The Man with the Musical Heart


The Man with the Musical Heart and the stethoscope which he invented, with 48 raditing tubes.

The Man with the Musical Heart and the stethoscope which he invented, with 48 radiating tubes.

This blog is nothing if not topical and a recent article about Chopin’s heart and the approach of Valentine’s Day suggested this post merging music and medicine.

In the late 1890s, a superstar emerged in Illinois. He was, variously, Joseph Milkowski/Millarski/Milikorowski or Edward Lewis, the “Man with the Musical Heart.”

Lewis, as we will call him for simplicity’s sake, was a Pole, born in Russia c. 1866. He had a thrilling story to tell: 

Lewis’ story is one of the early life of some of the more radically inclined young men of a Russian university. Lewis says that then his name was Milikorowski [sic] and two years after he entered the school, Alexander the Third was killed. [Alexander II?] Among the hundreds of people arrested by the Russian government, on suspicion, were 500 students from Milikorowki’s university, he was among them. They were kept in cells and dungeons for over a year. Then they were sentence to Siberia for life. They were forced to march to Siberia, covering twenty-five miles a day. At that famous prison land they worked in the mines seventeen hours a day, at least so Lewis says.

Twenty-two of the students finally tried to escape and sixteen of them succeeded. Milikorowski was one of these. They were pursued until only five of them were left. A final attack was made upon them by the guards and one man was killed and Milikorowski stabbed and left for dead. After several hours his three companions who had managed to get away returned and nursed him back to life. They finally succeed in reaching Peking, China, where their wounded companion was placed in hospital. His case was almost given up as hopeless, but with careful attention he grew better and was finally discharged. After several recaptures and escapes from Russian officials the party reached San Francisco and were discharged from the custody of the Russian minister who had attempted to hold them.

Milikorowki, then changed his name to the more pronounceable one of Lewis and began the career of a trainer of bears in New York. One in a fury, attacked him and wounded him badly. It was while Lewis was in the hospital that the peculiarity of his heart was noticed. Since leaving that hospital Lewis has made his living by giving exhibitions to medical students and doctors. He was sold options on his heart five times. Four times the men who secured them died and the options were off. Now Johns Hopkins’ university at Baltimore holds the option for $5,000. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 19 November 1903: p.1 2

This notice gives similarly exciting details:

Among the recent visitors to this office was Joseph Milkowski, possibly better known as Edward Lewis, the “man with the musical heart,” as he is called. Lewis is an interesting study from the point of view of the physician: his heart was wounded by a sabre thrust at the Yarkautz gold-mines in Siberia in 1889, while Lewis and his companions were trying to escape a sentence of life imprisonment as punishment for the Nihilist attempt made on the life of Czar Nicholas III in 1885 [Nicholas II?]. When the prisoners escaped, they were overtaken by the Cossack guard and in the melee Lewis was stabbed. A German physician told him the wound was fatal, but by some chance the victim recovered and later, when he was in the hospital it was discovered that his heart gave out most unusual sounds, resembling those of a wind-instrument.

Since that time, Lewis has been a more or less familiar figure to the medical profession of the country. He travels extensively and permits examinations of his heart by whatever means the physician thinks wise: he naively remarks that he does not want his heart cured, as it is now his means of livelihood. The Roentgen ray shows that the organ is nearly three times the normal size, but in spite of this fact Lewis appears to experience no inconvenience from it. He has on several occasions made arrangements with physicians to have his heart go at his death to some educational institution, but up to the present he has always outlived the man with whom the arrangement has been made.

The present condition of his heart is most interesting, and he has hundreds of testimonial comments on it from prominent men in the profession. Detroit Medical Journal, Volume 1, 1901 

This next article gives a description of Lewis and his “music.” I’ve left out most of the speculative diagnoses. The headline writer got a bit creative with “well-known airs.” 



Physicians and Specialists Are Unable to Agree on His Disease. The Pulsations of His Life Pump Play Well Known Airs.

Music is the distinguishing specialty of Joseph Milkowski’s heart. It also pumps blood around his anatomy, but that is the usual function of all active hearts. The music this ordinary silent organ makes is what sets Milkowski out as an extraordinary man in the estimation of medical men. They have been paying competent fees to Milkowski for the privilege of listening to the soft, low music of his heart. He has been before the classes of nearly every medical school in the city, and he has had the condition of his heart diagnosed by many hundred physicians.

All of the doctors who have examined this young man have heard the music his heart is making, but not many of them have agreed in the diagnosis. All of them say he has a very large heart, about the size of a $2 ham and resembling one in shape more than it resembles the conventional heart one sees in pictures.

The sort of music made by Mr. Milkowski’s circulation pump is like the sound of a creaking gate hinge. At the same time one can hear by holding one’s ear to his heart region a noise like that of a steam pump making regular strokes at short intervals. It is involuntary action that makes the music and Milkowski can no more regulate the tones of it than he can regulate the working on his liver….Every time Milkowski goes into a clinic the demonstrator has him stripped to the waist. He takes a little metal mallet and thumps his chest until he locates the borders of his heart. Then he draws an outline of it, so the students may see the extent and irregularity of its shape. …He has a wife and two children with whom he lives at 252 Division street…

“I would rather have this heart than be deaf and dumb,” said Milkowski to a reporter of the Chronicle. “It doesn’t hurt me and I make a good living out of it. I made $242 last month. I charge doctors $5 to sit in a clinic, and when I go before a medical class I charge the members 25 cents apiece to listen to the music. I also make money out of my eyes. I have the greatest pulsation in my eyes of anybody. They are as great a phenomenon as my heart. I charge as much for letting doctors and students examine them as I do for listening to my heart. I do just as I please about my diet and actions. Of course I wouldn’t try to do hard work, but aside from that I’m all right.” Another source of income to this thrifty young man with the vocalizing heart is the sale of his photographs. When he goes to a medical college he offers the photographs for sale and as a special inducement to purchasers he will let them look at the capillary pulsations in his forehead. To all of the doctors he is known as Edward Lewis. His age is 32 years. [Chicago Letter] Daily Oklahoman [Oklahoma City, OK] 17 March 1898: p. 6 

Edward Lewis/Joseph Milkowski, with his heart marked on his chest by an examining doctor.

Edward Lewis/Joseph Milkowski, with his heart marked on his chest by an examining doctor.

His heart was frequently x-rayed, as in this article, published, appropriately, the day before Valentine’s Day.  


Chicago Man Secures Photographs of Edward Lewis’s Organ.

Chicago, Feb. 12. W.C. Fuchs of the Roentgen X-ray laboratory in the Schiller Building, has secured several X-ray photographs of Edward Lewis’s “musical heart.” Lewis, who is widely known in the medical world as the possessor of probably the largest as well as the most musical heart in the world, has for the last three years been the subject of study and investigation by physicians in all parts of the world. The man’s heart is nearly three times the normal size, has nearly two inches’ expansion, and its beating can be heard five feet away. Owing to the straining of certain muscles and glands of the organ the flowing of blood through the heart gives out a peculiar sound. From the negative it can be seen that the man’s heart extends fully three inches further on the left side than an ordinary organ would, while on the right side it reaches almost to the ribs. The photographs will be sent to the leading medical societies and colleges of the country. New York Times 13 February 1898   

Judging by the many times Lewis is mentioned in state and local medical association minutes and journals, he hummed right along as one of the best-studied anatomical demonstrators in the country. He was mentioned in this paper given by Dr. Henry F. Lewis on “Musical Heart Murmurs.” During the reported Q&A period, one physician described a Lady with a Musical Heart whose music seemed to enthral the good doctor. There was also audience commentary on earlier doctors who tried to score the music of the heart. 

One, a female, I had examined a number of times, and had never detected a musical murmur. On one occasion she became violently excited ; the heart‘s action was exceedingly rapid, 160 or more, and there was developed, while I was auscultating, the most exquisite musical murmur I have ever heard, which seemed to me as nearly like the twanging of a violin string or a bow chord as any thing I could think of. As the heart quieted down the murmur disappeared….Laennec, as Dr. Lewis has said, laid a good deal of stress upon the musical character of murmurs. I believe, in his original edition, he even represented them by musical characters showing their exact pitch. His more practical English translator (Forbes) quietly cut out a good deal of his discussion as to the musical character of murmurs; and Latham, one of those clear- headed English writers, in the early part of this century, said that the musical or other quality of the murmurs was of little practical value, though when auscultation was first introduced in England and physicians began to listen to the heart, they were not only captivated by the sounds they heard and by the whole study of auscultation, but they made it considerable of an amusement, and tried to see how nearly they could compare the murmurs to various other sounds, and he says that they even went so far as to represent them by musical notes….  Paper by Dr Henry F. Lewis on “Musical Heart Murmurs,” meeting of Nov 22, 1898 Chicago Society of Internal Medicine. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. v.31, 1898 

In looking at Lewis’s career in cardiology, I was surprised to see how many rivals he had and the extremely varied descriptions of their musical hearts.  

Man With “Musical Heart” Sent to Jail for Robbing.

Chicago. John R. Smith, the man with a “musical heart,” was sent to jail for breaking into a doctor’s office and stealing a guitar. The musical prodigy claims that by taking long or short breaths he is able to play several “tunes,” and it is on the theory that he believed his “instrument” was out of tune that the theft has been accounted for. By the use of a stethoscope persons can hear the unusual sounds made by Smith’s heart. It is a low humming and is caused by the flow of blood through the ventricles. The man has travelled with museums for several years and has exhibited himself at medical colleges. The physician whom he robbed is Dr. Allen A. Matthews, Oak Park. Bellingham [WA] Herald 17 August 1905: p. 10 


Strange Disease

Heart Twanged Like a Banjo

New York, N.Y. Jan. 24 Alvin Shaw, 37 years old, died yesterday in the city hospital at Newark of a disease known as mitral stenosis, or “musical heart.” Shaw was an ironworker. In explaining his peculiar illness to his friends, he said his heart twanged like a banjo when it beat. He had been under medical treatment for some months. Aberdeen [SD] American 26 January 1907: p. 1 


A Carson Warren, Well Known in Bridgeton.

Victim of Another Disease

Predictions of Physicians That Newspaper Man with Blood Pump That Sounded Like Harmonica Would Drop Dead Fail.

A Carson Warren, known far and wide as the “man with the musical heart,” whose weird and deadly ailment hourly threatened death, and defied all attempts at cures by the greatest specialists, is dead.

With his heart beats giving forth audible sounds like the low strains of a harmonica, Warren lived for twenty-five years, reconciled to the opinions voiced by physicians that heart disease eventually would claim him. But alas, for the prophecies of the medical world at large. He has died from pneumonia after an illness of three days.

[The article further adds that Warren always carried his will and a letter addressed to the coroner, directing that his body be given to the Medico-Chirugical College Hospital, Philadelphia.] Bridgeton [NJ] Evening News 10 May 1907: p. 2 

One of the musical hearts was presented as a Temperance object-lesson. 

The Man With the Musical Heart

Oliver Lindsay, “The man with the musical heart,” died yesterday. He was a lath contractor, a physical phenomenon and a temperance text.

The doctors said he had every disease with a pronounced name and every attendant complication of unpronounceable name. And he had “a musical heart” also. He was the only man that ever did have “a musical heart.” But his heart sang only when he drank to excess, and now his heart strings are broken and the doctors are explaining why he ever had a heart, why it sang, and why its song is ended now.

But they do not agree as to wherein lay the making of the strange sounds.

A post-mortem examination was held by Dr. Wheleer and Dr. Dannaker this morning, but they could not find any new cause of the strange sounds. Lindsay was a clinic of diseases, and had been exhibited before divers medical congresses throughout the country. It was generally stated that excessive use of alcoholics had contracted one of the valves of the heart until, with every influx or ejection of blood therefrom, it sounded a surging song, sometimes almost a screech, but always loud and strangely human. It was at one time thought to be a ventriloquist’s trick, but it was established that it was a valvular lesion, with uncommon soundings. And the more he drank the more it sang.

It sang him to death yesterday.

Kansas City Star. St Albans [VT] Daily Messenger 8 December 1897: p. 3 

This violinist from Cincinnati seemed to have represented the percussion section of this peculiar orchestra:  


Rare and Interesting Affliction of Andre Schmidt, a Musician of the City.

One of the most peculiar cases of heart disease ever observed in local medical circles is that of Andre Schmidt, aged 36, a musician, residing at 1435 Elm street. His is a case of such rare and interesting phases as to make him a much-sought-for-lecture-room subject, and he has, according to his own calculation, furnished material for clinical lectures in the local medical colleges and hospitals at least 25 times.

Schmidt, as is stated above, is a violinist of ability, he having enjoyed considerable reputation as an artist before having been disabled by his present trouble, which is known as “musical heart,” a most peculiar condition, in which the heart, instead of beating with the regularity of a normal organ, pulsates four or five times in rapid rhythmic succession emitting a harmonious sound, not unlike that produced by the distant movement of a ball in a bowling alley, the rumbling of the moving ball and the quick, succeeding beats of the falling pins all being vividly portrayed.

A most interesting feature in connection with his case is the accelerated action and seemingly sympathetic movement of the heart, while its power is deeply absorbed in rendering his favourite selections, the harmony and rhythm of the heart, but being more pronounced. Whatever may be the outcome of his condition, ti is one of exceedingly great interest. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 18 January 1899: p. 5 

 Other heart-music was said to resemble the cooing of doves or a sound so intense, it interfered with the patient’s sleep. A humming, a banjo, a harmonica, a violin string, a strangely human “surging song:” perhaps all the Musical Hearts should have gotten together—it would have made a killer novelty act for the stage.  

In April of 1901 stories began to emerge that The Man with the Musical Heart was dead. One article titled: “Had a Very Strange Career, Man With Musical Heart Was an Escaped Siberian Convict.” begins “The death of one “Robert B. Brown, ‘The Man with the musical heart,’ was announced from Elgin, Illinois.” [Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 6 April 1901: p. 96]

The article gives his original name as “Millarski” and states “He was born in Russia, and after reaching this country was known by the name of Brown and also as Edward Lewis.”  The rest of the article gives the same story of the Siberian escape and the usual medical details we’ve seen in stories about above.

Perhaps two dozen papers picked up the story, including the Rockford [IL] Republic 14 May 190, which names him as Herbert E. Brown.  The Pawtucket [RI] Times 15 May 1901: p. 1 reported that he had died at Sherman hospital Monday of pneumonia. “A post-mortem examination revealed the fact that Brown’s heart was four times the normal size.”  

But the reports were off key. Lewis was apparently not dead. 

The “man with a musical heart” vigorously denies that he is dead, and backs up his denial by pumping the doubters a tune on the organ. Morning Herald [Lexington, KY] 29 May 1901: p. 2 

And in an encore performance, the Cleveland Plain Dealer of 19 November 1903, announced that Milkowski was said to be making a “Farewell Tour” of Medical Colleges.

A young woman with a musical heart was presented by Dr. Ritter to the Vienna Medical Society’s meeting in December, 1902. This was widely reported in the US papers, beginning in January, 1903, which was the year that Lewis first announced he’d sold his heart to Johns Hopkins. Perhaps he was feeling the pressure of competition from that young woman from Vienna and wanted to keep his name in front of the public. The following article was widely circulated in 1903-4. It seems to be Lewis’s swan-song. 


Pole Says Johns Hopkins Has Promised $5,000 and Paid $500 on Account.

Special to The New York Times.

St. Louis, Mo., March 27. Edward Lewis, a Pole, who recently gave an exhibition of his “musical heart” at the Marion Sims Medical College in this city, says he has sold his heart to the Johns Hopkins University for $5,000.

Lewis says he received $500 cash and an iron-clad contract whereby on his death his heart is to be turned over to the university intact, and the school will pay Lewis’s widow $4,500 balance due for the organ.

Lewis is one of the few men living in the United States whose heart makes music as they beat. He says the peculiar sound made by his heart is due to a sabre wound received by him in the breast in Russia years ago. New York Times 28 March 1904 

A clever fellow, Lewis, to get that “iron-clad contract.”  Yet I have not found any notice that the heart was handed over to the University. Nor have I found a genuine death announcement for The Man with the Musical Heart. If the Joseph Milkowski on the “Find-a-Grave” site is our man, he was born in 1841 in Poland and died 30 July 1916.  He seems to have escaped the notice of the census takers, which is a pity, as it would have been interesting to see what they listed for his occupation. There were so many men with the same anatomical peculiarity, one wonders if the appellation was something handed down to the next claimant, so that The Man With the Musical Heart never really died.  

Anyone have information on when the music fell mute for The Man with the Musical Heart? Sing it to me please, at chriswoodyard8 AT

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