New Orleans’ Pharmacy Museum

New Orleans, Louisiana (LA)

The grisly details of the New Orleans’ Pharmacy Museum.

The Dark Past of New Orleans' Pharmacy Museum

Contained so discreetly within the French Quarter, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is often overlooked by passersby. But though it may be demure in stature, its contents and history is of great significance to the city's medical history.

The unique institution, housed in a classic Creole townhouse designed by J. N. B DePouilly, was constructed between 1822 and 1823 and is the largest collection of pharmaceutical memorabilia in the US. Stepping inside allows visitors to discover the secrets of old-fashioned remedies, mysterious elixirs, and the evolution of pharmacy practice.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the museum however, is its focus on the darker side of New Orleans’ pharmaceutical heritage. From questionable medical treatments and dubious "cure-alls" to tales of testing poisons and potions on slaves, the museum sheds light on the often-quirky and sometimes-dangerous practices of the past. Visitors can learn about the origins of popular medicines like Coca-Cola, which was once touted as a medicinal tonic, or explore the role of pharmacists in the early days of the city's notorious red-light district.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum 8
- Ryan Lackey

Origins of Mal-Practice Rumours

The museum’s focus on the darker side of medicinal history is largely because it occupies the premises of the first licensed pharmacist in America, Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. Dufilho established his apothecary at this location in the early 1800s, residing there until 1855 when the property changed hands to Dr. Joseph Dupas and his wife, Fleitas Dupas. Whereby rumours began to circle about Dr. Dupas.

Who was Louis Dufilho Jr.?

Louis Dufilho Jr., was a French immigrant born in Mirande, France, in 1788. After graduating from the College of Pharmacy in Paris in 1816, Louis came to New Orleans and, in 1823, established his own pharmacy at the current site of the museum. Operating as a multifaceted establishment, the pharmacy catered not only to medicinal needs but also housed a hardware store, soda fountain, and post office.

Dufilho's tenure at the pharmacy was marked by pioneering advancements in medicinal treatments, including the use of quinine to combat yellow fever. His dedication extended beyond his professional endeavours as he became involved with the Howard Association, a precursor to the Red Cross, demonstrating a charitable nature.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum 7
- Anne G.

Handing over to Dr. James Dupas

Following more than three decades of service, Dufilho sold the business to Dr. James Dupas in 1855. And this was when rumours began to circulate about the nature of Dupas' practices. These rumours included unethical experimentation on enslaved pregnant women and the use of addictive substances in prescriptions, alongside accusations of engaging in voodoo rituals and conducting other gruesome medical experiments on enslaved individuals.

Despite efforts to conceal his misdeeds, Dupas's reign of malpractice was short-lived, as he passed away in 1867 due to complications from syphilis. Subsequent investigations unearthed the grisly truth of his atrocities, with remains of missing patients discovered buried within the premises.

Is the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum haunted?

Today, while the museum primarily focuses on the history of pharmacology, lingering tales of paranormal activity, including sightings of the ghostly figure of Dr. Dupas, add a layer of mystery to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. Witnesses have reported sightings of Dr. Dupas, donning a brown suit and top hat, engaging in mischievous activities such as tossing books and triggering alarm systems during the night.

Paranormal investigations have suggested a peculiar sensitivity among pregnant women to Dr. Dupas's spirit, sparking empathic physical reactions in their presence. However, the veracity of historical claims regarding Dupas's alleged atrocities remains unverified.

While according to visitors the ghost of Dr. Dupas may haunt the museum, the institution maintains a stance of scepticism, citing a lack of substantial evidence linking Dr. Dupas to the alleged atrocities.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum 5
- Julie McGalliard

Exploring the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum contains a diverse collection of approximately 18,400 historical items from the late 18th century to the mid-20th century. Primarily sourced from the US, this extensive collection was initially curated and donated by Loyola College of Pharmacy, laying the foundation for the museum's inauguration in 1950. Since then, the collection has expanded through generous contributions from various entities including pharmacies, universities, hospitals, and private collectors.

Among its treasures are over 10,000 pharmaceutical and medical artefacts crafted from glass, ceramic, metal, paper, and leather. These items include medicine bottles, perfumes, cosmetics, medical instruments, pharmacy cabinetry, and an 1855 Lippincott soda fountain. Some artefacts discovered during an archaeological dig in the courtyard are believed to trace back to the original Dufilho apothecary and household.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum 2
- Julie McGalliard

The museum also houses an extensive literary collection featuring approximately 2,000 books and 250 periodicals. Preserving the legacy of pharmacy practice, there are also around 15 pharmacists' recipe books, 50 oversized prescription files and ledgers, and hundreds of individual prescriptions dating from 1850 to 1920.

Delving into institutional history, the museum houses records, yearbooks, ephemera, and photographs from the New Orleans College of Pharmacy (1900-1919) and Loyola University College of Pharmacy (1920-1965). There are also clippings chronicling its own origins and evolution.

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