The Victorian trade card (a forerunner of the later business card), pictured here, is graced by the engraved portrait and facsimile signature of H.N. Wheelock. He is described on the reverse as a “Mental and Vital Magnetic Healer”—that is, one who treated both mind and body. “WILL THOU BE MADE WHOLE?” he asks.
The word “magnetic” suggests Wheelock was employing the supposed healing power of hypnotism as was common in the latter half of the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth, when quackery flourished alongside developing science-based medicine. So-called magnetic healers relied on the “vitalizing power” that the practitioner could impart to another—basically the dramatic use of suggestion to encourage positive thinking.
Testimonials from satisfied patients often appeared in the healer’s self-published “journals,” newspaper advertisements, and the like (Kemp 2013). However, as psychologist (and CSI fellow and friend) Terence Hines observes, in his classic Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (1988, 236–237), “One can find testimonials attesting to the effectiveness of almost anything.” He concludes, “It is safe to say that if testimonials play a major part in the ‘come on’ for a cure or therapy, the cure or therapy is almost certainly worthless. If the promoters of the therapy had actual evidence for its effectiveness, they would cite it and not have to rely on testimonials.”
Wheelock’s card (which I discovered in a Western New York antique store) simply insists, “This Mode of Treatment is no Humbug. Call and See for Yourself. CONSULTATION FREE.” As promised, “He will Successfully Treat the following Diseases: (Both Acute and Chronic.) Rheumatism, Spinal Difficulties. Asthma. Lung Complaint, Liver and Heart Diseases. Dropsy. Paralysis. Dyspepsia. Weakness Etc. Etc. SAVE HEALTH, TIME AND MONEY BY AN EARLY APPLICATION.”
Wheelock appears to have been a minor, rather obscure figure. In addition to his card, which places his “Office and Residence” at 12 Free Street, Fredonia, New York, there are few other references to him practicing his unusual trade. A brief biography is given in my following blog.
Hines, Terence. 1988. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Kemp, Bill. 2013. Bloomington’s W.D. Jones self-professed “magnetic healer.” Online at https://www.pantagraph.com/special-section/news/history-and-events/bloomington-s-w-d-jones-self-professed-magnetic-healer/article_dc2a6672-539c-11e3-86a6-001a4bcf887a.html ; accessed March 1, 2017.