The Twelve Days of Guy Town Christmas, Day Eight

December 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

On the eighth day of Christmas (1885): an 8% solution, seven strips of bacon, sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”

On the eighth day of Guy Town Christmas 1885, the Daily Statesman asked, “Is cocaine a poison?”

The use of all kinds of anesthetics was dangerously general among all ages in Austin and the rest of the country, principally alcohol, morphine and chloroform. Even colicky little babies got spoonfuls of “soothing” morphine-based syrup. Medicines mostly just dulled or relieved pain, rather than curing anything.

And then along came cocaine. All other anesthetics paled before its intense power to relieve pain. It would not make an appearance in Austin for another five or six years, yet “Very little is yet known of it and it should never be taken unless under the immediate supervision of a skillful physician,” the wire-service story published in the Daily Statesman warned. Dr. Robert Ogden Doremus, physics and chemistry professor at College of the City of New York, had declared that the cocaine habit was surely superseding the morphine habit among the fashionable anesthetic inebriates. Cocaine was preferred because of its more direct effect.

At the beginning of 1885, Dr. Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow of Vienna, Sigmund Freud and others were touting cocaine as a cure for morphinism, alcoholism, and similar habits. Administered in doses of from one-twelfth to one-fourth of a grain, dissolved in water and hypodermically administered, cocaine was said to cure these addictions within ten days.

While Freud relied on his 7% solution, an 8% cocaine solution was used to prepare patients for ear, nose and throat surgery and during tooth extraction, sometimes with fatal results.

Fleischl-Marxow died a morphine and heroin addict in 1891, about the time cocaine first appeared in Austin; his cocaine addiction cure hadn’t worked.

A bill was being prepared by the New York Medical Society that 1885 Christmas for submission to the state legislature providing for the addition of coca to opium and other drugs forbidden to be sold except on physicians’ prescriptions, the Statesman announced that same eighth day.

Cocaine had been generally adopted into medical practice as a local application to produce insensibility, and its success for that purpose had led to a promiscuous and very hurtful use as a swallowed exhilarant. So great had the demand for it become that, in the form of chewing paste, most drug stores sold it. These preparations were usually put forward as composed of the green leaves of the coca plant, with a slight impregnation of lime, making just such a cud as that which the Indians of Peru chewed to relieve their fatigue and exhaustion. Many New Yorkers had become victims to the coca habit through substituting the drug for tobacco or alcohol, than either of which doctors declared more deadly.

Cocaine made its debut in Austin about 1891 or ’92; on August 16, 1892, shortly after 2 o’clock in the afternoon a dusky Guy Town damsel overdosed herself with morphine and cocaine (the same destructive “speedball” that killed John Belushi and River Phoenix) and came near “climbing the golden stairs.” The timely arrival of medical aid saved her, however, and she continued to enjoy life as theretofore, to the consternation of Austin police. Could she have been Cocaine Mattie? Emma Tweedle? Molly Hanson? All  were denizens of Guy Town and Austin’s most outrageous first crop of cokeheads.

At 11 o’clock August 18, 1894, Cocaine Mattie was arrested and carried to the police station. On the road she screamed and rent the air with language most fane and profane. After being placed in a cell she quieted down and no more was thought of her until about 8 o’clock when she was found to be dead. The doctor said she had been dead four or five hours when discovered. She was laid away unwept for but not unpitied.

 

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