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animal parts, etc. Everything in this room was donated by individuals or institutions, and all the medical instruments on display were used on human patients, a fact that can make your knees buckle when you read about their intended uses. The amputation knives and saws, bullet extractors, stone searchers and trocars were all used without sterilization and with only rudimentary anesthesia. (We won’t even talk about cranial saws and tonsil guillotines.) The original pharmacy opened at a time when New Orleans and other large cities were unsuccessfully battling almost constant outbreaks of cholera, smallpox, yellow fever, dysentery, malaria and other tropics-related epidemics, and the discovery of germs and sterilization was years away. Louisiana had the dubious distinction of having the highest annual death rate of any state; because of its heat, humidity, frequent flooding and transient sailor population, New Orleans was a petri dish of all these diseases and more. Some of the attempts to ward off sickness seem laughable in hindsight, but they were doing what they could with the knowledge they had. La Pharmacie Française would have been a hub of the French Quarter, which was at that time a family neighborhood. Like other pharmacists, Monsieur Dufilho would have offered diagnoses, made house calls, given injections and compounded all his medicine, as well as formulating makeup, perfumes, paints and varnishes and poisons for household pests. Most residents would have bypassed their doctor and brought their ailments straight to him, since physician’s prescriptions were only required for medications known to be poisonous. Many southern pharmacies also sold Voodoo potions for luck and love under their counters, using the numbering system 78

Inside Northside

thought to have inspired the song Love Potion #9. As our tour guide, Mascelli did an outstanding job of bringing us back to a time when open-air sewage ran in the streets of the Quarter or sat stagnant in open trenches attracting the very flies that were fostering disease outbreaks and prompting residents to walk about with perfumed rags over their noses and mouths to offset the stench. This set-up also inspired the iconic French Quarter courtyards, which families used to escape the unpleasantry just outside their front doors. Mascelli pointed out a display in the front window depicting the multi-tiered “show globes” that would have told residents—many of whom were illiterate—that this was a place to buy medicine. “Show globes were used as a symbol for the pharmacy as early as the 14th century. Bottles were filled with red-, blue-, and green-colored water, representing the animal, mineral and vegetable


the containers still hold remnants of whatever medication is delineated on their fading labels, including patent medicines, voodoo potions, compounding supplies, herbs, minerals,

Profile for Inside Publications

September-October 2019 Issue of Inside Northside Magazine  

September-October 2019 Issue of Inside Northside Magazine