customs/rituals, folklore, health


Phrenology: While not an exact example of quackery, this was a bogus method of diagnosing human behavior popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. By examining the shape and unevenness of a head or skull, one could discover the organs responsible for different intellectual aptitudes and character traits using the above skull map. Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2020.


JIM BAKKER SUED BY SECOND STATE FOR SELLING FAKE CORONAVIRUS CURE screamed the headline sourced by CBS News. Both Missouri and Arkansas claimed that Bakker and his Morningside Church Productions bilked consumers out of over $120,00 for colloidal silver, a product sold on the internet as a dietary supplement. However, ingesting this substance is toxic and can cause Argyria that can permanently turn the skin a bluish-grey. Regardless, Bakker advertised that his Silver Solution totally eliminated the virus, killed it, deactivated it.

According to Lydia Kang, M.D., and Nate Pedersen, co-authors of  Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything (New York: Workman, 2017), purveyors of sham cures prey on our fears of death or sickness. They hawk substances that don’t work, that hurt and even kill us. Sometimes the sellers truly believe their potions are effective; more frequently, they are being deceptive with intent to cash in on a catastrophe.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers a perfect opportunity for charlatans to take advantage of our anxiety about this invisible killer. An online Newsweek headline reads: Coronavirus Quack Cures Like Cow Urine, Fasting and Cognac Are Being Promoted by Authority Figures Around the World.

In Kenya, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko promoted drinking cognac as an antidote for the disease. Elsewhere in India, party agendas included the drinking of cow urine as a cure for the virus. As absurd as that may seem, in the past, U.S. physicians touted ingesting  Premarin to reduce hot flashes of menopausal women. And how is Premarin made? From the urine of pregnant horses.

President Trump got into the action when he suggested injecting household disinfectant  as a possible cure for the Covid-19 Virus along with internally using ultra-violet light. The scientific world metaphorically groaned. (Isn’t that when Dr. Fauci covered his face?) Not only were these cures invalid but could lead to death. His pseudo-remedies inspired many Facebook jokes and satires. For example, Randy Rainbow, popular online parodist, wrote and sang: “Just a spoonful of Clorox makes your temperature go down….”

The WHO was not amused claiming that drinking anything with bleach in it can cause severe vomiting, severe diarrhea, life-threatening low blood pressure caused by dehydration and acute liver failure. A less toxic treatment in China caused some people to hold exactly seven peppercorns under their tongues to ward off the COVID-19.

Fortunately, there is a dependable online source called “” run by a Dr. Stephen Barrett. He calls it “Your Guide to Quackery, Health, Fraud, and Intelligent Decisions.” And he has been a good health crusader for over two decades.

Barrett posts numerous categories of COVID-19 scams including: Prevention (phony dietary supplements that boost immune systems); Testing (fake at-home kits, door-to-door sales people); Mask Exemption cards (no such things); Treatments (fake cures); Supply (phony salespeople who take your money and run).

These are scary times being surrounded by an unseen foe. The danger cannot be understated. Personally, two of my friends got the virus, but only one survived. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, two dozen refrigerated trucks currently hold over 1,300 frozen victims awaiting burial. The bodies remain in limbo while families decide how they want their loved ones buried or come up with the money to pay for funerals.

Be careful. Discuss your concerns and plans of action with medical personnel, and observe recommendations for masks, avoiding crowds, and social distancing. To use an old maxim, Better Safe than Sorry.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who takes the Shelter-in-Place recommendation seriously. The evidence? Check out her now long and greying hair.


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