King Charles of New York
by Gary W. Neidhardt

"The Towns Treatment would remove the craving of the alcoholic in just five to seven days, so he might never drink again. …Towns went so far as to assert that the alcoholic should be expected to lie, and should be forgiven for lying because that is what untreated alcoholics do."

Charles Barnes Towns (1862-1947) was a farm boy who went to the city and became famous offering a sure-fire cure for alcoholism. In his day, alcohol, opiates, and other narcotics were widely pushed as "medicines" with no government controls—beer, whiskey, champagne, even "glycol-heroin" were for sale by mail order. Towns opened a hospital in New York City purporting to cure alcoholism in seven days. Though Towns at first guarded the secret of the exact proportions and means of administration, his cure largely consisted of belladonna (commonly called deadly nightshade) along with other herbs. This cocktail produced delirium, forgetfulness, and diarrhea, the latter for internal cleansing. Famously, Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, had a vision of a divine white light at Towns Hospital and never drank again. Towns then offered Wilson financial support to AA by helping to finance the publication of its book by the name. He was called to China to help with that country’s opium problem, and though he claimed many cures, both there and here, he is now largely forgotten.

Gary W. Neidhardt, a retired software executive, became fascinated by Towns after reading one of his books, Habits That Handicap. He presents King Charles of New York City in 8.5x11 size to better reproduce some of the bizarre old ads touting alcohol-laden products. He has carefully collected and organized the materials currently available about his subject. Neidhardt notes that Towns may deserve our attention because he viewed alcoholism as a sickness, not a crime, and utterly decried the use of tobacco. Neidhardt hopes to bring new focus on this fascinating man and his work on behalf of addicts, and it would seem, given our modern obsession with chemical cures, that the author might well succeed in his resolve.

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