Quirky articles from the 1880s tell of voodoo arrests, nicotine poisoning

Robert J. Booker

The old Knoxville newspapers reported information that can only be found in their pages. They describe horrific railroad accidents, plagues, political activities, hangings, musical productions and charity events. They detail stories from everyday life that may not deserve inclusion in a history tome, but they filled yesterday’s pages.

Bob Booker

Since 1980, I’ve spent countless hours researching particular information or just looking through these logs to see what they were recording. I am never disappointed. Although I’m mainly interested in historical events, I often find other things that catch my attention.

The Knoxville Whig of April 19, 1865 had an article on “Embalming the Dead: For the past year there has been successfully in operation an establishment for embalming the dead at this place. It is located on Main Street opposite Bell House and is the responsibility of Mr. JB McCaffre, who is very knowledgeable about all parts of the process. »

On August 19, 1881, the Daily Tribune reported an arrest for voodoo and divination: “A colored woman by the name of Emma Brown has been posing in Knoxville for some time as a sort of fortune teller, herbal doctor. wife once lived on East Clinch Street, but more recently on West Fifth Avenue near the junction of Gay Street. Yesterday, Constable Connelly arrested the woman and brought her to Recorder Nelson, who fined her $50.

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“Authorities say that in her role as a fortune teller she tricked many of the Knoxville Four Hundred. They say that if their names were published, blushing would come to the cheeks of many young girls in society. Of course, they knew nothing of the woman’s true reputation. . The negroes who live near her dread her as an evil spirit and believe that she possesses superhuman power.”

Bob Booker speaks during the dedication of the Booker-Neely Microfilm Reading Room in the historic McClung Collection, on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville, Tuesday, June 1, 2021.

We often hear of people who overdose on drugs and we hear of college fraternities accused of hazing by urging them to commit themselves to drinking too much alcohol, but the Daily Tribune of February 15, 1882 speaks of a very different that we can not considered toxic.

He reported: “Parham Adams, a young cadet attending college here, may be dying of nicotine poisoning. His mother sent him here last fall to attend the college and got him a boarding school at Mr. Alex Kennedy’s boarding house in Summit Hill.

“Last Saturday he escaped and fell with some of his companions and bought a number of cigarettes. He started smoking for a bet and being only fourteen years old, thought little of the danger of nicotine poisoning from smoking too much He continued to smoke long after he began to feel the effects and never stopped until the fortieth cigarette had burned to ashes.

“He went to the rink, lost his balance and fell hitting his head. The fall is believed to have contributed to brain fever. The nicotine caused the heart to beat rapidly and vehemently.” The treating doctor, Dr Alexander, said the case was very serious, but believed his chances would improve.

Robert J. Booker is a freelance writer and former executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. He can be reached at 865-546-1576.

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