Every time I talk with my brother Max, I learn more of our family history.
Recently he told me that he, my sister June, and my brother Ray had malaria when Max was only four years old. Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness.
My family lived west of downtown Albany, GA, in the southwest corner of the state. At that time that area was mostly undeveloped wetlands, and small sinkholes filled with water each summer. These holes or little ponds became stagnant water, a perfect breeding place for mosquitoes. This was typical all over the south where swampy land existed.
Some of our relatives, who saw Max as he was recovering, thought he would not live. I imagine many children died from that dread disease in the late thirties and early forties. My aunt Lillian once asked my parents why in the world they lived in Albany, the “Malaria Capital of the World.”
The most effective antimalarial drug was quinine, a very bitter substance, made from the bark of a certain kind of tree. Max said Mother gave them a green, grainy tonic called Grove’s Chill Tonic. One of the ingredients was quinine. The original name was Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic and was created not as a cure, but as a preventative and relief for the chills and fever accompanying the illness. Quinine has been used for more than three centuries and until the 1930s it was the only effective malaria treatment.
Mother had great faith in Grove’s Chill Tonic. She continued to use it as her first method of treatment for everything. I came along six years later. I can still remember how I dreaded a dose of chill tonic which she gave for whatever ailed us.
“I had a little drug business in Paris, Tennessee, just barely making a living, when I got up a real invention, tasteless quinine. As a poor man and a poor boy, I conceived the idea that whoever could produce a tasteless chill tonic, his fortune was made.”—E.W. Grove
Mr. E.W. Grove built the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC in 1913. By this time his medicinal products had become so popular his little drug business had grown into his Paris Medicine Company. He moved to Asheville for his health and constructed a number of places besides the Grove Park Inn. The Grove name is widely known in the mountain city. A popular place for shopping is the Grove Arcade. Wise people invested in his products and his company. I know our family contributed to his fortune with all the bottles Mother purchased.
Barry and I spent a weekend in Asheville at that beautiful Inn about twenty years ago, and I almost asked for a discount claiming I helped build that place.
By the 1950s malaria had been eradicated. The Communicable Disease Center was founded in 1946 and with state, local and federal cooperation, DDT, an effective insecticide discovered in 1939, was sprayed everywhere mosquitoes could breed. Now only a few pockets of malaria are found in the United States each year.
Today the CDC warns about another mosquito-borne illness, the Zika Virus.
I wonder if I should suggest they try Grove’s Chill Tonic.
Note: The chill tonic was so popular the British army made it standard issue for every soldier going off to mosquito infested lands and, by 1890, more bottles of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic were sold than bottles of Coca-Cola.
Did you ever take Grove’s Chill Tonic or did your mother rely on another tonic?