Madeira alum provides ‘first person’ history lesson

By Regina Villiers. Originally published March 1, 2000 in The Suburban Life, added March 2018.

Roger Zimmerer, who grew up in Madeira, recently returned as William S. Merrell, an early 1800s druggist, to present a program to the Madeira Historical Society.

Ken Griffey Jr. is not the only local person to return home.  Recently, roger Zimmerer returned home to present a program for the Madeira Historical Society at its regular meeting.

Roger grew up in Madeira and graduated from Madeira High School in 1945.  He still has a sister, Doris Burton, who lives in Madeira.

A retired chemist from Procter & Gamble, Zimmerer now works with the Cincinnati History Museum in Union Terminal.  He does special programs for the public as a “First Person Interpreter.”

At the meeting of the Madeira Historical Society, Zimmerer, dressed in top hat and early 1800s garb.  He narrated the program in the voice of Merrell.

Merrell, at first, was a teacher who taught in the Cincinnati area.  Then he moved to Augusta, Ky. and taught there for a time.

In 1827, he returned to Cincinnati, where he opened a drug store in 1828.  At that time, a would-be druggist learned pharmacy by apprenticing or just by “picking it up.”

In 1830, Merrell’s brother joined him in the business, and the two of them operated the drug store till 1837, when he turned the store over to his brother.

Merrell then devoted himself fulltime to the development of herbal and botanical medicines.

Medicine and doctors, at that time, were a far cry from those of today.  Proprietary medical schools were operated where the only entrance requirement was money.

Merrell (Zimmerer) described early medical practices of the early 1800s and the medicines used.  The most common treatments were bloodletting, purging, and causing the patient to vomit.  Herbs were used in all treatments, and all medicines were herbal.

Some of the important plants then were pokeweed, St. John’s wort, bloodroot, May apple, foxglove, and opium poppy.  These were used to treat everything from skin lesions to typhoid fever.

Another important herb of the time was lobelia, or “Indian tobacco.”  Kids who grew up on farms have always, at some point in their growing-up rituals, smoked this.  But in the early 1800s, it was taken internally as a purging agent.

Just as today, there were dozens of remedies for the common cold, and none of them cured it.  Bloodroot, cinnamon, flax seed, ginger, horseradish, hound’s tongue, thoroughwort, hyssop, ipeca, lobelia, marigold, nasturtium, pokeweed, and wild cherry were all used to treat colds and diseases of the lungs.  Some of these remedies were also used as treatments for various other maladies.  Pokeweed was popular and was used in the treatment of many diseases and ailments.

The anesthesia used then were ether and chloroform.

According to Merrell (Zimmerer), the Cincinnati College of Pharmacy was established in 1850.  The requirements there to become a pharmacist were to attend 20-weeks of classes and to serve an apprenticeship of two years in a drug store.

By 1855, there were 40 drug stores in Cincinnati.

William S. Merrell, the druggist, was related to the Merrells of Merrell-Dow.  He married and was the father of 11 children.  He lived primarily on Third Street in Cincinnati.

Roger Zimmerer, since he retired from Procter & Gamble, is deeply involved with the Cincinnati History Museum.  He has been doing these “First Person Interpreter” programs, in full regalia, for 2-2 ½ years now.

He also works shifts in the Cincinnati History Museum print shop in Union Terminal, where hand-operated presses still turn out posters and press releases.

Zimmerer also does stints in the drug store operated by the History Museum, where they demonstrate for the public such early practices as rolling pills and making salves.

Zimmerer’s Madeira homecoming caused nothing of the stir of Griffey Jr.’s in Cincinnati. But listening to him that night made most of us glad that we live today, instead of the early 1800s.

More and more, I’m thankful for my doctor and the doctors of today and for Bethesda North Hospital.