Welcome to my new website featuring free history stories! Every month I will post a true story from
my files—covering topics such as historical true crime, politically incorrect history, amusing glimpses
into the past, ghost tales, etc. A few will be samples from my published books, but most will be BRAND
NEW and PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED ANYWHERE! Some are sections omitted from my books due to
space considerations; some were unprinted because they made publishers nervous; some were written
expressly for this website.
If you like the stories, links on this site will show you how to find my published works.
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* All illustrations, unless otherwise noted, by Kyle McQueen.
* Webmaster: Darren McQueen.
All material herein copyright 2012-2015 by Keven McQueen.
* Author photo: Denise Smith.
Story for March 2015: Dubious Doctors
One fine morning long ago, Mrs. Connery of Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, noticed that her baby’s knee was badly swollen. She called in T. B. Miller, M.D., billed as the ex-Dean of the Philadelphia University of Medicine Surgery. This august personage examined the infant and declared that it had somehow broken its leg. He wrapped the limb in bandages, applied liniment, and left, with the reassuring promise that he would be back.
Dr. Miller returned the next day with five other doctors because he felt a consultation was necessary. The learned physicians concluded that the baby’s leg had mortified and must be amputated—with a saw!—to save its life. Dr. Miller said they would visit the Connery household with bonesaw in tow on the following Monday. As they left, the mob of medics recommended that the baby be strapped down in its crib.
Mrs. Connery was not a doctor, but she was pretty sure such radical surgery was not warranted for a swollen knee, and she took her child to a doctor at Jefferson College for a second opinion. Several more doctors examined the leg and concurred that it was merely sprained, and amputation was decidedly not recommended.
The worried mother sought a third opinion, this time from a man who had a reputation as a faith healer. He looked at the baby and said the child had somehow stuck a pin in its leg. “You go home and work the swelling from the right side to the left and it will come out,” he said. The faith healer, it turned out, was correct: the baby’s leg was neither gangrenous nor even sprained. Mrs. Connery kneaded her child’s swollen knee until a needle poked through, which she extracted with tweezers. The baby made a full recovery.
However, on Monday, Dr. Miller and his band of colleagues appeared at the Connery household as promised, toting far more knives than seemed necessary, plus additional equipment—some of which seem more appropriate tools for a carpenter or the Three Stooges than a doctor—including hammers, chisels, extra saws, and a bottle of ether. Mr. Connery informed them that the child was on the mend and their services were not needed. One of the consultants, miffed, said that he came to amputate the child’s leg, and by cracky that’s what he aimed to do. He shouted that he had set the baby’s leg and saved its life and demanded a $25 payment. The irate father showed them the door, and they left grumbling, taking their saws, hammers, and chisels with them.
If the reader thinks that the doctors exhibited eccentric behavior, bad diagnostic skills, and poor bedside manner, thereby hangs the rest of the tale. When the story got around, investigators found that neither Dr. Miller nor any of his five cohorts were real physicians at all. They were all lunatics who had bought bogus medical school diplomas!
The problem was widespread in Philadelphia by the late 1870s. One man, William B. Smith of Fifteenth Street, developed an abiding interest in human anatomy, and read everything he could find on the topic. He even attended Philadelphia University for a couple of years, but no one could say whether he graduated. He was injured at his place of business, lost his reason, was sent to Kirkbride’s Asylum for the Insane three times, and had done a stint in the Pennsylvania Institution for the Insane. Despite Smith’s madness, in 1853 his family bought a gift of a diploma from the Philadelphia University of Medicine and Surgery in his name, which gave him the right to practice medicine. Fortunately for the city’s ill and lame, “Dr.” Smith never actually saw any patients.
The authorities wanted to know where all these fake diplomas were coming from. In June 1880 they found that some of the medical colleges themselves were bogus. One investigator who spent $150 bought five degrees, including two doctors of medicine, one doctor of divinity, one doctor of laws, and one doctor of civil law. On June 9, the number one culprit was arrested: Dr. John Buchanan, Dean of the Eclectic Medical College of Pennsylvania, which later changed its name to the American University of Philadelphia. Under an alias, Buchanan was also Dean of Livingston University of America. Two other faculty members were arrested and another six abandoned the city.
When the authorities raided Buchanan’s premises they found a half-ton of blank diplomas, just waiting to be filled out with the names of purchasers. Correspondence indicated that Buchanan’s concern had sold three thousand bogus degrees, and that the American University in particular had been operating as a diploma mill since 1867.
Bondsmen put up Buchanan’s bail. He thanked them by vanishing like a shade and leaving them holding the bag. The one-time physician faked his own drowning and fled to Canada. He did this not only to escape the law, but also to cheat his bondsmen. But Buchanan proved better at shamming sheepskins than hiding from the authorities. On August 24, he turned up in Windsor, Ontario, cowering under the alias Fairchild. On September 10, he worked up the courage to cross into the USA and was quickly arrested at St. Clair, Michigan.
His trial was short and none too sweet. On December 6 he was found guilty, fined $500, ordered to pay the cost of his prosecution, and spend ten months in prison for trying to defraud the government.
“Dean” Buchanan confessed to his fraudulent career in March 1881, and told authorities the names of persons he had done business with and the names of “wholesale druggists in Philadelphia who have sold his diplomas.” He admitted that over the years he had corresponded with 5,000 persons interested in purchasing phony medical credentials. According to a news account, in Buchanan’s confession he related “how diplomas were signed by the faculty; how, in one instance, three professors, for $5 each, signed 500 diplomas and how, for $350, diplomas which were to be sent abroad were certified by the Spanish consul. In all, about 10,000 names are tangled up in his disclosures.”
He estimated that there were twenty-five diploma mills in America and Europe serving individuals who wanted to be doctors without undergoing the inconvenience of actually attending medical school. He thought 20,000 fraudulent doctors were currently operating (no pun intended) in the USA and another 40,000 in Europe. Buchanan also sang like a canary on such topics as abortion, snake oil patent medicine, and grave robbery—an activity in which he personally had participated. As icing on the cake, he explained how he faked his suicide.
In October 1881, after his ten months were up, Buchanan was re-sentenced to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000 for his leading role in running the nation’s most notorious diploma mill. It was a lenient sentence considering how much incalculable pain and suffering undoubtedly was caused by the lunatics and incompetents who practiced medicine under his phony diplomas.
After serving his sentence, the dubious doctor kept his nose clean for a while. But on January 19, 1885, he was again arrested in Philadelphia—along with his new business partner, Dr. Rebecca Russell—for selling diplomas which bore the forged signatures of “some of Philadelphia’s most prominent physicians.” Perhaps Buchanan thought nobody would notice.
P.S. My next book is due March 16, 2015! You can pre-order it from Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Gothic-Strange-True-Tales-South/dp/1455620157/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423651303&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=kevin+mcqueen+gothic