The John R. Brinkley historic marker in Jackson County, N.C. reads: “Medical maverick, radio and advertising pioneer, candidate for governor of Kansas. Boyhood home stood across the river.” While “medical maverick” touches on Brinkley’s unorthodox role within the world of medicine, it doesn’t address the duplicity of his practice — namely, a scam that involved the implantation of goat testes into patients scrotums as an alleged cure for impotence.
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, noon-1 p.m., local historian Jon Elliston will offer a free multimedia presentation on Brinkley’s life and career. The talk will occur at the Lord Auditorium at Pack Library. In anticipation of the event, Elliston has shared pages with Xpress from a rare Brinkley biography (commissioned by Brinkley in 1937). The work was written by Clement Wood and is titled, The Life of a Man.
Below is an excerpt from the book, highlighting Brinkley’s 1902 visit to Asheville. At the time, Brinkley was 17 years old and working as a postman in Sylva. According to Elliston, “The Asheville visit seems to have inspired him to do big things with his life.”
From the pages of Clement Wood’s The Life of a Man:
[Brinkley] made his arrangements, when he reached Asheville, with the lady who had the boarding house. It was still before noon, and he had time to see a lot before supper. He went right down to the corner, where there was a street car, like a passenger coach that ran by itself; and somebody had told him you could ride on it for only a nickel.
It was still several hours before sundown. He hadn’t hardly believed it, at first, when they had said there were almost fifteen thousand people here, and five thousand of them Negroes. But he had already seen more people that day than you would imagine were in the whole United States, and more Negroes than he thought were in the world. He had seen the place where the Swannanoa runs into the French Broad, and had seen more water than he thought was anywhere in the world, except in the Great Lakes and the ocean maybe. He followed the last conductor’s directions, and walked down to the place they called Riverside Park. There was a pet bear here, the first he had ever seen close-up and a monkey, just like the picture you see in the geography. And he bought and ate a slice of ice cold watermelon. The man even let him touch the ice he had in the pail, ice that people made and sold, he said: ice, in August! There never had been a place as wonderful as this, in the whole world.
He saw an electric light come on, and then all he could see was electric lights. He did not get to bed at all, that night. He spent hours watching the electric lights, burning without oil or anything, not even a wick. When his interest in these flagged, there were always the street cars whizzing by, lit up like the courthouse in Sylva when they were counting the votes. On his way down Patton Avenue, he saw a fruit stand, the first he had ever seen, run by an Italian, the first he had ever seen.
He went back to Sylva [the following day], his head buzzing with the marvels he had seen. From then on, everybody in the neighborhood wagged his head, and said sagely, “Well, I reckon Johnny Brinkley is goin’ to amount to somethin’, after all. He’s bin to Asheville.”