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folk cures, Lebanon County, Clarence Witmer, remedies, warts, teeth, whooping cough, blood, William Gelbach, Katie Kupp
A handwritten term paper entitled, "Folk Cures of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania", completed at Franklin and Marshall College by Richard M. Smith, dating from circa 1950. Within, Smith recounts his experience gathering material from several families in and around Lebanon and details a number of folk remedies and cures for a number of ailments including tooth pain, epilepsy, corns, warts, and whooping cough.
Indexed als Jan. 14, 52
Term Paper Folklore 12
Folk Cures of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania
by Richard Smith
To start off my term paper I would like to say that I enjoyed doing the work connected with this paper very much. When I went out in Lebanon County for material I was very dubious as to how the people would accept me. Much to my pleasant surprise I was received very well by all three families whom I interviewed. I was afraid that when I told people what I was after they wouldn’t take the time to sit down and talk to me.
The first source of my information was the farm of Mr. and Mrs. M. Clarence Witmer at Lebanon R.D. 3. It was the evening of Friday May 12, 1950 when I sheepishly approached these premises. When I finally did get enough nerve up to knock on the door I discovered the family was in the midst of their evening meal. I apologized for coming at this particular time, and said I would come back later for my information. Well this excuse of coming back later for my information didn’t go down too well with the man of the house. He insisted I stay and have supper with the family. Well, being as I had just finished my supper a half hour before I thanked him and said no thanks. Well refusing sort of hurt his feelings so I thought if I want some information I’d better please them and eat some supper. Well I can’t say I’m sorry I stayed, because I at the most delicious ham dinner I’ve ever eaten in my life. Besides the ham there was almost anything imaginable on the table to eat, and believe me they made me eat. This is just the beginning of the great hospitality showed to me by Mr. Witmer. After supper we retired to a very beautiful and large living room to have our discussion. Here in this room we sat for about 2 and one half hours and just talked over folk remedies and cures. Until I left this farm that night I had spent one of the most enjoyable evenings of my young life. Below I will relate some of the folk cures told to me by Mr. Witmer. I was really surprised by some of the remedies he told me, because I didn’t think he would know so many so well. It seems these farm families each know enough remedies to write a book on.
The first remedies he started to tell me about were all on animal cures. I told him that if it didn’t make any difference to him I would rather have cures used on human beings. He said O.K. so we then started on folk cures with me sitting there taking notes as fast as I could write.
The first remedy he told me was on how to treat young children cutting their teeth so that they won’t have pain. The remedy he gave me was that you boil the brain of a rabbit and rub the gums of the children with it, and their teeth will grow without pain to them. The next folk cure he told me was one that was used by his grandfather on his great uncle. It is a cure for epilepsy. You are supposed to take a turtle dove, cut its throat, and let the person afflicted with epilepsy, drink the blood. Another cure he told me was one for wounds. You are supposed to take the bones of a calf, and burn them until they turn to powder, and then strew it into the wound. The powder is supposed to prevent the flesh from putrefying, and is therefore of great importance in healing of the wound.
Continuing on with our discussion he kept telling me some more cures. I will only list a few more of them, because it would take a very extensive paper to include some of the longer cures he told me. Another remedy which he told me which I think is very interesting is the cure of a toothache. To cure a toothache you are supposed to stir the sore tooth with a needle until it draws blood; then take a thread and soak it with this blood. Then take vinegar and flour, mix them well so as to form a paste and spread it on a rag, then wrap this rag around the roots of an apple-tree, and tie it very close with the above thread, after which the root must be well covered with ground. To me this seemed like a very unusual remedy, but also a very interesting one. The last cure which I will report on that I got from this man is one of a more or less religious nature. It is a folk cure for the stopping of blood from a cut. As soon as you cut yourself you are to say: “Blessed wound, blessed hour, blessed be the day on which Jesus Christ was born, in the name of our Lord, Amen. That is all the cures which I will report on from this man. I will say again that I enjoyed this evening very much, and I am not a bit sorry that this was one of my choices to find out information.
The next person whom I interviewed was Mrs. William Gelbach who resides at 234 Lehman St. in the city of Lebanon. She told me of a cure which she learned when she was a young girl. The cure is that if a person is ruptured you take the white of an egg and press against the rupture three times. After you have done this you take the egg white, and place it up in the gable-end of a house where the sun won’t hit it. Then you are supposed to forget about the egg white and within a short time the rupture is supposed to be cured. Mrs. Gelbach, also related to me another cure which is one to destroy warts. You take chicken-feet and roast them and rub the warts with them; then bury them under the eaves. Another cure for warts she said was to rub the wart with onion shells and this will cause it to fall off. Still another cure she said to get rid of warts is to rub the wart with castor oil. The last cure which Mrs. Gelbach gave to me was one to stop bleeding. You are supposed to count backwards from fifty inclusive till you come down to three. As soon as you arrive at three, you will stop bleeding. The next time I cut myself I’m going to try this cure. I’ll report to you with what kind of success the trial was conducted.
The next and last person whom I have interviewed for this paper was Mrs. Katie Kupp of 338 Pershing Avenue, Lebanon, Pa. Mrs. Kupp was also very friendly as were the other two people who I interviewed. Not from anyone of the people did I have trouble getting information. The first cure Mrs. Kupp told me was a cure for corns on your feet. She said to get rid of corns that absolutely the best remedy was to soak your feet in castor oil. She also said that if you have a back ache to rub your back will castor oil will also relieve the pain. Mrs. Kupp also gave me a remedy for curing whooping cough. She said that if a person has whooping cough you should cut three small bunches of hair from the crown of the head of a child that has never seen its father; sew this hair up in an unbleached rag and hang it around the neck of the child having the whooping cough. The thread with which the rag is sewed must also be unbleached. These are the only cures that Mrs. Kupp seemed to be able to remember.
In conclusion I hope that this paper is found to be satisfactory in every respect. I certainly enjoyed doing this work, because it not only gave me a source for my term paper, but it also gave me some very useful information. I also feel that in contacting and talking to these people I have made some new friends. Each one of the three people I interviewed asked me to come back again if I ever need some more information.
This was indeed a very pleasing and interesting assignment.
Richard M. Smith
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Smith, Richard M., "Folk Cures of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania" (1950). Alfred L. Shoemaker Folk Cultural Documents. 90.
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