A friend of ours is remodeling an old house down the street and she found many intriguing things. My favorite is an old-fashioned sign found inside a wall that reads: “M.A.A. Houghton, Clairvoyant Physician. Magnetic Baths Given to Ladies. 700 Washington St.” This fascinating bit of history seems even naughtier when you discover what “magnetic treatment” was: the laying on of hands.

Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at [email protected]

While we can understand Mr. Houghton’s desire to give magnetic treatments to ladies in bathtubs, he might have been run out of town for it. My researcher friend, Kerry Nelson, could find no reference to him anywhere. She did find a record of another magnetic physician named E.W. Thomas, who lasted three years in Bath. Like other snake-oil peddlers, he claimed the ability to cure just about anything.

To quote one newspaper article, “Dr. E.W. Thomas the magnetic physician whose remarkable success with diseases of the eye, paralysis, and other ills, is no clairvoyant as some have thought, nor is he in any sense a quack as some would desire the public to believe. He does not pretend to be a scientific surgeon or physician, but he and his many patients know that he possesses a wonderful power of magnetism and that he can and does cure obstinate diseases by the laying on of hands.”

An advertisement claims that Dr. Thomas could cure rheumatism, paralysis, stiffness of the joints, neuralgia, dyspepsis, optical weakness and other physical ailments. Remarkably, he lists several local people among his success stories. These include “Mr. Amasa Southard, Bath, lame shoulder, unable to lift hand to head. After one treatment able to deliver eighteen tons of coal” and “Miss Annie Preston, Arrowsic, lame knee, four years unable to walk, step, or move the knee. Could walk in 1 ½ hours after treatment. Is now permanently cured.” His prices were as follows: $1 for an office visit, with one month of free medicine; $1 for a house call, with free medicine. And for those who lived at a distance, you could mail him your full name and $1, and he would use his mental powers to diagnose your illness and send you medicine for free.

Seems legit.

This sign is an advertisement for a “doctor” that offered what was likely a quack cure and was found in an older Bath home. Zac McDorr / For The Forecaster

Another article tells the story of a nameless clairvoyant “doctor” who visited Bath and did a house call. This involved a séance, with the doctor being possessed by an Indian spirit. Unfortunately, two young girls were attempting to spy on the proceedings through a keyhole. One pushed the other through the door, thus disrupting the Indian spirit and ruining the treatment.

After digging up this interesting history, Kerry Nelson discovered that only half of the old-time physicians in Bath were allopathic, or traditional. The other half practiced homeopathic medicine, which has made a comeback lately (essential oils, anyone?). And then there was E.W. Thomas, the lone clairvoyant, practicing on Oak Street.

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking seriously about this magnetic hands business. It seems like a great way to pretend to help people, and make some extra cash in the process.

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