Chiropractic Was Not Born Yesterday

"The rise of chiropractic...has been one of the most remarkable social phenomena in Americal history...yet has gone virtually unexplored."--Brian Inglis, History of Medicine.

Davenport...Davenport, Iowa. Never heard of it? Why should you go there? Well, let me tell you. This is the birthplace of chiropractic. Daniel David Palmer, who rates only one short paragraph in the Encyclopedia Britannica, changed the history of health care on September 18, 1895. In restoring the hearing to a man who had become deaf seventeen years earlier due to an accident, he proclaimed the existence of chiropractic. "I do claim to be the first to replace displaced vertebrae by using the spinous and transverse processes (of a vertebra) as a lever" (to effect change in the nervous system).

Having never been to Davenport, I was curious to see what I, along with five thousand other chiropractors from around the world, would find on this pilgrimage for the hundredth anniversary of chiropractic. To get there you must fly through Chicago (actually the quiet Moline, Il. airport is served by five other airports - St. Louis and Minneapolis with occasional landings from Dallas, Springfield and Peoria). I have been warned about flying into O'Hare, but I found the plane transfer refreshing, passing through an inter-terminal connecting tunnel complete with light and sound show. Driving out of Moline I was quick to realize I was in another part of the country...badgers as roadkill. Was the land flat you ask? Well, let's say if you see a tall stand of trees, it's easy to mistake it for a hill.

To many, the history of chiropractic is the history of the Palmer family. In many respects this is true. The founder, although secretive about his technique, decided to launch a program of instruction after being struck by a train and narrowly missed being killed. He taught a man named LeRoy Baker enough to treat his injuries. When D. D. returned to Davenport he set up a school to teach his method of healing. Among the first 15 graduates of D. D.'s school, five were medical doctors. Others were B. J. Palmer (D. D.'s son), the father of B.J.'s later bride, and several who would later found competing schools of chiropractic. 

"All (D.D. Palmer's) thinking was off the beaten path. He took the side roads, he wandered into the jungle, cut down virgin forests and beat out a new road. The price he paid was to be alone, followed by few, shunned by many, misunderstood by most, fought on all sides by most of those who profited from his labors. But the sum of that life led eventually to the great accomplishment that history will know him best for." B. J. Palmer

There was a feeling and awareness that this new science, chiropractic, was something truly special. It was different from homeopathy, osteopathy, medicine and magnetic healing that were practiced in those days. 
The 1908 catalogue for Palmer School of Chiropractic stated "…we do not waste valuable time in observing healthy and morbid tissue under the microscope...or the compounding of chemicals...or the analysis of secretions." Certainly a slap in the face to the greats of medicine of those days who attributed much of their accomplishments to the use of the microscope, the development of their pharmacopia, and the research into pathology. 

The full Palmer story is yet to be told, as B. J. Palmer's actions frequently were to surprise the profession. These included his establishment of the first x-ray facility west of the Mississippi only thirteen years after Roentgen made his discovery. He collected an incredible array of skeletons, both healthy and malformed by disease and hereditary factors, which was declared "the best collection of human spines in existence" by an AMA inspection team in 1929. He maintained a side-by-side health care facility manned by both M.D.'s and chiropractors, where some of the most difficult medically diagnosed diseases were successfully treated by the chiropractic interns. Even Dr. Mayo's wife (of Mayo Clinic fame) was treated by B.J. Palmer. 

Palmer also owned a sanitarium wherein mental cases were treated chiropractically. An instrument developed for the reading of brain waves and their conduction through the spinal cord was a prototype for the EEG. Palmer owned the first radio station west of the Mississippi and in the early 1930's hired an unknown to be the announcer...Ronald Reagan. The story is told of B. J. going to Washington, D.C. in 1950 to talk to President Truman about the current legislative efforts to socialize medicine, i.e. Medicare. After being instructed on the protocol of meeting the President, he is led into Truman's chambers and about to be introduced, when Harry pipes up, "You don't have to introduce this man to me. Me and Bess used to listen to your radio show every week telling of your round-the-world travels."

If going to see the "Fountainhead" of chiropractic is not enough to motivate you to visit the Quad cities of Davenprot, Bettendorf, Moline, and Rock Island, consider some of the other attractions for the tourist set. Riverboat casinos are docked in both Davenport and Rock Island where even the most frugal can have a full four to six hours of poker playing for a mere $25 to $50. The first bridge across the Mississippi was built between Davenport and Rock Island in 1856. It lasted all of 15 days before it was crashed and burned by an errant paddlewheeeler. Abraham Lincoln represented the railroad company in the ensuing litigation. Dred Scott spent most of his slave life in Bettendorf. When his owner died, the famous legal battle for his freedom ensued. Up the river is the hometown of Buffalo Bill Cody. And if you own stock in John Deere, the whole trip can be a write off. Last but not least, there's a mighty fine campground 5 miles south in Buffalo. You can fall asleep listening to the mighty Mississippi flow by and be awakened at 5 A.M. by the Rock Island Line chugging on through.


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