Monday, September 10, 2012

The Legacy of C.C. Sniteman

A picture from our road trip:
This is the C.C. Sniteman Pharmacy in the quiet little town of Neillsville, Wisconsin.  The business has been there a while:

I wanted to stop by and pay my respects, because I knew a bit about Sniteman.  He was one of those 19th century pharmacists that made his own patent medicines, and they have survived in remarkable abundance.  A few years back you would find these in many antique shops:
And inside the box:

Sniteman's Xray Liniment.  An early 20th century patent medicine mostly for horses and cows, but the label mentions that it would be good for people as well.  Like many medicines of the era it had the name blown into the glass bottle:

Way back in 1990 I made a few inquiries about Sniteman with the historical society in his town.  I received a delightful letter back from a Mrs Ruth Ebert.

She mentions perusing old newspapers and even venturing into the unheated basement of their museum ferreting out information for me. 

As it turns out Sniteman got off a train in Neillsville in 1879, checked into a room at the O'Neill Hotel and stayed there for 30 years.  He was initially a partner with two other pharmacists later buying them out to be sole proprietor of an establishment variously known as "The Deutche Apothek" or the "Mammoth Silver Front Store".  As noted above, he built a new store in 1885 that still stands tall and proud on the main street of Neillsville.

Sniteman was one of those unusual businessmen who really did put his community first.  He "invested in every enterprise that ever was instigated in Neillsville-sometimes losing every penny of it."

He lived to be 91 years old, dying with the riches of community esteem but few of the earthly kind.  My correspondent in fact knew him, poignantly observing that "When we were younger we thought him to be a strange little old man-his wife likewise.  As kids we saw everything to be funny."

When I made my inquiries I was of the impression that the large volume of Sniteman material turning up indicated that there had been an auction held.  Not so.  "There never was an auction there-a housecleaning yes-and that was the late owner LeRoy John.  He threw everything out-tore out all that beautiful mahogany shelving and glass cases-it landed in the City landfill."

So just how a large number of near mint Sniteman patent medicine bottles survived is still a mystery.  Did somebody rummage through the dumpsters after LeRoy cleaned house?  Or was Sniteman such a pack rat that there were still hoards of stuff that went unnoticed?

No comments: