Under the Paw of the Tiger: Taking the Cocaine, Morphine, and Opium “Cure” — 1890s

by Paula Bosse

ad-dallas-ensor-institute_souv-gd_1894“No cure, no pay…”

by Paula Bosse

In the 1890s, Dallas had a big cocaine problem. And a big morphine problem. And a big opium problem. In fact, the whole country did. Before the over-the-counter dispensing of these drugs was made illegal, they were easily obtained in any drugstore. Cocaine was especially cheap: a nickel or a dime (the equivalent of about two bucks in today’s money) could get you plenty. Things seem to have hit the breaking point in Dallas in 1892, with scads of lurid cautionary tales about crazed and doomed hopheads filling the papers, but the problem had been building for a while.

With this sudden surge in readily available opiates came the surge in institutions attempting to help the addicted kick their habit. Between 1893 and 1895 or 1896, there were three such places one would could go to “take the cure” in Dallas: the Dallas Ensor Institute (which was located at what is now 1213 Elm Street, between Griffin and Field, where Renaissance Tower stands now), the Hagey Infirmary (in what is now the 2100 block of Main, just east of Pearl), and, most famously, the Keeley Institute (which for many years was on Hughes Circle in The Cedars, just south of Belleview, between S. Akard and S. Ervay). The first two  were gone after only a couple of years, but the Dallas branch of the then-famous Keeley Institute lasted in Dallas at a few different locations until at least 1936.

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The text of the 1894 Dallas Ensor Institute ad above:

No Gold – No Mineral
The Dallas Ensor Institute
For the Cure of

Liquor, Morphine, Cocaine
and Tobacco Habits
No. 287 Elm Street,
Opened in the City of Dallas on the 1st day of July, 1893, and has successfully cured Two Hundred and Sixty-Three people all told, who are to-day sober men with the exception of three.
We Guarantee a Cure in every case, to the entire satisfaction of the patient, or it COSTS HIM NOTHING
REMEMBER, NO CURE, NO PAY.
Consultation Free and Correspondence Solicited.
Address Lock Box 367.
C. B. BEARD, Manager.
Call and see us.

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The more widely known Keeley Institute opened in Dallas around 1895 (click ad for larger image).

keeley-institute_dmn_103195
Dallas Morning News, Oct. 31, 1895

The text is worth a read of its own:

keeley-institute_dmn_103195-det

It’s interesting that the Keeley ad and the Ensor ad both admit to being less than perfect in their success rate — to the tune of “three.” I wonder if they were the same three people?

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Even though the addiction rate was getting to be something of an epidemic — especially, it seems, among women — pharmacists were split on whether to appeal to the city council to ban sales of these drugs unless ordered by a doctor. While all of them saw first-hand the hopeless addicts who came in every day proffering scrounged dimes, many were loath to lose the steady business — they were making a pretty good living. According to the article below — which describes what was going on in Dallas at the time, narcotic-wise — it wasn’t until late 1901 that the city council outlawed the sale of narcotics unless accompanied by a prescription; the State of Texas enacted a similar law four years later. Not that that stopped people from continuing to “hit the pipe” (a phrase I was surprised to see was around in 1910), but it probably did save many lives in the days when addiction was not very well understood and was not very effectively treated.

The Dallas  Morning News article below — “When Dope Sold Like Aspirin,” by Kenneth Foree — is an interesting look at Dallas during its first wave of drug problems. Imagine, if you will, the sight of a woman so in need of a fix that, despite having vehemently assured the druggist only moments earlier that the “medicine” she was purchasing was not for her, she began to lick the bottle before she even left the store. Cocaine is a hell of a drug….

drugs_dmn_090551_kenneth-foree
DMN, Sept. 5, 1951

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Dallas Ensor Institute ad from the Souvenir Guide of Dallas (Dallas: D. M. Anderson Directory Co., 1894).

Interested in more posts on a druggy Dallas?

  • See an ad for the Hagey Infirmary in my post “Hagey Infirmary, No Patient Too Frail — 1894,” here.
  • See my post “‘Delusions of Affability’ — Marijuana in 1930s Dallas,” here.
  • And, heck, see my other cocaine-related post, “New Year, New Teeth — 1877” — about a dentist who might have been dipping into his own medicine chest a little too frequently — here.

The song Foree references in his article is “Take a Whiff on Me,” which Lead Belly — who played around Deep Ellum in the ‘teens and ’20s — recorded in the ’30s. One of the verses of the song sometimes called “Cocaine Habit Blues” has a Dallas shout-out: “Walked up Ellum and I come down Main / Tryin’ to bum a nickle just to buy cocaine / It’s oh, oh, baby take a whiff on me.” Hear his version of the song (and read the lyrics) here (the “Ellum” line is at the 1:29 mark).

Most images are larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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