Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


November 1, 2012

Dalton column: Living in Andover 100 years ago


Andover was becoming more aware of its historic past, and Dr. Charles E. Abbott talked about "old time customs" to the newly formed Andover Historical Society, which he founded.

The General William F. Bartlett post 99 moved to the Musgrove building, and the General William F. Bartlett Relief Corps held a Halloween party. (General Bartlett, one of Massachusetts' most revered Civil War heroes, commanded many Andover men and died shortly after the war from wounds suffered from it. Bartlett Street was named for him, although, over time, the last T was inexplicably dropped from the street's name, a matter the selectmen have had an opportunity to correct but have not.)

Medicinal matters were unregulated and many medicines, which didn't require prescriptions, contained codeine or enough alcohol to allow the patients to think they were feeling better. A new procedure for reversing infantile paralysis (polio) involved drilling a hole in the patient's skull and injecting urotropin, which was formed by ammonia and formaldehyde, into the brain. This procedure was soon abandoned. Coca Cola contained small amount of cocaine, which partly accounted for its early popularity; however, by 1912, the amount of cocaine was very small.

Apparently freckle-faced girls were unpopular for some odd reason, because druggist W. A. Allen advertised Wilson's Freckle Cream for freckled girls. For sound sleep and many other maladies you could buy Beecham's Pills to get your “…bowels regulated and liver and kidneys stimulated." It was a nationally popular item and was "sold everywhere." The pills were relatively benign, containing soap, aloe, and ginger and were originally sold as a laxative only, apparently lacking the ability to stimulate liver and kidneys.

Small wars in Europe were in the news and parts of that continent were a pressure cooker about to blow its top, and when it finally blew it blew big in the form of World War I, starting in 1914. It would last more than five years and include the United States and many Andover townspeople in its last two years. To make things worse, the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic killed 50 million people world-wide, including some from Andover.

A hundred years ago, Andover and much of the world was on the cusp of great changes, many of them for the worst.

Bill Dalton writes a weekly column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is

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