I clearly remember the day in 2018 when I visited the VCU Health Sciences Library and laughed and laughed, and laughed some more. Between laughs, I learned something. “Doc” Al Schalow, B.S., ‘61/P, offered his multi-media, multi-disciplinary presentation: “The Medicine Wagon Show: Patent Medicines and Miracle Cures of Yesterday and Today”.

“Doc” Schalow offered a presentation, complete with costumes, props, advertising and ephemera, that told the story of cure-alls peddled by carnival barkers and traveling salesmen during the late 19th and early 20th century. This was a multidisciplinary class, familiar to me from my studies at VCU School of Nursing. “Doc” Schalow’s lecture featured history, culture, advertising, health beliefs and practices that influenced the sale and purchase of medicines that promised more than they delivered. He used his considerable thespian skills to present the point of view of the pitchman, intent on unloading the contents of his sales case, by any means necessary, His talk weaved the need and implementation of safety regulation into the story in a compelling way.

This story was one-of-a-kind. It was the wisdom of hindsight that made the presentation amusing: that alcohol, opiates, or stimulants were healthy and an answer to innumerable ills. The claims of most “cure all’s” were incredulous, to the point of laughable.

In between the laughs, it was the scholarship of the presentation that impressed me. This event brought the VCU Libraries to my attention in a way it had not been since my graduation. I loved the libraries while in school, as a repository of books, articles and wisdom. I love the libraries now as the same repository, and also for its technologies, lectures and events. Talks and events challenge my way of thinking and feeling.

I was a longtime Friend of VCU Libraries. Now I serve on the Friends of VCU Libraries Board, thanks to an enjoyable interdisciplinary lecture by “Doc Schalow”, presented by VCU Libraries.

— From Suzanne Lee, B.S., ‘76/N, Friends of VCU Libraries Board

Categories Alumni, Community, Donors, Friends of VCU Libraries