A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down


"A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," says Mary Poppins. This was the clue I gave my kids for our July 8th Wandering Wednesday as we got on the road and headed north on I-95. After a myriad of guesses, all of which were wrong, we arrived in charming historic Fredericksburg. Having grown up in the DC area and lived in Richmond for 20+ years, it occurred to me that I had never spent any time in Fredericksburg, despite having passed it hundreds of times. The 40-block Fredericksburg Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places, embraces the city's downtown area and contains more than 350 buildings dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. Our first destination: The Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop, a museum of medicine, pharmacy, and military and political affairs. Dr. Mercer served the colonial citizens of Fredericksburg with medicines and treatments of the time. Leeches, lancets, snakeroot, and crab claws made up just some of the remedies. His patients included Mary Washington. Dr. Mercer left his practice to join the Revolutionary army and died as a Brigadier General at the Battle of Princeton. Today, visitors today can enjoy colorful first-person tours of the reconstructed apothecary shop. My kids and I were mesmerized by all of the unusual medical practices of the day, especially the live leeches! Our next stop was the "sugar" after the medicine: Goolricks's Pharmacy and Lunch Counter. Established in 1867, Goolrick's operates the oldest operating soda fountain in the nation! This vintage drug store still has the old stainless steel bar stools & you can still get your soda fountain drinks in the tall skinny tumblers! After a lunch of grilled cheeses, tuna salad and milkshakes, we were off to our final destination. As the theme of the day was centered around medical stories and oddities, we headed slightly south to Chancellorsville for our final stop of the day: to find the burial place of Stonewall Jackson's arm. The arm is buried in a family cemetery on the grounds of the beautiful Ellwood Manor. Elwood Manor is open to the public and a very helpful house volunteer showed us the arm's grave site and gave us a very informative tour of the house. As 2012 NPR story entitled "The Curious Fate of Stonewall Jackson's Arm" best sums up this piece of history: "About an hour outside Washington, near Chancellorsville, Va., lies one of Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's graves. A major Civil War battle was fought here in 1863. That's when Jackson was accidentally shot by his own Confederate troops. As Park Ranger Chuck Young tells a group of visitors, Jackson didn't die here — but his left arm was amputated. "Both of these doctors had performed that procedure literally hundreds, if not thousands of times by this point in the war," Young says. Jackson's arm was about to be tossed on the pile of limbs outside the medical tents — until his military chaplain decided to save it. "Remembering that Jackson was the rock star of 1863 — everybody knew who Stonewall was, and to have his arm just simply thrown on the scrap pile with the other arms, Rev. Lacy couldn't let that happen," Young says. So the arm was buried in a private cemetery at Ellwood Manor, not far from the field hospital where it was amputated. Soon after, Jackson died of pneumonia, and his body was sent to his family in Lexington, Va (and is currently at the Virginia Military Institute). But, Young says, Jackson's arm was never reunited with the rest of his remains. "When Mrs. Jackson is informed that the arm was amputated and given a full Christian burial," Young says, "they will ask her if she wants it exhumed and buried with the general. She will decline, not wishing to disturb a Christian burial. "‘He has lost his left arm; but I have lost my right arm.’—General Robert E. Lee


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