The late 19th century is notable for a rise in medical quackery. Before increased regulations by the FDA in the first quarter of the 20th century, entrepreneurs throughout the nation capitalized on a trend towards the use of patent medicines to cure all illnesses from cancer to the common cold; whatever you had you could be fairly certain there was a bottle of something to cure it! Many of these "medicines" were combinations of herbs, alcohol, and often useless ingredients. While many of those peddling patent medicines never found great success, there are a few who built large brands and great wealth. One such operator was C. I. Hood of Lowell, MA. What started with a single medicine expanded into a line of liquids and pills, sold as being effective remedies for purifying the blood and curing any ailment you might have. Hood's Sarsaparilla was one of the company's best selling products, and its sales were supported by a significant advertising budget. Hood used a variety of advertising premiums, such as trade cards and souvenir photographs of the world, to market his most popular medicine. Included in the advertising strategy were newspaper ads which would have appeared in newspapers throughout New England. Many ads featured testimonials from those who saw their health improve after taking the famous sarsaparilla. Undoubtedly folks in Windham gave the miracle liquid a try, and according to an 1882 newspaper ad, a Mrs. Cole of Windham had great success with the concoction. According to the ad she was covered in 37 "terrible sores" and her life was saved after taking Hood's Sarsaparilla. Whether Hood's medicine was responsible for her recovery is unknown, but one can be fairly certain there was a bottle or two of Hood's Sarsaparilla in the homes of Cole's friends and neighbors once they witnessed her improvement.
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Derek Saffie is an avid Windham historian who enjoys researching and sharing his collection with all those interested in the history of the New England town.