My Little Town 20110420: Agnes and Pete Holloway

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this irregular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile of so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

I never write about living people except with their express permission, but since these folks are long gone, they are fair game.  They were actually very nice folks, but had some quirks, as most folks in my little town did.

I do not know how they came into a little money, since they owned a nice (by mid 1960s standards) house on a large lot.  They were my neighbors just to the south where I lived.  I liked both of them.

Mr. and Mrs. Holloway (not related, as far as I know, to the really mean Arthur Holloway) were a very nice couple.  They were around 15 years older, give or take, than my parents, and would say hello to anyone.  They owned a little, and I mean very little, cafe just up the street from my house.  It served mainly hamburgers and French fries, and such, and also had an ice cream locker.

They also made milkshakes using the stock in the locker.  Agnes was not very good at making them, and usually I just got sort of thick chocolate milk instead of a real milkshake, so I went from that to buying ice cream cones.  At least those were sort of solid.

I loved the chocolate marvel ones, and they also had strawberry marvel ones, too, but I did not like them that much.  I finally decided that I liked the honeydew ones the best, but for the life of me can not remember the exact flavor now.  That is sort of surprising to me, since I tend to have a really good flavor and smell memory.  Does anyone have any information about that, now obsolete, flavor?

They came to our church on occasion, like Christmas or Easter (by the way, please read my Pique the Geek post about Easter, The Borg, and the Dalaks Sunday evening), but were not regular attendees.  Of course, that was enough in a little town to have sharp tongues saying things, but I never observed anything about them that was less than wholesome.

Agnes was an extremely petite lady, probably not even 85 pounds soaking wet.  Her face was lined with smile lines, and she almost always had a nice one for the little kid with 15 cents for an ice cream cone.  I think that she was a truly nice person, as was Pete.  She, except for being so petite, was otherwise unremarkable except for being kind.

Pete was not a large guy, either, maybe 5’7″ or so, and thin.  I would guess that he was 60 or so at the time, and my research into his medical condition bears this out well.  Pete had Jake Leg.  I suspect that I am the only one here that knows what it was.  All of the Jake Leg folks are gone now, with perhaps only a scant handful remaining.  They would be over 100 years old now.

I shall attach a poll to this piece to get an honest idea about who know about Jake Leg.  I suspect that no one has ever seen anyone with it, as I have, and only a very few have heard the term.  If my instincts are correct, the “What are you talking about, Doc?” will have the most votes, not corrected for pie.

Jake Leg was a neuronal deterioration condition caused by contaminated alcohol sold during Prohibition.  It had nothing to do with the “moonshiners” in the hills making what, during those days, was usually a fairly high quality product.  At that time, most of the moonshiners were producing a high quality product at great personal risk.  Only later, after Prohibition was lifted, did unethical ones took over the market by producing untaxed liquor, and many of them cut lots of corners and produced highly dangerous products.  But that is for another piece.  Back to Jake Leg.

There was a product that was imported into the United States that passed the arcane Treasury Department  Prohibition regulations that contained mostly alcohol in the form of an extremely bitter and almost undrinkable formulation called Jamaica Ginger.  It was around 70% alcohol, but was legal under the standards at the time.  However, ginger was sort of expensive, so two evil entrepreneurs decided to make a cheaper product. I shall call those men out by their names:  Harry Gross and Max Reisman.  These Chicago men were interested in nothing except to enrich themselves.

They found that an industrial chemical, and I know that this is getting quite Geeky, could be added to the Jamaica Ginger and cut down on the actual ginger content, making it not only cheaper, but also more drinkable.  It also passed the test the the Prohibition analyses required at the time.

The chemical was tri-o-tolyl phosphate, a chemical that does not have a bad taste, is not volatile enough so that it passed the test, and is, also, a potent neurotoxin.  Gross and Reisman were making money hand over fist.  Damn those bastards, by the way.

It turns out that this cheap chemical is a neurotoxin that actually killed several people, the heavy drinkers, by complete system paralysis.  It disabled many others from general paralysis, hands and arms included.  Most of those died for want of taking care of themselves not too long after drinking the evil brew.  The material was insidious because the effects were delayed for around a week, give or take a day or two, so that rather large amounts could be consumed without ill effects being immediately noticed.

Tri-o-tolyl phosphate is still used industrially now.  It is used as a plasticizer for various polymers (not for food contact), as a material for fireproofing, and as an additive for various lubricants.  It was cheap and readily available in 1930.

But folks like Mr. Holloway were fortunate.  His lasting sequelae were only from the knee and lower.  I shall try to get a video of what it looked like before I post this piece.

Well, I have not found a video yet, so I shall have to attempt to describe it to you.  First, just a little more background.  Apparently this material was pretty much, except for massive doses, specific for the afferent nerves for voluntary muscles at the spinal cord.  In that respect, its effects sort of resembled polio in that the sensory nerves were not much affected but that the motor afferent ones were.  In common with polio, the muscles affected often became flaccid and withered.  Here is the best description that I can remember about now Mr. Holloway walked.

He would raise his leg, pretty normally, but since he could not make his ankle work, would have to “throw out” his foot to meet the sidewalk.  Since his sensory nerves were relatively unaffected, he could sense when it made contact with the ground, and then he would raise his other knee, once again throwing out his other foot onto the pavement.  I know that his is difficult to visualize.  Try this.

It was sort of like a goose stepping soldier, except that the knee bent and the foot was “loose”, making it necessary to use the momentum to put the foot on the pavement.  Does that make a better illustration?  It is difficult to describe, but I think that the goosestep is better than the previous one.  Interestingly, folks with Jake Leg had knees that would lock, the injury being confined to the calves and downward for most of them.

The bad liquor had a very short history.  I have not been able to find exactly when it started, but by 1930 it was found out and stopped.  I also not not know what happened to those two bootleggers, but forcefeeding them the material seems morally correct.  I know!  That is not a proper punishment in our legal system, but it does have a bit of schadenfreude.

Mr. and Mrs. Holloway lived to be quite old, and as far as I can tell, his Jake Leg did not shorten his lifespan, but I wonder about deep vein thrombosis in flaccid calf muscles.  They were really nice folks, always said hello, even when I was just little, and I have not heard anyone say anything bad about them, except for the bitties that condemned him for being a drinking man.

Well, if Agnes could have made a better milkshake I would have even better things to say!  LOL!

I have looked at numbers, and many sites say that perhaps 50,000 folks ended up with Jake Leg.  I can not accept that.  I think that many times more were afflicted, because the probability of a next door neighbor having it, in a nation of over 200 million, is vanishingly small.  I suspect that at least 500,000 people had it, but that is just The Geek in me coming to the surface.  On the other hand, the outbreak seemed to be fairly limited insofar as geographic distribution went, so the 50,000 figure may be correct if primarily confined to Arkansas and surrounding states.  Since the syndrome was first described in Oklahoma, this is plausible.

Next time we shall discuss another person or two in My Little Town.  I have not decided yet, but I think that it might be one of the more mean ones.

Please comment about growing up in Your Little Town.  Please include only distant memories, unless they directly impact recent actions.  I really would rather that this series be about things as they were years ago, rather than what any of us did yesterday.  Facebook is for what we did recently.

Warmest regards,


1 comment

  1. recollections of olden times?

    Warmest regards,


Comments have been disabled.