Come hombres all! A Madrigal!


Sacramento Transcript, 3 Dec. 1850

As usual, I was looking for one thing in the old newspapers, and came up with another.

Most businesses advertised their wares by simply listing them, but not J. L. Polhemus. He had a lively and creative mind, and put his ad into verse.

Dr. John L. Polhemus, (the “doctor” is doubtful) owned the foremost pharmacy in Sacramento, located on  J  Street, between 1st and 2nd. Later he would move to J and 7th.

He was born in New Jersey in 1825 and died of consumption in 1866 at the age of 41. He is buried in the Sacramento City Cemetery.

J. L. Polhemus offered all kinds of potions and pills, most of which are long forgotten. Indian Cholagogue, anyone? (According to the dictionary, a cholagogue is an agent that promotes the flow of bile into the intestine. I’m not sure what that would accomplish.)

Bu Sarsaparilla is still with us. Similar to root beer, it began as a health remedy but stayed on as a soft drink.


With apologies to Shakespeare:

To be, or not to be ! — that is the question : Whether ’tis nobler in the body to suffer
The gripes and vomitings of outrageous sickness,
Or to take up Med’cine ‘gainst a crowd of ailments
And by opposing, end them ! — To die, or — call
For more ; and, buy that more, to end
The head-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to? — ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished!


He also carried cosmetics “for beautifying the complexion,” although I have no idea what “Meen Fun,” (was that Chinese?), “Vinegar Rouge”, or “Pink Saucers” were. But I am sure that ladies shopping at Polhemus’ Drug Store would find everything they needed to make themselves alluring.


Polhemus’ Drug Store, corner of j and 7th, 1857, courtesy of Calisphere

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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