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Origin Story

003 00:00:54 Dialogue: “When he stood before the dean of Johns Hopkins”
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Timecode: 00:00:54

Dialogue: “When he stood before the dean of Johns Hopkins”

We can’t verify whether this scene at Johns Hopkins actually happened, but it was a constant feature of Brinkley’s origin story. The language being spoken by the narrator is taken almost verbatim from The Life of A Man, a biography commissioned and paid for by Brinkley (more on that book later). In 1902, Brinkley graduated …

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We can’t verify whether this scene at Johns Hopkins actually happened, but it was a constant feature of Brinkley’s origin story. The language being spoken by the narrator is taken almost verbatim from The Life of A Man, a biography commissioned and paid for by Brinkley (more on that book later). In 1902, Brinkley graduated from high school and he would have been 17 years old on July 8, so it’s feasible that he could have decided to try to enrol in medical school at that time. However, the whole scene feels rather improbable to us, and the “I tried to get legitimate medicine to accept me and they cruelly declined” is also a standard quack cliché.

004 00:01:08 Dialogue: “Like his daddy was”
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Timecode: 00:01:08

Dialogue: “Like his daddy was”

We can’t verify that Brinkley’s daddy was a doctor, but he always said he was. Brinkley cited his father’s profession as inspiration for his own. If he was a doctor at all, Brinkey’s daddy would have almost certainly been the sort of poor “country doctor” common in the 1800s.  At that time, being a doctor …

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We can’t verify that Brinkley’s daddy was a doctor, but he always said he was. Brinkley cited his father’s profession as inspiration for his own. If he was a doctor at all, Brinkey’s daddy would have almost certainly been the sort of poor “country doctor” common in the 1800s.  At that time, being a doctor wasn’t the distinguished profession it later became (largely due to the efforts of the American Medical Association).  On the other hand, sometimes Brinkley claimed his daddy had a medical degree from Davidson College in Charlotte.  As Lee wrote, “(t)his is highly unlikely, however, as attending college in the antebellum South was expensive and confined largely to the plantation and urban aristocracy who could afford it, not poor mountain folk.”

005 00:01:21 Dialogue: “Brinkley had a diploma”
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Timecode: 00:01:21

Dialogue: “Brinkley had a diploma”

“On May 7, 1915, the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City presented him with a certificate signed by its president, Dr. Date R. Alexander. To become an alumnus of E.M.U. (later described in court proceedings as ‘vague, obliging and long defunct’) cost Brinkley one hundred dollars and got him licensed in eight states” (Brock, 25). …

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“On May 7, 1915, the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City presented him with a certificate signed by its president, Dr. Date R. Alexander. To become an alumnus of E.M.U. (later described in court proceedings as ‘vague, obliging and long defunct’) cost Brinkley one hundred dollars and got him licensed in eight states” (Brock, 25). So: yes, he had this diploma (and a number of other diplomas and accreditations), but it doesn’t mean what you might think it means.

On a separate note, the narrator claims here that he received this diploma in 1917, and then married Minnie, and then moved to Milford all in the same year. This is not chronologically accurate; we’re compressing these events (and leaving a lot out) for flow and clarity.

006 00:01:23 Image: Eclectic Medical University exterior (drawing)
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Timecode: 00:01:23

Image: Eclectic Medical University exterior (drawing)

This drawing is based on a photo of the Homeopathic Medical College of St. Louis taken in the early 1900s. We couldn’t find an image reference for the Eclectic Medical College of Kansas City, so we substituted this one instead. Same time period, different kind of quackery, and anyway this is clearly a “reenactment” scene, …

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This drawing is based on a photo of the Homeopathic Medical College of St. Louis taken in the early 1900s. We couldn’t find an image reference for the Eclectic Medical College of Kansas City, so we substituted this one instead. Same time period, different kind of quackery, and anyway this is clearly a “reenactment” scene, so all of this explanation is probably unnecessary? (From here on out, we are not going to comment on every act of “imagination” used in a reenactment scene; this one seemed kind of funny to us because of the inside joke comparing homeopathy to eclectic medicine.)

011 00:01:58 Dialogue: “A farmer named Stittsworth”
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Timecode: 00:01:58

Dialogue: “A farmer named Stittsworth”

This is the origin story of the goat gland procedure, as told by Brinkley and repeated ever since. Portions of this story and photos of Stittsworth and his son Billy appeared in newspapers all over the country as early as 1920. The Stittsworths also “starred” in and often appeared in person with a promotional film …

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This is the origin story of the goat gland procedure, as told by Brinkley and repeated ever since. Portions of this story and photos of Stittsworth and his son Billy appeared in newspapers all over the country as early as 1920. The Stittsworths also “starred” in and often appeared in person with a promotional film made in 1922 or 1923. However, there are many reasons to not believe this version of the story.

Here are some of them:

(1) Bill Stittsworth’s son said that he and his father were on Brinkley’s payroll until 1942. This is strange, because Brinkley stopped doing the goat gland surgeries in 1933 and thus had no reason to pay someone to promote it after that point. Logic suggests they were being paid not to tell everyone that this was all made up. Perhaps the younger Stittsworth lied, or remembered wrong; but the Stittsworths appeared in many photographs from 1919-on, and in person in 1923 with the promotional film, so it makes sense that they would have been paid for this. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that Stittsworth was mentioned by full name in the advertising or public relations efforts. We did find one article referring to him as “Uncle Billy, one of the village patriarchs.”

(2) This story, with photos of the world’s first “goat gland baby” (Billy Stittsworth) only began appearing in newspapers after Brinkley hired H.R. Mosnat, an ad man. Mosnat’s efforts (better classified as pioneering public relations than advertising) included placing this “news item” in papers all over the country.

(3) The story was highly inconsistent; Brinkley sometimes claimed that he had been doing experiments with “xenotransplantation” for many years by this point and was eager to try it out on a human; sometimes it was Stittsworth’s idea and he tried to say no, etc.

(4) The story is ridiculous.

081 00:11:39 Dialogue: “When I left my little cabin”
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Timecode: 00:11:39

Dialogue: “When I left my little cabin”

Brinkley was specifically from Beta, North Carolina.

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Brinkley was specifically from Beta, North Carolina.

082 00:11:43 Dialogue: “I’d known very few”
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Timecode: 00:11:43

Dialogue: “I’d known very few”

According to Brinkley himself (who else are you supposed to believe when it comes to the personal details of a life that can’t be otherwise verified?), he indeed grew up in these conditions.

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According to Brinkley himself (who else are you supposed to believe when it comes to the personal details of a life that can’t be otherwise verified?), he indeed grew up in these conditions.

083 00:11:51 Image: Brinkley’s mother
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Timecode: 00:11:51

Image: Brinkley’s mother

John R. Brinkley was born a bastard. This image of a photo of his birth mother, Sarah Candace Burnett, who was impregnated by an unknown man outside of wedlock. The boy was named after and raised by his uncle John Brinkley, married to the aunt of his birth mother. (Did you follow that? No, we …

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John R. Brinkley was born a bastard. This image of a photo of his birth mother, Sarah Candace Burnett, who was impregnated by an unknown man outside of wedlock. The boy was named after and raised by his uncle John Brinkley, married to the aunt of his birth mother. (Did you follow that? No, we didn’t either, but this appears to be correct.)

084 00:11:57 Image: Brinkley as a boy
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Timecode: 00:11:57

Image: Brinkley as a boy

This is a photo of young Brinkley included in The Life of a Man.

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This is a photo of young Brinkley included in The Life of a Man.

085 00:12:01 Image: Brinkley’s father
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Timecode: 00:12:01

Image: Brinkley’s father

This is a photo of Brinkley’s father included in The Life of a Man.

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This is a photo of Brinkley’s father included in The Life of a Man.

086 00:12:05 Image: Flashbacks to earlier scenes
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Timecode: 00:12:05

Image: Flashbacks to earlier scenes

We can’t verify whether this scene at Johns Hopkins actually happened, but it was a constant feature of Brinkley’s origin story. In 1902, Brinkley graduated from high school and he would have been 17 years old on July 8, so it’s feasible that he could have decided to try to enroll in medical school at …

View Full Footnote

We can’t verify whether this scene at Johns Hopkins actually happened, but it was a constant feature of Brinkley’s origin story. In 1902, Brinkley graduated from high school and he would have been 17 years old on July 8, so it’s feasible that he could have decided to try to enroll in medical school at that time. However, the whole scene feels rather improbable to us.

087 00:12:22 Image: Brinkley as a handsome young man

Timecode: 00:12:22

Image: Brinkley as a handsome young man

We don’t know where this photo came from or how old he is, but Brinkley looks hot in it, right?

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We don’t know where this photo came from or how old he is, but Brinkley looks hot in it, right?

088 00:12:24 Image: Brinkley in cap and gown
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Timecode: 00:12:24

Image: Brinkley in cap and gown

Given that Brinkley seems to have purchased all of his degrees, we really don’t understand where this photo of him in a cap and gown came from. Another mystery.

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Given that Brinkley seems to have purchased all of his degrees, we really don’t understand where this photo of him in a cap and gown came from. Another mystery.

089 00:12:27 Image: Diploma
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Timecode: 00:12:27

Image: Diploma

“On May 7, 1915, the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City presented him with a certificate signed by its president, Dr. Date R. Alexander. To become an alumnus of E.M.U. (later described in court proceedings as ‘vague, obliging and long defunct’) cost Brinkley one hundred dollars and got him licensed in eight states” (Brock, 25). …

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“On May 7, 1915, the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City presented him with a certificate signed by its president, Dr. Date R. Alexander. To become an alumnus of E.M.U. (later described in court proceedings as ‘vague, obliging and long defunct’) cost Brinkley one hundred dollars and got him licensed in eight states” (Brock, 25). So: yes, he had this diploma (and a number of other diplomas and accreditations), but it doesn’t mean what you might think it means.

090 00:12:37 Image: Flashbacks to earlier scenes
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Timecode: 00:12:37

Image: Flashbacks to earlier scenes

This is the origin story of the goat gland procedure, as told by Brinkley and repeated ever since. Portions of this story and photos of Stittsworth and his son Billy appeared in newspapers all over the country as early as 1920. The Stittsworths also “starred” in and often appeared in person with a promotional film …

View Full Footnote

This is the origin story of the goat gland procedure, as told by Brinkley and repeated ever since. Portions of this story and photos of Stittsworth and his son Billy appeared in newspapers all over the country as early as 1920. The Stittsworths also “starred” in and often appeared in person with a promotional film made in 1922 or 1923. However, there are many reasons to not believe this version of the story. Here are some of them:

(1) Bill Stittsworth’s son said that he and his father were on Brinkley’s payroll until 1942. This is strange, because Brinkley stopped doing the goat gland surgeries in 1933 and thus had no reason to pay someone to promote it after that point. Logic suggests they were being paid not to tell everyone that this was all made up. Perhaps the younger Stittsworth lied, or remembered wrong; but the Stittsworths appeared in many photographs from 1919-on, and in person in 1923 with the promotional film, so it makes sense that they would have been paid for this. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that Stittsworth was mentioned by full name in the advertising or public relations efforts. We did find one article referring to him as “Uncle Billy, one of the village patriarchs.”

(2) This story, with photos of the world’s first “goat gland baby” (Billy Stittsworth) only began appearing in newspapers after Brinkley hired H.R. Mosnat, an ad man. Mosnat’s efforts (better classified as pioneering public relations than advertising) included placing this “news item” in papers all over the country.

(3) The story was highly inconsistent; Brinkley sometimes claimed that he had been doing experiments with “xenotransplantation” for many years by this point and was eager to try it out on a human; sometimes it was Stittsworth’s idea and he tried to say no, etc.

(4) The story is ridiculous.

 

283 01:03:50 Dialogue: “You were nowhere near Johns Hopkins in 1902”
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Timecode: 01:03:50

Dialogue: “You were nowhere near Johns Hopkins in 1902”

We’re condensing a lot into this section, but it is true that Brinkley’s early life selling snake oil both with and without his first wife Sally was an important part of the evidence presented in this trial.

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We’re condensing a lot into this section, but it is true that Brinkley’s early life selling snake oil both with and without his first wife Sally was an important part of the evidence presented in this trial.

284 01:04:03 Dialogue: “Diploma from the Eclectic Medical University”
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Timecode: 01:04:03

Dialogue: “Diploma from the Eclectic Medical University”

“On May 7, 1915, the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City presented him with a certificate signed by its president, Dr. Date R. Alexander. To become an alumnus of E.M.U. (later described in court proceedings as ‘vague, obliging and long defunct’) cost Brinkley one hundred dollars and got him licensed in eight states” (Brock, 25).

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“On May 7, 1915, the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City presented him with a certificate signed by its president, Dr. Date R. Alexander. To become an alumnus of E.M.U. (later described in court proceedings as ‘vague, obliging and long defunct’) cost Brinkley one hundred dollars and got him licensed in eight states” (Brock, 25).

285 01:04:34 Dialogue: “You were incarcerated in Greenville, SC”
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Timecode: 01:04:34

Dialogue: “You were incarcerated in Greenville, SC”

True: Brinkley had been arrested for the colored water scam in Greenville, SC. Not true: it was on the very same day he claimed to be graduating. So: a chronological distortion for effect.

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True: Brinkley had been arrested for the colored water scam in Greenville, SC.
Not true: it was on the very same day he claimed to be graduating.
So: a chronological distortion for effect.