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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
A few old favorites (10/22/2006)
By Cynthya Porter

My Aunt Kay sent a slim package to me in the mail from her home in Omaha, Nebraska. She is a volunteer at the library there, and while going through books donated for a used book sale, found a little pamphlet she knew I'd like. Coincidentally, Aunt Kay's son, my cousin Paul, found an envelope at an antique store which she also sent on to me. It is obviously a pre-stamped return envelope never used, with an embossed two-cent stamp and addressed to Public Rel. Dep't. The J.R. Watkins Co. Winona Minnesota Att. E.L. Dosch.

The gift appeals to two of my favorite interests " Winona history and letters to the editor. The booklet is titled "Watkins Song Book " a few old favorites." The "old favorites," include the usual patriotic songs and Christmas carols and songs such as "Home On The Range," "The Little Brown Church in the Vale," and "There is a Tavern in the Town" (and many more!).

Interspersed among the songs are testimonials, letters, from customers extolling the magical medical results they get from using Watkins Liniment. From a photo of some Watkins staff members standing on the steps of the Winona office building surrounded by mailbags, it would seem that the booklet was published in the late 1930s or so.

In the centerfold is a rather fantastical (pre-Photoshop!) drawing of the Watkins Co. many buildings, all plucked from their real locations by the artist and pictured on four or more blocks surrounding the present Watkins factory and offices on Liberty Street in Winona. Across Liberty, artistic license has placed Winona National Bank. Along Third Street runs the streetcar line, while a sleek silver locomotive is stopped in front of an enormous building on the south side of Fourth St. Tractor-trailer trucks appear on the streets along with long, low automobiles, while an airplane in the sky is prepared to fly over Sugar Loaf in the background.

I thought maybe I'd give the booklet to John, so he could play the piano and we'd sing along. But first, I read the "enthusiastic letters and testimonials from satisfied users of Watkins Liniment."

The Winona Post now and again will get a poem in the mail. I was jealous of the number of poems there were dedicated to Watkins Liniment such as this one from Mrs. Grant Richards of Virginia:

When indigestion overtakes,

And muscles sore, my back most breaks

I call no doctor, have no nurse sent,

I just reach for Watkins Liniment.

But despite the fact that the liniment might well put them out of a job, quite a few letters came from doctors and nurses. Most of them swore by it for aches and pains and colic, but one nurse swore it cured dandruff.

Doctors from as far away as Hawaii wrote to say they used the liniment. E. Bell, M.D. of N.C., wrote, "It is safe and beneficial for my patients to use in coordination with the prescriptions, and in many cases replaces them."

Teachers, laborers, singers and firemen weighed in. Farm families wrote to say they used it for themselves and their animals. Several people swore it cured diarrhea in baby chicks, corn stalk poisoning in cows, and scours in calves. But R.D. Williams of N.M., said it best, "Had a mule with a very bad case of spasmodic colic, gave one dose Watkins Liniment, mule got up in thirty minutes, sick no more."

No one, however, could beat Mrs. Mary Stephens of Independence, Mo., whose husband, in the year 1906, was suffering from typhoid fever. She was treating him with a liquid diet, but a misguided (or misanthropic) neighbor gave him "beef steak and liver." "At ten o'clock he jumped out of the bed and said, ‘Get up old lady. I am a dying.'" "And he had a knot in his stomach as large as my two fists." She massaged his stomach with the liniment and gave him three teaspoonfuls internally. "Soon he started belching, and the Liniment threw the gas off his stomach."

Why does this remind me of family reunions?

Watkins still sells the liniment, and has revealed the secret ingredients of camphor and red pepper extract, but warns that it is "for external use only." 


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