Off Beat: Consider what once passed for sound advice

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For more odd and interesting stories from the Vancouver Independent, visit the Clark County Historical Museum’s online archive.

Ah, the old days. People were so much wiser then.

Or were they?

While perusing an online archive of the 1876 Vancouver Independent for a story, we noticed a lot of dubious advice that suggests otherwise, such as "the skin of the fruit — be it apple, peach, pear, plum or grape — should never be eaten, especially if uncooked. Fruit skins are so difficult of digestion that there is probably not more than one stomach in a hundred capable of performing the difficult task. The skin is to the fruit what shells are to nuts, hides to animals, and husks to grain. To oblige or allow a child to eat his apple or pear unpeeled is unkind and wrong, for it is no question of daintiness, but of health."

Also, the road to clear skin was fraught with peril. Here's a recipe that our wise elders shared: "Freckles can be removed from the face without injury to the skin by using a lotion made of bi-chloride of mercury, six grains; pure hydrochloric acid (specific gravity), one fluid dram; water (distilled), one-fourth of a pint; mix, and add of rectified spirits and rose water, each two fluid ounces, and glycerine one ounce."

In fact, bathing was probably a bad idea anyway and could take years off your life, according to this logic: "Our grandfathers seldom or never bathed; and it is conceded that they lived to be several hundred years old."

And that goes for your ears, too, Buster: "In health the passage of the ear is never dirty, but an attempt to clean it will infallibly make it so."

Happy and healthy?

Disease was just a matter of not thinking happy thoughts. Health advice from the past? Turn that frown upside-down: "The mind has power over the body. For a person to think he has a disease will often produce that disease. … We have known a person to die of cancer in the stomach when he had no cancer or any other mortal disease."

Curry with turmeric also had some curious side effects back in the day: Eat enough, and you could change race. "The jaundiced hue of many Anglo-Indians is not due to sun-burning or any affection of the liver, but results solely from the constant consumption of curries containing turmeric."

In fact, all cooking was important if you wanted to avoid destroying the world as they knew it: "There is no more important branch of 'preventive medicine' than cooking. Bad cooking may cause a dwindling of the race, ruination of the temper and deterioration of the morals. Good cooking, on the other hand, is accompanied by national prosperity and domestic bliss."

Makes you wonder what folks will say in 140 years or so about our knowledge.

— Sue Vorenberg


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.