Examined only digital image.
Evans, B. R. (Benjamin Ridgway), 1834-1891.
North side of Chestnut St., Extending from Sixth to Seventh St., 1851.
Philadelphia, ca. 1880.
Evans watercolors [P.2298.44]
Keywords/Subject headings: Schenck’s; Landmark; Research
A watercolor, like a photograph, perfectly captures a moment in time. A precise historical image for a section of a bustling city. The same path where seventy-five years later the Continental Congress would walk to sign the Declaration of Independence. Today, the site of a police station, Italian consulate, and a Wawa.
I live for details, obvious and hidden — for the moments after the initial assessment of an object, which lead to a headlong deep dive into research. This watercolor does not disappoint.
The 1850s version of a shopping district: Along a commercial city block, I see sidewalks full of strolling citizens and streets busy with the traffic of carriages and horses. On shared wall buildings, I spot signs for a druggist, a tailor, two hotels, a bathhouse, and Schenck’s. Schenck’s is my Easter egg and the rabbit hole into which I descend.
Schenck’s Pulmonic Syrup: A cure-all for consumption, whooping cough, and diseases of the lungs. A medication to be taken in combination with Seaweed Tonic and Mandrake Pills.
Curious, I follow the thread of thought to look up more details. First, I find a vintage color advertisement. Then, I find an archived New York Times article: Schenck’s Pulmonic Syrup The Great Blood Purifier.
Words and phrases jump off the page: hectic fever; Respirometer; purulent. I read and reread the article and reflect on the lost art of poetic medical advertising. I wonder how effective the syrup was. I also wonder whether Dr. Schenck was a respectable medical practitioner or a step above a snake oil salesman. I continue reading the article and learn that Dr. Schenck offered consultations to determine the need for the syrup, prior to use. I’m still undecided.
I’m intrigued and delighted. What an interesting tangent to discover in a seemingly nondescript watercolor.