ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Traveling Medicine Shows


Traveling medicine shows regularly played in Watertown.  Many of them consisted of only two people who would give a lecture on a vacant lot, with their “medicine wagon” as a backdrop, then put on a little musical entertainment, climaxed by the sales of various concoctions that were “guaranteed” to cure everything from ingrown toenails to asthma.


The “medicine” was usually mixed in secret, employing washtub, water, alcohol and some aromatic mixture.  Some of the shows had a “plant” in the crowd who would buy the first bottle and after that sales were brisk, and the show people would depart with a pretty good wad of money.


The last medicine show to play here was a rather big one, with an entire company.  It played at the old Turner Opera House which was destroyed by fire [1928] during the show’s engagement.


This show had a far better reputation than most of those then on the road.  The head of the company was a member of the Masons and after the fire when someone suggested he try to move his show to St. Henry’s Hall for the balance of his engagement, he expressed the opinion that as a Mason he would have little chance to get into the hall.  He was prevailed upon to visit the priest of the parish and see if arrangements couldn’t be made. 


The pastor of the church at that time was the late Rev. Dean F. X. Schwinn.  After hearing the Mason’s story he readily agreed to let his company use the hall, the only stipulation being that the owner of the show pay for the electric light bill.  No rental was charged.  The company then completed a most successful engagement here and drew big crowds each night.


The Mason went away with a fond memory of Watertown and a special respect and admiration for a Catholic priest.