These pretty glass jars once contained huge quantities of opiates.
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop, in business from 1792 to 1933, was a charming mix of general store and (legal) opiate dispensary. It sold paint, shoe polish, candy, cigars, garden implements and other sundries alongside mostly plant-based remedies. The Stabler and Leadbeater families kept meticulous records; documents including Martha Washington’s request for Stabler’s castor oil are a major bragging point.
Hand-blown glass bottles, some with their elderly contents intact, line shelves downstairs; upstairs are wooden bins of ingredients and the workbench on which pharmacists concocted elixirs, pills and lead-based paint.
The apothecary stayed open during the Civil War (most Alexandria businesses closed during the Union occupation), so the docents can speak with authority about period medical practices. Said docents won’t have time to identify all the weird stuff around you, so ask to see the list of substances and their recommended uses if you’re extra-curious about, say, natural laxatives.
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, 105-107 S. Fairfax St., Alexandria; $5 adults, $3 children ages 5-12; 703-746-3852.
Did You Know?
›› According to apothecary lore, it was in this shop that J.E.B. Stuart handed Robert E. Lee orders to crush abolitionist John Brown’s rebellion at Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. Lee hung out in the shop and would pick up his mail there.
›› To make pills, medicine mixtures were rolled into cylinders, then chopped up. Each piece was coated in gelatin or chocolate for ease of swallowing, so syphilitics could take their arsenic with ease.
›› Isinglass, a gelatin found in the swim bladders of certain fish, was used to cover stumps of amputated limbs during the Civil War.
›› The shriveled, three-toed, presumably avian foot over the door of the medicine-making room is a mystery. The museum doesn’t know why it’s there or what species it’s from.
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