Sunday, March 23, 2008


I Am Haunted... The New-York Ghost!

I have a piece in there this week about, among other things, "a workshouse rave":

Forest Gate was the sort of London poor-school that might have been founded by Uriah Heep on a bad day. It had a long and distinguished history of providing medical journals with case studies in injury and mortality, beginning with a mass narcotic poisoning in 1875. It seems that fifty-six boys had taken to chewing laburnum roots—this, newspapers of the day graciously suggested, was due to root's resemblance to licorice sticks. Alas, Twizzlers do not grow underground, nor are Red Vines actual red vines. My own suspicion is that the grubby-faced boys had some notion of what was coming next after they started chewing. The result, recorded in 1876 by the journal Materia Medica, can only be described as a workhouse rave:

Their pupils were somewhat dilated. The sleepiness is said to have been intense... [and they] showed very strange waving motions of the arms to and fro, whilst now and then their legs, first one and then the other, were convulsively drawn up; in one of them there was a slight frothing at the mouth.

Confronted by the sight of nearly 5 dozen Victorian urchins simultaneously tripping their asses off, the Forest Gate staff administered duly Victorian remedies. The laburnum root was strong alkaloid stuff, though; ten hours later the boys still "went to sleep [even] while being walked about yard, after having cold douches, strong coffee, etc."

There is no record of any further root experimentation by the children.
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