I was too young to be other than awed and puzzled by Doc Marlowe when I knew him. I was only sixteen when he died. He was sixty-seven. There was that vast difference in our ages and there was a vaster difference in our backgrounds. Doc Marlowe was a medicine-show man. He had been a lot of other things, too: a circus man, the proprietor of a concession at Coney Island, a saloon-keeper; but in his fifties he had travelled around with a tent-show troupe made up of a Mexican named Chickalilli, who threw knives, and a man called Professor Jones, who played the banjo. Doc Marlowe would come out after the entertainment and harangue the crowd and sell bottles of medicine for all kinds of ailments. I found out all this about him gradually, toward the last, and after he died. When I first knew him, he represented the Wild West to me, and there was nobody I admired so much.
I met Doc Marlowe at old Mrs. Willoughby’s rooming-house. She had been a nurse in our family, and I used to go
and visit her over week-ends sometimes, for I was very fond of her. I was about eleven years old then. Doc Marlowe wore scarred leather leggings, a bright-coloured bead vest that he said he got from the Indians, and a ten-gallon hat with kitchen matches stuck in the band, all the way round. He was about six feet four inches tall, with big shoulders, and a long, drooping moustache. He let his hair grow long, like General Custer’s. He had a wonderful
‘ collection of Indian relics and six-shooters, and he used to tell me stories of his adventures in the Far West. His favourite expressions were “Hay, boy!” and “Hay, boy-gie!”, which he used the way some people now use “Hot dog!” or Doggonel.” He told me once that he had killed an Indian chief named Yellow Hand in a tomahawk duel on horseback. I thought he was the
I. greatest man I had ever seen. It wasn’t until he died and his son came on from New Jersey for the funeral that I found out he had never been in the Far West in his life. He had been born in Brooklyn.
Doc Marlowe had given up the road when I knew him, but he still dealt in what he called “medicines”. His stock in trade was a liniment that he had called Snake Oil when he travelled around. He changed the name to Blackhawk Liniment when he settled in Columbus. Doc didn’t always sell enough of it to pay for his bed and board, and old Mrs, Willoughby would sometimes have to “trust” him for weeks at a time. She didn’t mind, because his liniment had taken a bad kink out of her right limb that had bothered her for thirty years. I used to see people whom Doc had massaged with Blackhawk Liniment move arms and legs that they hadn’t been able to move before he “treated” them. His patients were day labourers, wives of streetcar conductors and people like that. Sometimes they would shout and weep after Doc had massaged them, and several got up and walked around who hadn’t been able to walk before. One man hadn’t turned his head to either side for seven years before Doc soused him with Blackhawk. In half an hour he could move his head as easily as I could move mine. “Glory be to Godl” he shouted. “It’s the secret qualities in the ointment, my friend,” Doc Marlowe told him suavely. He always called the liniment ointment.
News of his miracles got around by word of mouth among the poorer classes of town – he was not able to reach the better people (the “tony folks”, he called them) – but there was never a big enough sale to give Doc a steady income.