Snake oil salesman visits VCU

Posted at 7:30 AM, Apr 18, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. --  "Ladies and gentlemen, you are all dying!"

That's what the small man in the tall black hat barked to an audience gathered at VCU.

His stern face then slowly softened into a broad grin.

"Well, yes ladies and gentlemen, that's why I'm here.  Yes, I'm here with Victor's liver syrup!  One dollar for Victor's liver syrup.  Good for everything that ails you!"

Meet Al “Doc” Schalow, The Medicine Man.

Schalow is a graduate of the VCU School of Pharmacy, class of 1961.

Since 1981, he's been teaching pharmacy students and curious folks the history of medicines through his Traveling Medicine Wagon show.

"I think they're shocked to hear about how some of it evolved," Schalow said. "Some of the preparations that had narcotics and things in them that have changed to just innocuous products these days."

For instance, did you know a popular mouthwash of today was promised to do something other than freshen your breath when it was first sold?

"That was a cure for gonorrhea.  Okay, and you've learned something new today haven't you," Schalow said.

His show is mix of medicine, music, and magic.

The hour we spent with him seemed like only a few minutes.

"The medicine wagon was also known for snake oil," Schalow told the audience at VCU’s Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences.

"When the government tested it in 1917, they found no snake oil.  It was mineral oil, 1% fatty oil, red pepper, turpentine and camphor."

Schalow performs The Medicine Wagon Show for incoming VCU School of Pharmacy students each year.

It’s a lesson for young and old that's Building Better Minds.