Sunday, November 26, 2017


In looking back at the past year, I have a lot to be thankful for.  One of the most important things to be thankful for was my health.  Last year on this day, I severely hurt an ankle.  This year, things could have been a whole lot worse. 
I could talk about the updated ABA checklist,  but instead, I'll put in here what is going to end up in my newspaper column this week.

I've mentioned this story before here, but last summer I was hiking around the Catskill Mountains in New York when I stumbled upon a Hindu temple out in the forest.  It would be an odd find, except that I was looking for it and soon, bits of a murder mystery involving kali worshipers began bouncing around in my head.  

Brahmanoor Kali Temple, Grahamsville NY

A writer sees something and it stimulates those creative juices.  The day was young, so I continued up into the hills looking for birds, eventually ending up on one of the highest mountains in the area.  I found the threatened Bicknell’s thrush totally by accident.  Walking back down the mountain, I slipped on the scree and fell down a cliff ten yards below, landing hard on a big flat rock.
I laid there on my back in shock taking inventory of my body parts.  I was still holding a pizza shaped rock I had grabbed on the way down after dropping my camera.  I threw off the rock and noticed blood around me, then I felt the pain in my right leg.  Initially, I figured I had an open fracture of my leg but surprisingly, I could bear weight on it.  I limped the four miles back to my car.  Down at the bottom of the mountain in the small town where I started, I dragged my leg into a convenience store looking for first aid supplies.  I was a mess.
The clerk looked at me like was toxic.  I talked her out of calling 9-1-1 and she went and grabbed what I needed.  “What happened?”  She asked.
“Well, I was at the Hindu temple and then went walking up into the mountains…”
“Hindu temple?”  She looked at me as I was bandaging my leg.  “We don’t have one of those.  This isn’t the city.”
“Yes, you do.”  I said.  I then told her the rough location I was at, no more than four miles from where I stood.
“You must have hit your head, sir.  Maybe I should still call 9-1-1?”  No ambulance was called and I limped off to the car, I looked at my pictures to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. I drove back to Pennsylvania and had an epiphany, it amazed me how people had such a lack of knowledge of things in their own areas.  They were missing cool things, or so I thought.  I vowed to stop and check out any roadside attractions I came across.  All historical markers would be worthy of my attention.

The other day, I had a meeting in Colorado that took me south through a slew of points of interest.  I photographed a UFO shaped water tower and looked at lots of old houses of former congressmen.  Eventually I ended up in a place called Last Chance, Colorado, a town now located at the corner of nowhere, and forgotten.  It used to be a cattle boomtown, but now it isn’t much. 

Stephen Penrose Statue, Colorado Springs, CO, 

There are many boomtowns around the west.  Some are from mining, some are from oil and gas, and some are even from the changing tastes of tourism (thankfully not from birding).  Epiphany, South Dakota, however, could be the only medical boomtown around.
Many cities have grown due to having a very successful hospital and medical practice.  Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota comes to mind, but no one ever thinks of Epiphany, South Dakota.  Mostly because no one has ever heard of Epiphany.  I asked a few people and all I got were shrugs and zero recognition of the small hamlet northeast of Mitchell.  Epiphany is a 101-town, it has a population of 101 and is located exactly 101 miles from the offices of this newspaper.  It isn’t Deadwood, but Epiphany has a bit of a story, in fact, quite a bit of a story.

Four years after its founding, a rather unique man appeared into the prairie town.  A Cincinnati priest named William Kroeger was assigned to the fledgling parish.  Unlike most priests, coming to save his parishioners, Kroeger also claimed to be a doctor and started healing the local sick and ill people.  This attracted many other sick and ailing people to the town.  Soon, he was forced to choose, priesthood or medicine, and as a result, he set up his medical practice in town.   This was no hang your shingle operation.  He integrated the healing experience and the money began rolling in, Epiphany-Kroeger became a company town with the father’s enterprise having 90% of the property value of the area.  Everyone around was involved in the business.  He built hotels, set up a bank, developed tranportations, started a newspaper, and built medicine manufacturing facilities.   He even founded a box making factory to improve shipping for the various elixirs sent using the mail.   In fact, he even negotiated bulk passenger and shipping rates for the various railroads that served the area.  When he got into a price war with the Chicago & Northwestern, eventually banning them.  It is hard to realize that in a short period of time, this Priest controlled the economy of this part of Hanson County,
There are some interesting findings in looking up Kroeger.  He wasn’t just a pious dual trained priest.  Kroeger claimed he had graduated at the medical school in Cincinnati but there was no record of him ever attending that school.  Even the South Dakota Board of Medicine knew this marking his application as fraudulent but granted him a license anyway.  Initially, Kroeger treated his parishioners for free but then set up the Father Kroeger Remedy Company and began charging.  He became very wealthy, spending three months every summer traveling overseas with his companion, his live-in secretary/ former housekeeper/ whom he trained as his pharmacist.  As the company grew, to treat more patients, he trained his office manager to be also be a consulting physician. 
Kroeger bought the first x-ray machine used in South Dakota in order to treat skin cancers, then added two more.  Thousands of people made their way to Epiphany each month from all over the world seeking cures for anything and everything.  Surprisingly, unlike 3500 practitioners during the period, Kroeger was never investigated by the American Medical Association and is rarely referenced.  Things were booming in 1904 and then something unexpected happened.  He returned from his summer of 1904 tour of Europe with his female companion, and he got ill and died later that fall.  The boom went bust.  He was barely over 40 years of age.  The cause was possibly due to radiation sickness.  On his deathbed, he was ordained back into the priesthood by the bishop and buried in Epiphany. 

His companion tried to keep it going but she was unable to convince the state medical board that her training with Kroeger was sufficient to be granted a license and eventually sold everything off at auction.  One newspaper estimated that his wealth was about $250,000 which would convert to about 7 million in today’s dollars, not bad for ten years of effort.
At the same time period, there was a similar healing center located in Almena, Wisconsin, a small village located near my home town in western Wisconsin.  This one was led by a barefoot Austrian healer named John Till.  Till never ever wore shoes, claiming they caused disease.  Till, it was reported by the Wisconsin State Historical Society archives, would work 16 hour days, seeing up to two train loads of patients a day, sometimes seeing the very same patients seen earlier by Kroeger in South Dakota.  Till was not as integrated and his treatment involved sponging on a harsh oil concoction onto the backs of his patients.  This would inflame the skin to the point where it would ooze apparently in an attempt to draw out toxins.  Unlike Kroeger, Till never charged his patients nor set up manufacturing facilities.  He did take donations and was reported to deposit a few thousand dollars a week into the local bank.

1906 Almena, WI John Till's clinic courtesy of Library of Congress, below 1908 photo of the barefooted "healer"

Image result for john till healer

Entrepreneurs built bakeries and a hotel to serve the estimated 5-600 patients a week that made their way to Almena.  Many businesses and people profited thanks to Till.  Unlike South Dakota, however Wisconsin never granted Till a license to practice medicine and arrested him many, many times for practicing without a license.  In 1922, when he was deported back to Austria instead of serving a jail sentence due to a public outcry for leniency.

There is a lot of history out there.  It is everywhere and sometimes in some rather unique and unassuming places.  All it takes to learn It seems, is to stop and read a sign.  Epiphany….who knew?

With many thanks


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