- The Washington Times - Friday, December 23, 2005

David E. Herold’s niche in American history is a grim one. It was he who accompanied John Wilkes Booth on the long flight from the authorities — and paid for it on the gallows.

A couple of years before that, however, Herold showed a similarly misplaced loyalty to his then employer, the “Indian Herb Doctor.” In a touch of comic relief, young Davy Herold helped the “doctor” sell a patent medicine that supposedly cured all manner of ailments.

At that time, the United States had no nationwide laws regulating the production and sale of such items. The Food and Drug Administration would not be created until 1906. Until then, anyone could mix up a potion and try his luck at selling the stuff. The newspapers of the day ran whole columns listing them. The less harmful ones might contain vegetable juices and, of course, alcohol.

On Oct. 23, 1863, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle began a series of advertisements for the doctor, which appeared off and on until Feb. 20, 1864. A check of the ads yielded the following master list of illnesses the Indian Herb Doctor supposedly could cure: asthma, blotches, boils, colds, congestion, constipation, consumption (tuberculosis), “costiveness” (the dictionary defines this as constipation or stinginess or being uncommunicative), coughing, dyspepsia, “a disease peculiar to her sex,” erysipelas, exhaustion, general debility, heart disease, leg ulcers, loss of appetite, nervousness, night sweats, pimples, scrofula, scurvy, tumors and “youthful indiscretion.”

Herold’s employer in actuality was Dr. Francis Tumblety, a name that added a touch of Dickens to the proceedings. One writer at the Eagle accidentally gave his name as Tumbletoe, which rises to Monty Python levels.

Herold crossed Tumblety’s path sometime in 1863, — one witness later claimed they were introduced by John Wilkes Booth in Washington. At any rate, Herold needed a job just then and went with the doctor up to Brooklyn.

While in Brooklyn, Tumblety did not content himself merely with newspaper ads. Both he and Herold were to be seen promenading daily outside their office on Fulton Street between 10 a.m. and noon and occasionally in the afternoon. They wore what the May 5, 1865, Evening Star delicately called “fantastic costumes” to attract attention. Sometimes they walked, and sometimes they rode horseback — but always with a greyhound scampering about.

The doctor and Herold would change their costumes every day or two, or sometimes two or three times the same day. Regrettably for history, the newspapers seldom described the costumes in any detail. The Eagle of May 6, 1864, did describe Tumblety as sometimes wearing “a butternut-colored suit, the unusual width of his pantaloons being counter-balanced by the brevity of his coat tails.” He also had a “pork pie cap” and “a stout yellow cane.”

Because Herold usually got to wear the doctor’s hand-me-downs, perhaps he, too, got to wear yellowish-brown bell-bottoms in public.

During this time, Herold had a genuine adventure. There was a major fire on Doughty Street, and many poor people lost what little they had in the world. One of them was a woman who lamented to Herold that a box with her life savings in it was in one of the burning buildings. Herold dashed in, ran upstairs, got the box and then jumped from the second-story window just in time.

Eventually Tumblety left Brooklyn, and Herold went back to Washington and his new set of friends. The doctor was arrested May 6, 1865, in St. Louis because of his connection with Herold, but apparently nothing came of it.

Does the story of Herold in Brooklyn offer any clue as to why he joined the Booth gang and stuck with Booth through thick and thin? Herold doesn’t seem to have been half crazed about the Southern cause, as Booth was. Perhaps Herold didn’t quite grow out of the adolescent stage and was looking for a hero or strong personality to whom he could devote himself.

The May 4, 1865, Eagle certainly thought so: “It would seem that he had attached himself to the Indian Herb Doctor in the same manner in which he subsequently attached himself to Booth from a womanish sort of admiration for his supposed cleverness.”

The Eagle also said that people passing along Fulton Street during the displays noticed how Herold would “ape almost unconsciously all the airs of his master.”

John Lockwood is a Washington writer.

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