Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Family Trip, part 3 (or, Where We Visit An Apothecary Museum)

One of the unexpected highlights of our trip came on our very first day in Alexandria. We were just walking from our hotel the 10 blocks or so down to the water (the Potomac River for those of you who are as unfamiliar with Virginia geography as I am!) when we happened to start a conversation with 2 ladies who were from the area. They made several suggestions of things we should be sure to do with the kids, and one of the suggestions was just a few blocks away…it was an Apothecary Museum.

What is an “Apothecary Museum” you ask? Well, it is a delightful old pharmacy (Apothecary is the fancy, old-fashioned word for pharmacy. See, you do learn something new every day!). The actual name of the museum is the “Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum”. It was a thriving family business in Alexandria from 1792-1933 when the business failed during the Great Depression (Okay, so it obviously wasn’t a “thriving” business at the end…). Anyway, shortly after it closed, it was purchased and was made into a museum complete with the original ingredients in the original jars and drawers as the day it closed. Seriously.

How cool is that?!? So, we paid the small admission fee and got a personal tour of this unique piece of history. There were indeed all the original counters, cabinets, display cases, and most importantly…the “ingredients” of the drugs of the day. I wish I remembered the names of some of the ingredients in the bottles. The photos I took will have to tell the story on their own.

One the second floor was the area where they made most of their products, so this was actually where the dry ingredients were kept in wooden drawers. The drawers and ingredients are again, still all there (crazy, huh?). There was one section that had all the “roots”, another that had the “flowers”, still another with “saps”, and the list went on.
There was a very old version of an elevator in the middle of the floor between the floors of the building to bring supplies up and down. There was a large wheel on the 3rd floor that a person would turn. This would turn a rope that would raise or lower a platform in the middle of the floor. There were other details to the ingenuity of this invention that my brain hasn’t held onto unfortunately. The kids definitely were wishing they could use the wheel but that is off-limits for the tour!

Some of the more “gruesome” aspects of the tour included a small display case that held items used for “blood-letting”. (Wow, some of you are going to learn 2 new things today! Blood-letting was done many years ago when someone was sick, and it was believed that the different components of the body were out of balance. For example, if someone had a fever, it was thought they had too much blood in them, so they would “bleed” them using different instruments hoping to get their system back in balance.) One of the items was a small gold-colored box with 10 slits on one side of it. When a trigger was pressed, it released 10 very sharp, small blades that would obviously cause the “patient” to bleed. Why so many slits? If there were fewer, the body would clot them off too quickly and they wouldn’t get enough blood. Seriously.
ok, you can't really see it in this picture, but the devices are in the small, top case. Guess I didn't think to take a close up picture of the creepy old things.
Really crazy thing? When Mike and I were watching t.v. in the hotel one evening we watched a show where 2 guys go around the country looking for unique antique (ha, that is a funny combination of words!) finds. One of their “finds” was an exact duplicate blood-letting device to what we had seen earlier in our trip! Hmm, maybe that isn’t as funny if you weren’t there. Believe me…we were really amused and amazed!
Well, to summarize this rambling post about something as silly as a small, very unusual museum, if you are ever in Alexandria, VA, the Amundson’s definitely recommend looking it up!

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