Ralph’s Drugstore

For hundreds of years, people have earned money selling cure-alls which they claimed could “cure what ails ya” such as cancer or baldness, or by claiming they could cure people and charging a fee for their “special abilities.”  Most were con artists who sold useless concoctions, sometimes dangerous concoctions, then would disappear as quickly as they could, never to been seen again.  They almost never stayed in one place, except for Ralph Pearson.

In the 1940s and 50s, Ralph Pearson and his wife owned a reputable drugstore in Miami, Florida.  Their store sold items that would normally have been found in drugstores of the era including gum, cigarettes, medicines, some grocery and household items, books, toys, etc.  They had a soda fountain and a television set on display.  During the mornings and afternoons, it was business as usual in Ralph’s store.  People came in, did their shopping, and left as they would from any store.  However, window shoppers who passed by the store during the evenings in 1951 would have been taken aback at what they saw.  It was never the same, and it became a spectacle of sorts.  People in the area began to talk about the strange happenings in the store.  

On one evening, a man acting as a pilot flew an imaginary airplane all around the store.  World War II had ended just six years earlier.  This could be explained away as what we now call post traumatic stress disorder.  On another evening, a young man sat at the soda fountain and repeatedly kissed his girlfriend in a most affectionate manner.  Public displays of affection such as this were frowned upon in public in 1951, but that was not the reason people stared.  There was no girlfriend sitting beside him.  The young man was kissing the air.  On another evening, a girl suddenly stood in a motionless pose as the Statue of Liberty.  She kept the pose for a full fifteen minutes.  Ralph’s ability attracted so much attention that none of the customers paid attention to “I Love Lucy”, “Dragnet”, or “The Amos ‘n Andy Show”, which played on the television set on the store’s showroom.  Like cigarettes, sales of television sets declined in Ralph’s drugstore.  Ralph’s wife exasperatingly declared, “It’s getting to be a three-ring circus around here.”

Ralph had the ability, some claimed, to cure people of certain unwanted habits.  With a single visit to the store, Ralph claimed he cured several pack-a-day smokers of their habit.  This, of course, was counterproductive since his business sold cigarettes.  “I’m losing a lot of my cigarette business,” Ralph said, “but I don’t mind.  Most of the smokers I’ve cured are young people who shouldn’t be smoking anyway.”  A young girl came into the store and complained about hating school.  Within a few minutes of being in Ralph’s presence, the girl’s whole attitude toward school changed.  Before she left the store, she told Ralph that she looked forward to going to school the following morning.  He cured another girl of biting her fingernails, and another from drinking coffee.  One young man habitually overslept to the point that he feared he would soon be fired.  After a visit to Ralph’s drugstore, the young man claimed he awoke at 7:00 a.m. on the dot with no alarm clock of any kind and his job was saved.       

This was no act, you see.  Ralph was not paying actors to perform stunts for publicity.  Since Ralph owned a drugstore, you may be wondering if Ralph used some secret concoction on his customers, and the answer would be no.  Ralph claimed and believed he had a special power.  His wife believed it, as did their customers.  The only two people he knew his power would not work on was himself and his wife.  Fortunately for Ralph’s customers, he never took advantage of his special power to increase sales.  The attention it drew decreased rather than increased sales.  Ralph’s special curing power, according to himself, his wife, and many of their customers, was hypnotism.  Ralph’s wife declared, “we’ll either have to sell the store and go into the hypnotism business or stop this stuff.”

Source:  The Tampa Tribune, May 13, 1951, p.53.  

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