You never know what you'll run across. While researching other matters I found this item in a March, 1925 publication, with the headline, “Woman Turned to Stone.”
Who could resist reading on to learn about a woman from Iowa: “Mrs. Mary McCormick, social leader at Charlton, Ia., died of one of the rarest diseases known to medical science, neuritis deformans, physicians say. Ossification set in six weeks before death and Mrs. McCormick's body had practically turned to stone. Her mouth was closed, and being unable to eat, she literally starved.”
Digging a bit into the life of this Mary McCormick, one finds that she had attained that “social leader” status despite having died before her twenty-fifth birthday. Her mother died in her thirties and Mary's sister passed away at twenty-one. Perhaps the ossification problems were related to genetics. There is seemingly no record of Mrs. McCormick's (maiden name: Pulley) husband's first name, so we can't rule out, “Lot.”
In the “I'm not making this up category,” on the very same page of a reputable newspaper of the 1920s, this short closing item, with a London byline: “In order to discover the action of food poisons on the human stomach, Bruce White, brilliant young English university professor, drank a test tube filled with deadly microbes.”
As it turns out Phillip Bruce White was the scientist's full name. Swallowing the test tube contents didn't kill him. In fact, the following year, 1926, he published a schema for classifying salmonella bacteria. His work would be followed up on by Danish microbiologist Fritz Kauffmann.
Though western medicine and science has made many advances thanks to people like Phillip Bruce White, in general, Brits and Americans have long been skeptical of the benefits brought to us from the so-called Far East. In the United States, and California in particular, persecution of folks with Chinese, Japanese, or other Asian ancestry has proven a time-honored tradition. Anglo-American bigotry in relation to anti-Chinese exclusionary laws from the 1870s on into the 20th Century have been fairly well documented. One of the lesser known examples of Anglo-American greed and corruption occurred through the political processes of our very own California state government at about the same time as Dr. White's experiments with salmonella bacteria.
Fong Wan was a Chinese herbalist, who learned his trade from an uncle who had practiced in San Francisco in the late 1800s. Fong Wan had been born in Guandong province in southern China. His father bought his sea fare and seventeen year old Fong arrived in San Francisco in 1900. At first he made money on the streets hawking views of the moon through a paper telescope at a nickel a look. The instrument had cost him a seventy-five cent initial investment. Purportedly, Fong averaged $3.75 a night in profit from the telescope.
His uncle allowed Fong Wan access to hundreds of volumes of ancient Chinese books on herbology. In 1912 Fong Wan opened his first herb shop in Santa Rosa. In 1916 he moved to Oakland, then later set up a store on Stockton Street in The City as his uncle had done before. The business grew, with Anglo customers as well as first and second generation Chinese-Americans. His venture grew so popular that a group of 1925 state senators and assemblymen concocted a scheme to extort $10,000 from him.
In testimony before a legislative body investigating the matter Fong Wan stated that Oakland Assemblyman William Brackett appeared at Fong's office on January 12, 1925, attempting to secure $10,000 in order to squelch an anti-herb bill in the legislature. The money was to be divided between Brackett, Assemblyman Edward Smith, and State Senator Edgar Hurley.
Fong Wan responded to Brackett by telling him that $10,000 was too much and that he needed to see a copy of the bill. Bracket returned with a pencil copy. Fong insisted on an actual copy and repeated that he would not pay $10,000. The next time Brackett showed the extortion price had dropped to $5,000. Fong refused. The price dropped to $4,000 and still Fong Wan balked.
The herbalist viewed Brackett as a mere go-between for Assemblyman Smith and tipped Brackett off before going to the authorities. At the committee hearings, another San Francisco herbalist, Lee Schuck, gave a remarkably similar account about the lawmakers attempts to extort money from him as well.
Fong Wan went on to sell his herbs for decades to come despite battles with the state board of medical examiners, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Federal Trade Commission. He not only thrived in the world of herbal medicine but added real estate investments, restaurants and night clubs to his list of businesses. Ads for Fong Wan's herbs appeared in papers like the Chronicle through the 1950s. They often took the form of testimonials from customers past and present. The numerous testimonials served double duty, promotion and ready evidence against the next court case filed against him.