Saturday, September 13, 2003


There's a fascinating article in the September 15th issue of The New Yorker by Dan Baum called "Jake Leg." Based on the exhaustive research of Dr. John Morgan, a self-described "pharmaco-ethnomusicologist," Baum's article details an epidemic of paralysis that swept this country's urban poor in the early thirties and inspired a spate of folk and blues songs before suddenly disappearing in 1934. The cause? Adulterated patent medicine.

It's an illuminating look at one of the unintended consequences of the original War on Drugs. There's no web version that I can find, unfortunately, but that shouldn't matter because you subscribe to The New Yorker, right? (There is a web-only companion piece from their archives: a 1926 article in which "a writer identified only as 'Jean' tells of his experiences as a bootlegger.")


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