Blood Drinking and Entrail Baths: Slaughterhouse Cures
I have previously posted on the medicinal uses of blood with a look at vampire cures, a woman seeking the blood of a newly hanged man for her heart condition, and a jolly corpuscular connoisseur. We return to this sanguinary theme with a grim and grewsome look at some of the cures pursued by the desperate in a New York slaughterhouse. Give that Bloody Mary with brunch a miss and join me in a nice glass of fresh bullock’s blood….
THE BLOOD CURE
Patients Who Drink at the Thirty-fourth Street and Other Abattoirs
THE THIRST FOR BLOOD
Butchers Claim it Will Cure—Physicians Say it Is Dangerous
It has been said that the vitality of expiring animals unites with the atmosphere, and is absorbed by those people who are immediately about the body at the time of death. This vitality is known to exist in the blood, and it is not surprising then that there are persons who daily visit the abattoirs to catch the hot blood of the bullock and, drinking it, nourish and sustain their own exhausted vitality. Such is actually the case, and the abattoir at the foot of Thirty-fourth Street and North River is the recipient of the most patronage and numbers among its patients or customers the greatest variety of diseases. The blood is drank [sic] principally for consumption and debility and for diseases and complaints of a kindred nature. But there have been some cases of almost miraculous cures, it is stated, particularly among children, of scrofulous diseases and diseases of the bones.
HOW THE BLOOD IS DRANK. [sic]
A visit to the slaughter house at the foot of Thirty-fourth Street was made yesterday by the writer. Passing through the long lines of beef, dressed and ready for the market, to the centre of the huge building, the shambles are found. Great, sturdy men, with arms bare to the shoulder and dyed with blood, stood within a small enclosure, and hanging before them was a Texan steer, still warm and the blood dripping from the gash in his throat. The implements of slaughter lay about, and the light struggling through the windows overhead and reflected from the blood-soaked floor cast a reddish tint upon everything. The steer was lowered to the floor, and, while the hide was being rapidly taken from his body, the writer turned to one of the attendants and said:
“Do people come here to drink blood?” “Lord bless you, yes; lots of them. Have a glass?” and the gory Hercules stooped down for a small dipper that stood near by. The writer, begging to be excused, continued the conversation.
“What do they drink it for?” “Well, for all kinds of things. It will cure almost anything, if you only think it will. Consumption most often and weakness of all kinds. Thin people drink it to get fat and fat people who think they’re weak to get strong.” “Has it an unpleasant taste?” “Oh, no; tastes something like warm milk,” and here the man made a motion as if to get some, which the writer hastily checked.
“Can people come and drink a quantity of it the first time?”
“Very seldom. Most people are afraid of it at first, but they get to like it after a while. Ladies are the worst; they make awful faces the first few times, but they take to it in the end just as if it was lager.”
“Do you have many ladies come for it?” “Lots! Almost every day we have some, and it does them good, too. Why there used to be a young lady come here every morning in her carriage. The first time she came she looked very bad. She was white and thin and did not get out of the carriage, because she was not able to I suppose. Well, she made an awful fuss about it. I thought she was going to faint when she saw the glass full that was brought her. ‘Take it away,’ she said, and so it was taken away. That day she managed to get down a teaspoonful of it after a terrible fuss. But she got to like it like all the rest, and it wasn’t long before she could take a tumbler of it and smack her lips, too. She got fatter and fatter all the time, and now she does not come any more, and I suppose she is cured.”
“Do they ever take the blood home with them?”
“Take it home? No, sir; they have got to drink it when it is fresh, or else it will get clotted and they can’t drink it at all. You see sometimes they will have to wait a few minutes until we kill a fresh steer. Just as soon as the throat is cut the blood spurts out, and we catch some of it in a glass and then they must drink it right down.”
“What is the social position of the patients?”
“Well, some are rich and some are poor; but they all meet on common ground when they come here. Of course we take more interest in women than we do in men; that’s natural, you know; and then the women always seem more grateful when they are cured than men do. There was an old man who came here once, and he used to grumble if the blood was not just ready for him. We stood it as long as we could, and then up and told him one morning that we did not run a bar. After that he was more easy and took his blood as quiet as any one.”
“It is said by some people, particularly some doctors, that the habit of drinking blood is a dangerous one because a person engenders a passion for it stronger than even for liquor. The more they drink the more they want?”
“I just tell you what it is, those doctors don’t know anything about it. They don’t want their patients to drink blood. Why, because they would get well then, and that would ruin their business. If people would stop eating meat we should have to go out of the business and if people would stop getting sick what would become of the doctors? See! Why, just go down to the markets, any of them, and ask the butchers if they ever have consumption when they work around fresh meat. No, sir, they don’t, and many a man has been cured of it, and not known himself what cured him. As for the love of it , they all like it well enough after they get used to it, and I have heard of men who have drunk it regularly for years, but never heard there was anything queer about them.”
THE BATH OF ENTRAILS.
The men about the slaughter houses speak not only of cases of consumption cured, but also of deformities and swellings made well. The case of a child, a little girl about four years of age, that was brought to the abattoir almost daily during the past summer is a case in point. When she first appeared she was accompanied by her parents and was exceedingly thin and pale. She was afflicted, it was stated, with inflammatory rheumatism or something of that nature, and one of her legs was drawn out of shape. The little thing was indeed a sufferer, and was regarded with anxious eyes by the sturdy men. Her father had heard that the paunch of a steer placed around the diseased limb would have a beneficial effect, and had come to try the experiment upon the daughter. The butchers, strong in their belief of the efficacy of their pet theories, advised him by all means to do so, and offered to prepare the bath of entrails. When the next bullock had been killed and the hide cut open, the stomach was taken out and its contents placed in a barrel or large tub. The little girl was now brought forward and prepared for a plunge into the horrible mass. Frightened almost to death, she was, at the terrible sight, to her, of slaughtered animals and bloodstained men; but, notwithstanding her screams and struggles, she was forced feet foremost into the still warm entrails. This treatment was repeated from time to time during the summer with marked beneficial results. It is claimed now that the little girl has almost entirely recovered. Several cases of scrofulous patients cured are mentioned by the habitués of the market, and one or two cases of these were children. One case, as related to the writer by an old man who has spent all his life about markets, was even more horrible in its details than the case of the little girl mentioned above. She was brought to the Jersey City abattoir by friends who proposed to treat her for scrofula. The tub was prepared as in the other case, and into the reeking mass little Jennie, for that it was said was her name, was placed up to her neck. The old man said the effect was to make her deathly sick at first, but she at last became accustomed to it just as the blood drinkers become accustomed to the beverage. She was also supposed to have been cured, and although it was not possible to find anyone who knew her name or what had finally become of her no one about the market to whom the subject was broached had any doubt whatever as to her final recovery.
“The man with the withered arm” is another recollection of the habitués of the place, and they also pronounce him cured. He would come day after day with an arm that was at his first coming entirely useless, and when the paunch of a bullock was opened into a tub he would immerse the withered arm up to the shoulder and let it remain there for fifteen or twenty minutes. The men imagined that he grew stronger, the patient was sure he did, and it is stated for fact that he at least partially recovered the use of his arm.
WITNESSING THE DRINKING.
These cases, however, are exception, the great majority of the patients being blood drinkers. As the writers was about turning away from the market he noticed a carriage coming down Thirty-fourth Street, the driver carefully picking his horses’ way among the throng of carts and wagons that stood upon the street. Passing the market the horses were headed toward the slaughter house, attracting but little attention from any one. At the end of the building the carriage stopped, the door opened and a young man stepped out and disappeared through one of the abattoir doors. That is a pretty healthy looking blood drinker, thought the writer as he drew near to witness, if possible, the blood drinking ceremony. But it was evident he was not the patient, as he soon returned bearing a small silver cup, which shone in sharp contrast to its crimson contents. A pale face appeared at the carriage window, and a delicately gloved hand reached out and took the cup. It disappeared for a moment, and then reappeared and the young man turned out what appeared to be about half of the original contents. It was evident that she was a “new case” and bullocks’ blood had not yet become palatable.
FAITH IN THE BLOOD CURE
It is a curious fact that the men about the slaughter houses have the most complete faith in the blood cure and yet it was almost impossible to find one that had drank blood himself. It is claimed by the advocates of the cure, who are, as a rule, outside of the medical profession, that butchers and men who are habitually employed about the abattoirs, are the strongest and most robust in the world as a class, and cases are cited where men going into slaughter houses to work in poor and failing health have, in a few months, entirely recovered their strength and vitality. There are numbers of such cases that can be fully substantiated. The writer called upon a number of butchers throughout the city, and there was not one who did not indorse blood drinking in the fullest and most hearty terms. They even went further than that, and claimed that to actually drink the blood was only necessary in the most severe cases. Ordinary cases can be cured and have been, say they, by the patient’s simply standing nearby when a bull is killed and inhaling the gases and steam that arise from the interior of the body. Upon the writer’s intimation to one of the butchers that the theory of inhaling the escaping vitality smacked somewhat of humbug, the butcher very pointedly replied that he knew nothing about that but he did know that a man suffering from certain diseases who would stand over a beef paunch long enough would get cured.
A DANGEROUS CURE
The butchers say that the physicians will not prescribe blood for their patients simply from prejudice. They do prescribe raw meat, and certainly, say they, the properties of raw meat are to be found in the blood in a greater and stronger degree. The writer conversed with a number of physicians on the subject and they nearly all opposed blood drinking, while many of them acknowledged that they believed most excellent results have followed in some cases. Most of them object to it on the ground that it created a depraved appetite that might in time pass beyond all control. One doctor states that he believes the thirst for bullock’s blood creates a thirst for human blood if not checked in time and he had heard of a case where a blood drinker, on being deprived of his customary beverage, sprang upon one of his brothers and attempted to tear the flesh of his arm with his teeth. His passion for blood had become so strong and ungovernable that it was necessary to confine and watch him. While out of the influence he deplored the fact that he could not control his awful appetite and warned his relatives and friends of the danger of approaching him when the mania retuned. He had been accustomed to drink bullock’s blood at a certain hour of the day and exactly at that hour the fierce spirit of a Texan steer seemed to possess him. The friends of the theory of the “blood cure” claim that the physicians do not pay the attention to the subject that its apparent success would demand, and there is little doubt that while some physicians have looked into and studied the matter carefully the majority have not
THE MEDICAL VIEW
While medical men have all sorts of reasons for their opposition to the “cure” the following brief conversation, held with Dr. C. Platt Saxton, who has made a special study of the matter, may be regarded as containing the gist of the opinions of those of the fraternity who have studied the subject at all:
“Do physicians ever prescribe the blood of animals to their patients?” asked the writer.
“Not to my knowledge; I never heard of any physician prescribing it to be taken internally.”
“What do you think of it yourself?” “It is a theory very difficult of demonstration, except as we demonstrate all remedies that are celebrated for certain cures—by the result of the prescription. Practically we see patients improving upon the warm blood of bullocks. They at first are in a weakened and debilitated condition from pulmonary phthisis and other diseases, but eventually they become strong and robust, regaining an apparently perfect health. Practically we see these demonstrations, but they may be attributable to other cases, such as the effect of mind on matter.” “What, then, do you attribute these cures to?” “They may be attributable to the blood being more readily assimilated by weakened and debilitated organs, as it contains all the nutrition and vitality of animal life, but if this is so it must necessarily create a radical change in the system by setting up a curative process in diseased organs.” “Under the circumstances, then, why will not physicians prescribe or allow their patients the use of blood?” “It is not accepted as a remedial agent by the profession at large, except by the method of transfusion in isolated cases, and I think they are deterred from its use for fear of evil after-effects upon their patients; for it is generally conceded that the appetite for blood becomes even stronger than that for liquor, and cases have been known where it has produced mania of the most violent type.”
“Do you personally know, Doctor, of any such case?” “I do. Some years ago a case came under my observation. A young man of good family, about twenty-four years of age, was heard leaving his home very frequently at a certain hour every night, and his relatives could not imagine the cause of his absence. When I saw him he was in good health physically, but it had been stated to me that he had been suffering from pulmonary phthisis for two years previous. His recovery of health was said to be due to the drinking of warm blood at the abattoir. His family caused a watch to be placed upon him and were horrified to find that he went to the abattoir at night and eagerly drank bullocks’ blood. When discovered in the act they dashed the cup from his hands and, after much difficulty, succeeded in getting him home. They found that his appetite was beyond control, and he in a short time became a raving maniac.” “Was he ever restored to his reason?” “Yes; but he had to be allowed to resume his practice of blood drinking.”
“What do you think, on the whole, of the ‘blood cure’ as a remedy for consumption or scrofulous diseases?”
“It may be a valuable curative agent, but it is a dangerous one.”
New York [NY] Herald 25 November 1877: p. 13
Has being stinted of your daily gore-and-soda turned you into a raving maniac? I am not sanguine…. Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Other blood-drinkers: at Sagamore Hill and a Samaritan cult in Missouri.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.