new son-in-law was winning practice. The simple old people went, saw and were pleased with the demonstration. They opened wide their purse in the purchase of costly furniture and adornments. They were rejoiced that their daughter had selected a husband so wisely. After a short illness the mother died but she was advanced in years and no suspicion was aroused. The father was persuaded to prolong his visit, and where could he expect to find more consolation in his bereavement than in the home of his daughter ? Soon he followed his wife. Still there seems to have been no suspicion awakened by the physician in attendance or by the undertaker. Both bodies had been embalmed and sent to Grand Rapids for burial. The old friends in the smaller city began to ask questions. The family pastor, Reverend Wishart, and the family physician, Doctor Schurz, became detectives and spent some time in this capacity in the metropolis. I was called upon to make an examination of the remains of the father. I found arsenic in more than fatal quantities. The district attorney of New York, Mr. Swann, took charge. Professor Benedict of Cornell, and Doctor Schultze, city pathologist and toxicologist, confirmed my findings. The proceedings moved with almost English smoothness and swiftness, and Doctor Waite went to the death chair.


Happily my services as a medical expert have not been confined to criminal cases but have extended into the more pleasing fields of civil litigation. Some twenty or more years ago there was a great discussion, and honest difference of opinion, concerning the poisonous or otherwise harmful action of certain preservatives used in foods and beverages. There were many royal battles along this line before certain states first, and Congress later, enacted the pure food law. In some of these contests I had the pleasure of participating, sometimes being victorious and at others meeting with defeat.

I was employed by the food and dairy commissioner of Pennsylvania in his endeavor to check the use of sulphites in improving the appearance of stale and decomposed meats. The meat men of Philadelphia brought over from Berlin Professor Liebreich to assist in their defense. The hearings were in Philadelphia and Reading, though the chief contest was in the former city. Liebreich had to admit that his own country, Germany, forbade the employment of these chemicals, but he said that the prohibition in that country was for political reasons and was not justified on sanitary grounds. Furthermore, he granted that he would not have meat thus sophisticated on his own table, but he held that the use of this preservative permitted the sale of cheap meat and thus benefited the poor since the sulphite was in no way detrimental to health. We, for the prosecution, held that sulphites should not be added to meats for two reasons: (1) Such addition enables the butcher to sell as good meat that which should have gone into the waste can; (2) the sulphites are in and of themselves harmful.

As it turned out, the testimony of the distinguished German scientist did not help his clients. Indeed, it made the jury think quite properly that the poor man should not eat that which the rich discarded. Probably the biggest and most interesting contest was concerning the use of a limited amount of benzoate of soda in catsup and fruit syrups. The State Druggist Association of Pennsylvania had a law framed which permitted the employment of one-tenth of one per cent. of this substance, and pronounced any addition of more than this, or the addition of any other substances, illegal. This bill was passed by the legislature, but the Governor threatened a veto. I had a long argument with him. He was immovable and said that if the bill was brought to him for his signature, as it must be before it could become a law, he would certainly veto it. He then recommended that the bill be withdrawn and suggested that another be prepared, forbidding the use of as many substances and whatever substances we might desire to prohibit but omitting any reference to benzoate of soda. I tried to show him that such a bill would permit the use of any substance not specified in it and would place no limit on the amount of benzoate of soda added. The Governor was firm and asserted that while he was Governor no bill permitting the use of any food preservative should become a law in his state.

There was a big contest on this subject in Indiana and minor ones in other states. Those who opposed the admission of this limited amount of benzoate of soda had to admit that in every dish of cranberries one eats he gets a larger amount than we proposed, but one of these insisted that God made a mistake when he put benzoate of soda in cranberries. This fight finally went to Congress and wisely the matter was referred to a referee board of distinguished chemists and we may still find on a bottle of catsup that it contains one-tenth of one per cent. of benzoate of soda. So far as I know there is no evidence that either the morbidity or mortality rate has been increased by the use of this preservative.

There is an impression that the pure food law was conceived, developed and first brought into existence by Congress. This is a mistake; these laws were in force in several states before they were enacted into a national law by Congress in 1906. One of the early states to move in this matter was North Dakota under the leadership of the late Professor Ladd who subsequently became a United States senator.

The contest concerning the addition of saccharine to foods continues in a desultory way. While I am sure that saccharine in the quantities used in foods is not poisonous, I do not believe that it should supplant sugar in the sweetening of commercial foods. When a man eats a sweet food he assumes that he is getting sugar, which has a high food value, and not saccharine, which has none.

In a spirited contest in Ohio the offending substance was a roasted coffee bean which was coated with white of egg. This fact was plainly stated on the label, and the claim was made that this manipulation tended to retain the flavor of the bean. Professor Harvey W. Wiley, at that time the head of the Bureau of Chemistry of the United States Department of Agriculture, and I contended that this was not an adulteration. I testified that in my old Missouri home this trick of coating the roasting coffee bean with the white of egg and for the same alleged reason was practiced. This brought a laugh from my opponents who suggested that I belonged to a prehistoric age.

There was a great array of experts in the coca-cola case tried in Chattanooga, Tennessee, under Judge Sanford, now of the United States Supreme Court. The question was the supposed poisonous action of caffein, the active principle of coffee. One dropping into the courtroom would suppose that a course of lectures in physiological chemistry was being given. A chart showing the chemical constitution of caffein and the xanthin bases formed in the human body, taken largely from one of my books, hung near the witness box, and the jury, consisting in part at least of mountaineers, must have been amused, if not instructed. Each expert brought his qualifications down to the smallest limit, and having so qualified he was not permitted to stray beyond bounds. All lived in the excellent hotel near by. Court hours were short and there are many beautiful rides about the city. I renewed my acquaintance with Chickamauga Park under aspects wholly different from those of 1898. Little did I suspect that in 1917-18 I would again visit this spot as a soldier; again see it as a tented field and again seek relief for the sick and dying soldiers.

Our wives were with us, and we spent a month under these pleasant surroundings. I had a chance for a friendly wrestle with Doctor Wiley who led the government champions. I crossed swords with some of my old students and admired the skill with which they handled their blades. I fought side by side with others and had equal pride in their dexterity. There was a glorious breaking of skulls, and I am sure that we all left this goodly company hoping that a coca-cola trial would be established as an annual event. The assault against the use of coffee has not yet found its Volstead and opportunity awaits our successors.

In the early nineties an English syndicate operated a silver mine somewhere in the Rocky Mountians. The ore was crushed and deposited in a large reservoir. The heavier and valuable parts subsided. The supernatant fluid was passed into a second reservoir where further subsidence occurred and from this the lighter part emptied into a mountain stream, honored by being designated as a river and finding a place on the map of the region. The water from the reservoirs, which had been deflected from the river higher up, was returned to that channel when it had served its purpose. It made up one-tenth or more of the volume of the river as it continued its descent. In the valley below, the waters of the river were spread out over the surface of the pastures on which thousands of cattle fed. For a year or two there had been a high death rate among these animals, which the owners could not account for. Suspecting that the water bore a poison, the cattle men began suit against the owners of the mine. Evidently the former were not themselves wholly convinced that the epidemic among the cattle was due to the water and they were slow in pressing their suit. The owners of the mine consulted me. I laughed at the idea that the water used for irrigating the valley could be implicated. I talked widely if not wisely about anthrax, black-leg and other diseases that afflict horned quadrupeds, but I undertook to make an analysis of the water as it returned from the second reservoir to its normal channel. To my surprise I found in each gallon of this water half a grain of arsenic and a slightly larger quantity of antimony. The owners of the mine were greatly agitated, and I greatly humiliated. Fortunately these poisons were not in solution; they were in suspension.

A cheap filter was constructed. The water passed rapidly through but the poisons were held. A few months later chemists for the cattle owners analyzed the water and found it free from poison. The epidemic among the cattle did not reappear the next summer and the suit was dropped.

For many years I was almost continuously employed as scientific adviser in some enterprise. In the early eighties I assisted the owner of several paper mills in the construction of a lead-lined tower for the manufacture of sulphurous acid used in the preparation of wood pulp. The result was not artistic but it served the purpose. One manufacturer wished to raise his dam. This necessitated the overflow of a considerable area which he owned. The neighbors objected on the claim that increasing the depth of the water and keeping the ground constantly covered would favor the spread of malaria. I held that these changes would tend to lessen malaria. It must be remembered that at that time ( 1883) we knew nothing about the plasmodium, and the demonstration that the mosquito is the vector in this disease was a long way in the future. The best-supported belief was that malaria is due to emanations or miasms arising from stagnant water. My contention was that deepening the water and keeping the marshy area covered would lessen the malaria. In this opinion I had the support of Colonel Charles Smart, U. S. A., and Doctor Irving Watson of New Hampshire who testified in the case. The dam was raised, and there is no evidence that there was any increase in malaria.

One of my earliest papers on a sanitary subject was on the purification of water by filtration through the soil. I showed experimentally, using urine for pollution and estimation of urea as the measure, that purification by this process had been over-estimated. This awakened wide discussion. Nearly every home in rural Michigan at that time relied upon a small charcoal filter for its drinking water. It was believed that the filthiest waters poured into these receptacles were satisfactorily purified in passing through the small layer of sand and charcoal. Doctor Prescott and I took up this matter and showed that this faith was not justified. We were assailed by the manufacturers of the filters and, what was more difficult, had to face the prejudice of those who had long used them. However, charcoal household filters were slowly replaced by porcelain and stone ones, and for a time by the practice of drinking only boiled water. At that time the drinking water throughout the smaller cities, villages and rural districts was obtained mostly from shallow wells or cisterns in close proximity to privy vaults, all in the same gravel bed. Many contentions and some lawsuits grew out of these questions. Someone found “in a book” a statement that all the water that reaches a well is that which falls as rain within a circle the radius of which is the depth of the well and the center of which is the mouth of the well. On this foolish dictum we lost our first case involving this question, notwithstanding the fact that my colleague, Professor John Langley, had demonstrated its fallacy by mathematical computation and by practical tests showing the diffusion of lithium salts through the soil. The well water, having been shown by spectroscopic examination to be free from lithium, soluble salts of this metal were deposited in the soil many rods distant from the well and were found to appear in the well water subsequently.

In one instance involving the water supply of a place of some five thousand inhabitants, the question was whether the water in the city wells came from a polluted lake or from the adjacent hills. The amount of sodium chlorid in the water of the wells and in that of the lake was determined by chemists employed by the contestants. As a neutral I made the same determinations. The three findings agreed to a decimal point; then fifty barrels of salt were dumped into the lake. A repetition of the analyses showed conclusively the source of the water in the city wells. Demonstrations of this kind generally satisfied both parties. At least they gave the court definite and unbiased information. I participated in many of these contentions as a member of the State Board of Health and without remuneration. I was glad to have this relief from the suspicion of personal interest in the questions involved.

Later, along with these chemical studies and finally overwhelming them, came the more difficult and complicated questions of bacterial contamination of foods and drinks, and thus I was drawn from the exclusive field of sanitary chemistry to the much broader one of bacteriology. I had no choice in this matter. I wish to testify that in my own experience in public health matters, experimental work began in chemistry. For years my studies on milk supplies were confined to determinations of solids, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. We, or at least I, knew nothing about the bacterial contents of these important foods. I went to the dairies and took samples; I followed the milk man as he distributed the lacteal fluid and took samples from his wagon; then I induced students to purloin glasses of milk from the boarding house tables.

Eagerly my students determined the solid contents of the successive samples under my directions. It is needless to say that these analyses showed quite constantly a decrease in total solids. As early as 1877, G. G. Groff and I made similar but more superficial studies of the milk supply of Philadelphia, depending largely upon observations, questions and the occasional use of a lactometer. The good old Quaker dairyman in Chester County honestly believed that the milk as it came from his Holsteins was too rich for city people to drink. He added water and shipped to the wholesale dealer; having the same belief, even if of different faith, he added water and sold it to the retailer. Of course, it could not be expected that the last mentioned would break the rule. We concluded that an average sample of milk increased in volume about thirty per cent. from the time it left the udder of the cow until it reached the lips of the baby.

Then there came a short time when adulterants and preservatives in milk were burning questions and the basis of some lawsuits. It was said that the milkman added bicarbonate of soda to raise the specific gravity which he had lowered by the addition of water. I was never able to confirm this report. In one sample I did find powdered carbonate of lime, but this quickly subsided and could not have been widely employed. This recalls an amusing incident: A woman brought me a sample of well water, stating that after being boiled for a while it deposited a chalky substance which she believed to be arsenic dumped into her new well by a vicious neighbor. I had difficulty in convincing her that the deposit was f carbonate of lime which became insoluble when the carbonic acid gas was driven off by the heat.

Salicylate of soda is said to have been used as a milk preservative; I never found it. The same is true of borax and boric acid. I did at one time favor permission to use borax in exported butter, and I believe that the English laws still permit it. Formaldehyde was for a short time widely used as a milk preservative, and I participated in some of the cases which came before the courts. In this connection I have a good joke upon myself. Having decided to determine definitely the question of the poisonous action of formaldehyde in the quantities employed as a preservative in milk, I arranged my guinea pigs in batches: number one had nothing but milk, with no preservative; number two had only milk to which one part of formaldehyde in ten thousand had been added; number three had one part in twenty-five thousand; number four had one part in fifty thousand. To my bewilderment all died mostly between twenty and thirty days after beginning the experiment. The controls died quite as promptly as those receiving formaldehyde. Had I been a scientist like Pasteur, I would have seen that I had a problem before me and would have proceeded to interrogate, but I did not. Then, I missed the opportunity of discovering experimental scurvy. I had opened the door and a voice had kindly bidden me enter, but I did not hear it, or at least did not heed it.

This is not the only time I have been deaf to the bidding of science. We bought from a firm manufacturing diphtheria antitoxin five hundred guinea pigs for a small price because the firm had found that animals that had received one injection of horse serum died with promptness on a second injection of the same substance, after manifesting most striking symptoms.

Since then I have taken off my hat with great respect to Theobald Smith who first described this phenomenon and to Richet, who gave it the euphonious but inappropriate name of anaphylaxis. Nature hangs out many signals, which mean “come and learn of me,” but man is slow to see. For untold centuries clouds flashed such signals, but it remained, according to accepted belief at least, for Benjamin Franklin to respond with his kite. Many are called; but few respond. Time has kept a diary of her own acts and has deposited her records in the solid rocks, in fossils, in buried forests and elsewhere, and still there are those in this, the twentieth century, who assert that it is wicked to read and interpret these records.

During the first years of my medical practice in Ann Arbor my best paymaster was typhoid fever. Each home in the village had a cistern or a shallow well located in a gravel bed with a privy vault nearby. The contents of the vault leached into the water supply and the people drank an extract of their own alvine discharges. One well was the source of considerable revenue to the doctors. It was used not only by the family of its owner, but he generously invited his neighbors and friends to share his blessing. The health officer condemned the well, but this did not diminish the use of its water. He removed the pump for which kindly office he received only curses and experienced a loss in his clientele. Finally he and I became politicians. I was elected to the Board of Aldermen and Ann Arbor introduced a public water supply and slowly the morbidity and mortality from typhoid fever fell.

This experience in Ann Arbor was only one of many similar ones in small cities and villages, and only a miniature of what took place in our larger cities. In this country the term “politician” has become one of reproach and there are many good reasons which I will not attempt to enumerate why this is justified. But in my opinion the genus politician can be divided into two classes-the good and the bad. The man who induces the masses, even against their inclination, to do that which results in their own betterment belongs to the good class and performs one of the highest functions of citizenship. How far he may employ political methods in the accomplishment of his purpose depends upon the circumstances under which he works, his own conscience and judgment. The bad politician is one who is not working for the betterment of the people, but for party or personal aggrandizement. Among the good politicians in sanitary betterment I have known I give the names among the dead of Henry B. Baker of Michigan, Herman Biggs of New York and Jerome Cochrane of Alabama. This list might be greatly lengthened, and I may state that they had many peers in their time and have left many worthy followers.

My work as a public health expert extended rapidly. During the twenty years between 1880 and 1900, epidemics large and small, of typhoid fever, diphtheria and scarlet fever in the Northwest were frequent, while the occasional appearance of cerebrospinal meningitis and poliomyelitis caused even more alarm. Not a city taking its water supply from the Great Lakes from Duluth to Buffalo, on the American side at least, escaped typhoid fever. A like fate disturbed many communities on small lakes and on the rivers. I served as expert adviser in the great outbreaks of this disease in the nineties at Grand Forks, North Dakota, at the Sault, at Saint Clair, and in lesser epidemics. I made frequent examinations of the water supplies at Chicago, Omaha and elsewhere. My contest with this disease culminated in the work of the Typhoid Commission in 1898 which I discuss in another chapter. If there is anything in the epidemiology of this disease which I have failed to see, and I am sure that there is much, it has been because I have been too blind to see.

These experiences in the field should have made me a better teacher of the branch then scheduled under the all inclusive designation of “hygiene.” Whether they did so or not I can not say. I only know that the lecture hours were too short for me, however tiresome they may have been to my students. My lectures probably took on too much the nature of the “relation of personal experiences.” In fact one of my colleagues thus designated them, not inaptly.

A Doctor's Memories
Victor C. Vaughan, M.D.

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