Old Pharmacy Tour

Another brilliant tip, this time from Trip Advisor, was the Pharmacy Museum tour which is every day at 1pm. We thought we would miss it but we got back sooner then advertised from our boat trip and we headed straight there. It was brilliant!

Our guide was obviously really passionate about medical history, and especially 19th century pharmacology in New Orleans. This is the oldest registered pharmacy in the US and, though the building was abandoned for many years, it has now been restored as a museum. 

The tour brought alive the slightly dusty and boring exhibits with explanations of medicine, filth, disease and the appalling cures of the time. It was entertaining and eye opening. 

Heroin and Laudanum were given for almost everything, especially for women. Almost all treatments came with a side of poison or the possibility of infection. Generally it seemed going to the pharmacist was almost as much of a dice with death as not going! They didn’t accept germs as the cause of illness in New Orleans until the early 20th century (well behind public health control measures in Europe).

One of my favourite things was the coloured potions in the windows. They were used to alert the illiterate public to the fact that it was a Pharmacy, and the bright colours were meant to suggest that the doctor or pharmacist was good because he could mix more colours than his competitors. 

They were also important in times of epidemic. It was forbidden from telling people when there was an epidemic or discussing it, as they didn’t want to put people off their business in the city (New Orleans was the main slave market city in the US at the time). Pharmacists therefore developed a code in the colours in their windows to alert people to dangers. 

A red colour in the window allowed people to come in and ask about symptoms and cures. Green colours declared things were safe again. 

All in all, a brilliant hour well spent!


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