Jack Kamen, was born in 1913 above his father's harness shop in a Yiddish-speaking section of Brooklyn.

In Harnessmaker's Son, Jack weaves his secret for health, happiness, and longevity into dozens of humorous, heartwarming, true stories of life in the early 1900s. 

What's the secret? It's his attitude, and it's contagious!

Read it, catch it, pass it on.



Quacks and Kooks

reminds us that the best ideas often start as crazy-sounding ones.

We know more today than we did 100 years ago. In another 100 years, we'll know even more.

Where will that new knowledge come from? A lot of it will start with today's quacks and kooks.



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"These stories will have you laughing out loud...Highly recommended as a gift for elders, teachers (any grade), anyone interested in history or families, your children, or for yourself!" - Dr. Kathleen E. Kain, Ph.D., Columbia, SC (drkain@sciencespiders.com)


Quacks and Kooks


These days, when you're sick, you might get antibiotics. We didn't have them in the early 1900s. Instead, the doctor might prescribe the "rest cure." That meant that you just relaxed until you felt better.

If you were rich, you might go to a sanatorium, spa, or health resort in the country. Franklin D. Roosevelt went to one for polio patients. There were also sanatoriums for people with tuberculosis, but most spas and resorts were for boosting general health.

When I graduated from college, I had a chronic sinus infection. The doctor told me to spend my winters in Florida. I had to do that for several years. Now, a few dollars worth of antibiotics can cure a sinus infection in a week, but they're not as much fun.

The medical doctors couldn't do much for my migraines or ulcers either. Luckily, I found a health resort in Rhinebeck, New York that helped me.

We did calisthenics in the morning followed by walks through the dew-covered fields. We ate fresh vegetarian meals from the organic garden.

They made their own yogurt before people knew the word "yogurt." They called it "clabbered milk." In the evenings, we gathered in the large room downstairs for discussions, songs, or talent shows.

The man who ran the health resort was the most vibrantly healthy person you ever met. When he was in his sixties, he was run over by a truck. He never knew what hit him.

I didn't have a regular doctor until I was in my eighties, but I always had a regular health resort. In the 1970s, I started visiting the Optimum Health Institute near San Diego. It's such a friendly place, they nicknamed it "O, hi."

OHI was similar to the resort at Rhinebeck, but they ate only raw foods. They fermented wheat sprouts instead of milk. They also used wheat grass juice. A few days at OHI usually revived my energy, relieved my gout, and dropped my blood pressure.

One of the best parts of OHI was the Friday evening talent show. Every week, I got to tell my jokes to a new roomful of guests.

"Is anybody looking for a husband?" I asked the audience.

A dozen young women waved their hands or jumped up, yelling, "I am, I am!"

Pointing to my chest and smiling, I said, "I'm a husband."

Why did OHI make me feel better? Was it the wheat grass juice? The raw food? The audiences? Does it matter?

Even if there were drugs that could do what OHI did, they wouldn't have been as much fun. I wouldn't be surprised if, sometime in the future, the cause of most illness is determined to be "deficiency of fun." If you translate that into Latin, it could sound pretty scary.

"Why do married men die so much sooner than their wives?" I asked the audience.

"They want to," I answered with a shrug.

That always got a good laugh. Even though married men outlive bachelors, there is truth in the joke. People who enjoy life usually get more of it.

No insurance company paid for a stay at any of the health resorts I visited. Their treatments weren't medically accepted. Even though vegetarian diets, exercise, and yogurt were later proved to be beneficial, the places that helped me were run by quacks and kooks according to the professionals.

Many people who are now honored for their contributions to medicine were initially classified as kooks. One of them was Joseph Lister. It's a good thing he was a doctor. No one would have taken him seriously if they had to call him Mister Lister.

Forty-six years before I was born, Dr. Lister started a controversy. He had a crazy idea that surgeons should wash their hands before cutting people open.

He endured thirty years of ridicule before his idea became widely accepted in America. Eventually, he was so revered they named a mouthwash after him. I think that's the American equivalent of knighthood. The English made him a Baron.

When I was young, doctors didn't wash their hands between patient examinations. Not only were doctors expensive, they might make you sicker - either by giving you a new disease or by prescribing drugs.

I was a pharmacist in the 1930s. One reason I stopped practicing was that I read the package inserts. Most of the drugs had terrible side effects and aren't used anymore. I felt like I was poisoning people.

The rest cure made good sense before antibiotics were discovered. For many illnesses, it might still be the best option.

It's been a hundred years since surgeons accepted hand washing. I'm sure a hundred years from now medical doctors will be even better. One reason is that they'll slowly accept ideas from kooks like Dr. Lister.

So what do you do if you need to get better now? If medical doctors aren't helping, you might want to listen to the kooks.

Some of them will be tomorrow's heroes . . . or at least hygiene products.


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