Saturday, May 23, 2020

Soon To Go--Dr. E. B. Foote's Murray Hill Publishing Co. Bldg - 129 East 28th Street

original source unknown
In the final pages of his 1872 Plain Home Talk, Dr. Edward Bliss Foote offered his medical services, saying "For the purpose of securing a permanent location, Dr. Foote has purchased the place which he has occupied for several years...[He] would take this opportunity to inform correspondents that he can not accommodate patients with board.  There are, however, hotels and boarding-houses within a convenient distance, fashionable and expensive, and unfashionable and comparatively cheap, where invalids can obtain accommodations according to their means."  Those unfashionable lodgings were farther from his home at No. 120 Lexington Avenue than the fashionable ones.

The house where Dr. Foote and his wife, the former Catherine Goodenough, lived sat amid the Italianate style homes of some of Manhattan's leading citizens.  Almost directly across the street, at No. 123, was the home of future U. S. President Chester A. Arthur and his wife Ellen, for example.  

Dr. Foote's medical office was in the basement of his brownstone residence.  A biographical article said "At his elegant office-parlors, 120 Lexington Avenue, may daily be found persons of all conditions--the rich and the poor; the dyspeptic and the consumptive; the pale-faced woman and the ruddy-faced but rheumatic-limed man; the brain-worn student and the weakly maiden--all of whom have, in most cases, tried the popular resident physician of ward or county before seeing the aid of the 'Common Sense Doctor.'"

Directly behind the house was a little, one-story frame building which Foote used as his office for his auxiliary businesses, the Murray Hill Publishing Company and "Dr. Foote's 'Sanitary Bureau.'"

From his desk in the humble outbuilding Foote cranked out his many pamphlets and books.  On December 19, 1874, for instance, an advertisement in The New York Herald promoted his Science In Story as a holiday gift.  The ad described it as:

Beaming with fun
Sparkling with pictures
Glowing with incident
and brimful of valuable information respecting the human body.  For children and adults.  by that cleverest and most fascinating of writers, Dr. E. B. Foote

Always as much entrepreneur as physician, Foote marketed a long list of "sanitary articles, instruments, medicines, etc.," from his Sanitary Bureau.  Among the items he offered in 1870 were an "eye-sharpener, or Self Sight Restorer," trusses, "scrotal supporters for gentlemen," pile compressors, shoulder braces, "impregnating syringe," and "Magnetic Catarrh Balm."

Plain Home Talk, 1872 (copyright expired)
Although he could be easily dismissed today because of his flagrant self-promotion and borderline quackish products; Dr. Foote attempted to disseminate solid and valuable medical information to the general public.  And at a time when delicate Victorian sensitivities cringed at talk of sexual intercourse, masturbation, abortion and such, Foote's books addressed the matters head-on.  He included scientific illustrations, including cross-sections of sexual organs, for instance, that inflamed moral reformers like the powerful Anthony Comstock.

Comstock was the founder and head of the Society for the Suppression of Vice and he turned his focus on Dr. Foote in 1876.  In May that year Foote was indicted "on a charge of sending improper articles through the mails," according to The New York Herald.   He was convicted based on a brochure that promoted birth control.

Undaunted, the doctor and his son, Dr. Edward Bond Foote fought back.  For the next three decades they would challenge obscenity laws in the courts, before Congress and in the state legislatures.  Dr. Foote's battle evolved to become not only a fight to discuss pertinent medical and social issues; but one of freedom of speech in general.

Dr. Edward Bliss Foote, Plain Home Talk, 1872 (copyright expired)

His controversial stance was not without personal danger.  On November 2, 1879 The New York Times reported "A stranger ran the bell of Dr. Edward B. Foote, Sr.'s office at No. 120 Lexington-avenue, yesterday afternoon, and asked for the Doctor, an eclectic physician."  The office boy ushered the man to the basement office, "supposing him to be in search of medical advise."  Two men in the front office later described him as appearing "very nervous."

As Foote entered, the patient, who was standing by the mantel, asked whether the doctor recognized him.  Foote said he did not.  "The young man immediately drew a pistol and pointed it at the Doctor's stomach.  The Doctor sprang forward and seized the pistol, and a scuffle ensued, the Doctor, who is a heavy man, throwing his antagonist down."

In the struggle the pistol went off and, eventually, Foote was able to wrench it from the man's hand.  "The discharge of the pistol does not seem to have struck the two men in the next room as anything unusual," said The Times sarcastically, "and Dr. Foote, leaving the young man lying on the floor, went up stairs to his room and laid down, after sounding a burglar-alarm."

The office boy had run onto the street to find a policeman.  When they returned the would be assailant was gone.  The Times said he "was not sufficiently well-bred to wait for the officer's arrival.  He locked the doors leading to the room and escaped through a window to the back yard, and thence to the street."  A trail of blood drops was evidence that the man had been wounded when the pistol discharged.  But he was not found.

Foote's reformist interests did not stop at obscenity laws and freedom of speech.  On June 15, 1900 the New-York Tribune announced "There will be a social meeting of the Liberal Club this evening at the home of Dr. Edward B. Foote, No. 120 Lexington-ave.  Mrs. George E. Spencer, of Alabama, will make an address.  Her subject will be 'A Plea for Woman Suffrage.'"

The Foote family's country home was in Larchmont, New York.  It was there, on October 5, 1906 that Edward Bliss Foote died at the age of 77.  In reporting on his death the New-York Tribune noted that he was the author of many books and for 20 years had edited his Health Monthly.  "Seven years ago he withdrew from practice and turned his interests over to the care of his sons, Dr. E. B. Foote, jr., and Dr. H. T. Foote."

By 1931 the Foote House (foreground) had lost its stoop and commercial spaces carved into the basement and parlor floors.  The wooden building can be glimpsed at the left.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The Foote brothers continued to operate the Murray Hill Publishing Company from the little wooden building during the 1910's.  As the Kips Bay neighborhood changed, their childhood home was converted for business.  Remarkably, No. 129 East 28th Street was not demolished, but repeatedly remodeled to accommodate various small businesses.

In 1931 Archie's Dry Cleaner operated from the sagging structure.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
For years the M & N Smoke & Grocery store operated from the improbable survivor.  Recently the yard behind the handsome cast iron fence where Dr. Foote trod back and forth between his home and auxiliary office was trash filled.  

Then, after about 160 years of existence, a demolition permit was issued in April 2019 for the ramshackle little building with its fascinating history.

No comments:

Post a Comment