Saturday, November 7, 2015

Civil War 'Refreshment Saloon' at Philadelphia museum serves up good eats and education

Philadelphia saloon and hospital (Library of Congress)

How to make 1862 lemonade: Slice three lemons and place in bowl. Pour a half pound of white or brown granulated sugar over the fruit, and mash together. Pour in 1 gallon of water. Stir well. Serve.

A scene described by 19th-century Philadelphia physician S. Weir Mitchell in his book “In War Time” summarizes the power of hospitality and this particular beverage.

A loaded wagon brings apprehensive men to a Union hospital in Philadelphia. Hospital stewards and orderlies come out to the wagons, greet the soldiers and offer them ice-cold lemonade.

“Just the idea of someone saying, ‘I am going to help you, you are in a place of safety, and take this drink’ would increase your morale immeasurably,” said Robert Hicks, director of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum. "That has health consequences.”

On Sunday (Nov. 8), visitors to the museum at 19 S. 22nd St. will get to enjoy lemonade and other recipes at “Refreshment Saloon,” an event that will highlight the venue’s Civil War exhibit and provide an overview of food’s impact on the health and spirits of soldiers, whether they were well or being treated at hospitals.

Sunday's event will include use of this room (Mutter Museum)

Refreshment saloons, which were located in several Northern cities, provided a haven for tired troops on the way to or from the front. “This (was) a good example of community volunteerism, local fundraising and local help,” said Hicks.

Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon and Hospital, near the Delaware River in Philadelphia, was a hive of activity.

“At their busiest, they were serving 17,000 meals a day,” he said. “Some of the cooks became local celebrities. There was a small cannon that was fired ... when word came that troops would arrive by train or boat.”

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Mütter patrons will be able to take in a variety of activities that highlight the types of food consumed by soldiers and civilians alike. The museum will be giving out a recipe booklet that lists the ingredients and the use of each item by the military.

Some food and drink items – such as beef jerky, dried apples and lemonade (used to induce sweating and a natural diuretic) -- will be served all day. Others will be scheduled: Soda biscuits with pumpkin preserves at 11 a.m., pickles at noon, and so on. (Pickled cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables, by the way, are preserved in an acid solution strong enough to kill harmful bacteria)

(Library of Congress)
You might want to try hotchpotch – a root vegetable stew -- and hardtack at 1 p.m. Hardtack is a long-lasting, hardened cracker or biscuit. It was a staple of Civil War soldiers.

“We have used a period recipe,” said Hicks. “People will have heard of it but not know exactly what it is. Ours will be fresh, with no weevils or maggots in it.”

Local confectioners and ice cream shops will serve up some sweets later in the afternoon. Philadelphia’s famous Franklin Fountain will provide “gangrene” ice cream.

Hicks came up with that colorful idea. “I imagine it will have blue, green, red and who knows what.”

While visitors will enjoy the tasting, officials hope they pick up some education on Civil War medicine and health care, too. 

Regarding the ice cream: “After you sample this contemporary treat, check out the interactive booth in the “Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits” (exhibit) to see how your own arm might look with a case of gangrene."

The Mütter Museum is associated with The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The "Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits” permanent exhibit features artifacts, anatomical specimens and illustrations to tell the story of the city’s role in tending to the sick and wounded.

“The two large hospitals in Philadelphia … really took extreme pains to meet soldiers’ needs,” Hicks told the Picket. Surgeons going through the ward would order a specific dietary combination for an ailing soldier. (Not in Sunday’s family-friendly lineup: Milk punch, consisting of milk and brandy).

Robert Hicks with pet leeches, Harvey and Hunter (Mutter Museum)

The museum stresses that modern medicine owes a lot to the Civil War: Triage, ambulances, specialized physicians (such as neurologists) and more.

“People’s expectations of hospitals changed as a result of the war,” said Hicks. “Before then, people would not go. It was a place where poor people go to die. The Civil War changes that. The hospital became the focal point of medical care.”

One of the items to be displayed is an invalid feeder. It resembles a porcelain gravy boat.

During the Civil War, they might contain a mild watery porridge with nutrients, such as arrowroot. The feeder would feature an elongated spout for pouring food into the mouth of a wounded soldier who might not be able to chew.

Display includes invalid feeder at lower right (Mutter Museum)

Physicians would try to make the right guess on different medicines, tonics and remedies but it was not an exact science – and there were no antibiotics.

“They did not recognize bacteria as a source of infection,” said Hicks. “Recent scholarship is pointing out how close they came to making those connections.”

In her book “Learning from the Wounded,” Shauna Devine argues Union doctors overcame limitations to come up with study and experimentation that would have a lasting impact on medicine.

Nearly two-thirds of the Civil War’s estimated 700,000-750,000 deaths were caused by disease.

Philadelphia's largest such wartime venue (Library of Congress)

The Confederacy, largely because of an effective blockade of its ports, constantly struggled to import medicines. Officials looked for natural substitutes, with Francis Peyre Porcher of South Carolina enlisted to write a handbook of Southeastern flora and fauna that could be used by physicians and others.

While it’s been said that major medical discoveries were not made during the Civil War, the Federal military medical system set the table for the large-scale manufacturing of medicines, including quinine, used to combat the effects of malaria. Philadelphia later became a major manufacturing center for quinine, with the purity coming under government oversight.

It was a constant struggle for both sides to feed the troops. When available, fresh and preserved food were prepared at Federal campsites.

Mutter Museum's Civil War exhibit

For the North, “in some cases the U.S. Sanitary Commission brought fresh food and medicines the army did not have at the moment,” said Hicks. Hospitals well behind the lines featured the best food for sick soldiers.

While at the front or in camp, soldiers hunted, bartered and occasionally stole food.

“If you are accustomed to farms and hunting for food, you apply those skills to get what you need,” said Hicks.

The museum director, who also oversees the college’s medical library, said he hopes the refreshment saloon event provides a “way to engage the past and make it present.”

After all, everybody has to eat.

“I hope (visitors) take away a sensation that by the experience of eating some of the same food it reminds people that the Civil War is not ancient history. Those soldiers had to eat and go through the same day-to-day concerns and much more on top of it -- deprived, scared and away from home in battle.”

The Refreshment Saloon takes place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Nov. 8. All activities are included with regular museum admission.

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