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Dr. McCreary made quite a display of style

Dr. S.E. McCreary, as pictured in his advertisement in the Marion County Herald, Palmyra, on Dec. 6, 1900.


The year was 1911. A decade prior Dr. Samuel Elliot McCreary had put his medical practice on the back burner while he pursued his interests in raising, breeding and racing some of the Midwest’s best horses.

It was the Fourth of July, and McCreary’s focus was on the matinee at the old Fair Grounds near Keokuk, Iowa.

There was smoke in the distance, which became more obvious as the afternoon progressed. There were rumors circulating that McCreary’s stock farm was ablaze, the fire threatening his outbuildings and barn. Finally, a telephone message came through to the fairgrounds. McCreary’s farm was indeed in danger, and his stock threatened.

McCreary – considered by some to be a few steps shy of the ordinary – didn’t panic. He assessed the situation at hand. Rushing to the fire scene wouldn’t make a difference on its outcome, he concluded.

The 2:30 feature event was just ahead, featuring two of McCreary’s horses: Lil McWood and Lou.

He decided to wait.

And the next day the Daily Gate City reported:

The 2:30 pace proved the feature event of the race program, going the full five heats. James Hirst’s rugged little brown pacer, Bob Heir, ably piloted by Henry Coombs, proved the winner after dropping the third and fourth heats to Little Al.

“Lil McWood repeated her performance of two weeks ago, winning the free for all pace handily with Lou in an easy second. Both mares are owned by Dr. McCreary.”

Then, and only then, did he turn his attention to his home. Upon arrival, he discovered that his home, outbuildings and farm were safe from danger. He lost only one large straw stack and several acres of meadow, believed ignited by a spark from a passing steam engine.

McCreary’s decision to remain at the fairgrounds for the race had been a sound one.

He was a betting man, after all.

Dr. McCreary

Dr. Samuel Elliot McCreary made a lasting impression wherever he went. Mentioned by the Quincy Daily Herald on March 31, 1904, McCreary was described as such: “He was adorned with a superb stand of whiskers and used to drive some fine horses.”

A physician trained at the Miami Medical College, Cincinnati, Dr. McCreary returned to his hometown of New Castle, Pa., where he practiced medicine for a few years following his 1880 graduation. Restless and still unmarried, he ventured west, relocating in various towns in the tri-state area of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

He focused his medical specialty on curing chronic illnesses without surgery. He advertised frequently in local newspapers – a practice which was unusual for doctors at the time – and in those advertisements he listed the names of patients who he had “cured.”

Among those patients was J.H. Harrison of the Davenport, Iowa area, who Dr. McCreary reportedly treated for heart disease. The advertisement was published in the April 8, 1890 edition of The Morning Democrat newspaper in Davenport.

The next day’s edition carried the following disclaimer:

“(Editor Democrat) Referring to the advertisement of one Dr. S.E. McCreary, appearing in your last evening and morning issues, I wish to deny that he has ever treated me for heart disease or any other ill. If I should need medical aid I would apply to some reputable physician of my acquaintance – certainly not to McCreary, whom I do not know. J.H. Harrison.” The Morning Democrat, Davenport, Iowa April 9, 1890.

And that was that.

Between 1890-1900, various versions of Dr. McCreary’s advertisements dotted newspapers from Davenport to the north and Palmyra, Mo., to the south. After his marriage in 1892 to Lillian Smith of Waterloo, Iowa, he and his wife settled in at Keokuk, while reaching to the outreaches of travel accessibility in order to attract new patients.

In Hannibal at the turn of the 20th century, he maintained an office at 203 ½ Center Street, in the Lesem building, which fronted Main Street.

Local advertisement

The following was published as an advertisement in the Marion County Herald, Palmyra, on July 6, 1899:

Dr. S. E. McCreary

Late of Cincinnati, O., who has permanently located in Hannibal, is meeting with wonderful success. The names of a few that he has successfully treated are given below:

Mr. John Messmer, rupture

Mr. Sam Wilson, rupture

Miss Amy Hoffman, piles

Mr. Wm. Spiece, piles

Mrs. M.A. Johnson, scrofula

Miss Anna Harvey, scrofula

Mr. Frank Ward, rheumatism

Mrs. Maggie Harper, rheumatism

Mrs. Mary Morrison, heart disease

Mrs. John Hammon, female disease

Mrs. Sarah Sankey, female disease

The names of all private diseases are held strictly confidential.

Free – A small book on cause and treatment of disease sent to any address

Nervous debility positively and permanently cured.

Piles permanently cured without the use of the knife

Rupture positively cured without any surgical operation

Positively no case taken that cannot be cured.

Correspondence accompanied by 4 cents in stamps answered promptly.

Office and laboratory,

Corner Main and Center streets

Hannibal, Missouri, in Lesem building. Marion County Herald, Palmyra, July 6, 1899

Horse dealer

Dr. McCreary reportedly retired from his medical practice soon after the start of the 20th century, when he was just 43. He and his wife operated a stock farm a few miles from Keokuk, where he maintained a fine collection of race horses.

In 1890, while still unmarried and living in Davenport, he purchased the highest priced horse offered at Kidd & Edmonson’s horse sale that November. The transaction was noted by the Chicago Tribune. A total of 72 horses were traded that day. Dr. McCreary purchased Rapture for $1,700.

The Morning Democrat of Davenport of Nov. 7, 1890, carried the following details:

“Dr. S.E. McCreary has purchased the chestnut colt Mackwood by Nutwood, first dam Marmora and the bay mare Rapture by Onward, first dam Fanchion, a full sister of Tangent, record 1 19 ½. Also bay filly Winnapan by Pan first dam Whipstitch, both with foal by William V. half brother to Axtel.”

The McCrearys

Lillian Smith moved with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. B.D. Smith, from Waterloo, Iowa, to Davenport, Iowa, in 1890, when her father took charge of the popular Windsor Hotel in Davenport. It was in Davenport that Lillian met and married Dr. McCreary.

At the time of their wedding, the Morning Democrat of Davenport noted:

“The money that he has made in (his medical) practice has been well invested, and besides considerable hotel property he owns a fine piece of ground on Locust street (in Davenport) upon which he keeps about 30 head of valuable horses. The four-in-hand that he drove when in practice here is still remembered as one of the finest equine quartets that have ever paraded our streets.”

Shortly before the wedding, her father died. Dr. McCreary assumed the role as head of the family, inviting Mrs. Smith to live with he and his bride, and offering his new brother in law, 16-year-old Fred Smith, the opportunity to study medicine under his tutelage.

There were no children born to S.E. and Lillian McCreary. Dr. McCreary died May 28, 1915, in Keokuk, his death attributed to a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 58. His remains were shipped back to New Castle, Pa., for burial at Greenwood Cemetery. His wife died in 1925, and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery, Waterloo, Iowa.

This is a current photo of the old Lesem building, on the southwest corner of Main and Center Streets. At the turn of the 20th century, Dr. S.E McCreary had an office and laboratory on one of the upper floors of this building, his office facing Center Street. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

This is an excerpt from an advertisement in the April 8, 1890 edition of the Morning Democrat, Davenport, Iowa. J.H. Harrison, listed among Dr. McCreary’s patients, later said that information was incorrect.

This advertisement is from the Daily Gate City, Keokuk, Iowa, dated April 26, 1910.

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