Dr. Coe Cures Everything

When I reported on Samuel Fisher’s visit to Kansas City in 1891 to seek treatment for Bright’s Disease, I maligned his caregivers as “quacks,” an opinion based on the nighmarish full-page newspaper advertisement that featured Fisher’s endorsement five years later.  The ad also contained testimonials from several other cured Kansans, a number of disturbing before-and-after illustrations of surgical miracles, and one schematic diagram of a medical apparatus for correcting a young girl’s spinal deformity.  The latter item was a truly fearsome-looking contraption, seemingly built out of parts from old baby strollers and medieval torture devices.  

However, Dr. C. M. Coe, founder and chief physician of the private hospital in Wyandotte, shouldn’t be confused with a quack, as the doctor himself stressed repeatedly in columns of bombastic self-promotion under banner headlines announcing:

DR. COE’S MEDICAL & SURGICAL SANITARIUM.

The Largest, Oldest and Only Reliable in the West.

At first glance the advertisement, with its bold headlines and garish etchings, could be mistaken for a flier promoting P. T. Barnum’s American Museum of curiosities.  It also seems to anticipate modern-day websites for “alternative cures,” populated with outrageous claims and tempting bits of clickbait.  Yet, despite his extravagant claims, Dr. Coe appears to have been a competent practitioner of mainstream medicine, circa 1896.  A bona fide physician who had to compete with bunko artists, charlatains and faith-healers, Dr. Coe must have decided to beat them at their own game when it came to advertising.  

The doctor billed himself as a practiced hand at straightening club feet and crossed eyes, removeing cancers and disfiguring tumors, and curing digestive ailments, along with diseases of the liver, kidney, bladder and lungs.  With some petty medical complaints dropped at the doctor's doorstep apparently providing no challenge at all for his talents, the doctor boasted that, “We have had a large experience in the treatment of all forms of skin disease and relieve many as if by magic.”  For those occasions when treatment for disorders of the eye proved futile, he assured potential clients that “we import and carry a large assortment of artificial eyes, and can fit any size or color.”  

And don’t even get the good doctor started on ailments afflicting the fair sex.  While “space will not  permit us to enumerate the Diseases peculiar to Woman,” after receiving 8¢ in stamps the doctor was happy to mail a “neatly prepared treatise” on the subject.  Decades before the creation of fertility clinics, Dr. Coe was even able to assist infertile couples yearning for a child:  “Any one desiring to adopt a healthy baby can nearly always obtain one at the Sanitarium by calling or writing.”  They were apparently just lying about in a bin somewhere, perhaps next to the artificial eyes.

Charles M. Coe had graduated from the University of Illinois Medical School in 1886, just after both Missouri and Kansas had set up boards of health to regulate, among other matters, licensing for medical professionals.  The Missouri Board had declared in its 1885 report to the Governor that “among the many enemies of the physical man, none is so much to be dreaded as the medical quack - the pariah of the professions, who, guided by duplicity and avarice, feeds upon the many victims found among the masses … (and) nothing can dislodge them save the strong arm of the State, lifted in the defense of the people upon whom they prey.”

1885 was the same year Kansas formed its own State Board of Health, proclaiming in newspapers across the state that a new sheriff was coming to town to crack down on the no-holds-barred Wild West medical circus still operating within its borders.  In many newspapers the announcement ran next to a gallery of advertisements for self-administered miracle cures.  The small sample on the right is from the front page of the Millbrook Times, perhaps a deliberate jab at the State of Kansas, to let them know that the times, they are not a-changin.'

After a long, lucrative practice at his sanitarium, Dr. Coe, then doing business as Dr. C. M. Coe, Inc., moved to St. Louis where he narrowed his focus to the surgical treatment of hemorrhoids.  At his death in 1944 at the age of 88, he left all shares of company stock to his son and business partner Harold, and went to Valhalla.  At least, his remains were cremated at Vahalla Crematory.

Dr. Coe’s former patient Samuel Fisher died in Republic, Kansas, in 1908, aged 76 years, and was buried at Prairie Rose Cemetery between Republic and Sherdahl.  Bright’s Disease, which Fisher was sure would kill him if he didn’t seek professional treatment, afflicts the kidneys and was often fatal.  In his letter, written five years after his initial visit to the sanitarium, Fisher claims that Dr. Coe cured him in less than a year, saving his life.

Below Fisher’s letter and another testimonial to Dr. Coe’s skill with diseases of the urinary tract, the doctor announces “new, improved and effective means of cure” for such maladies as “Stone in the Bladder, (which we remove without cutting).”  I won’t give away here what Dr. Coe’s revolutionary method involved, but for anyone who remits 8¢ in stamps, there’s a neatly-prepared treatise waiting.

© Dale Switzer 2016  dale@lovewellhistory.com