"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

If a habitual tooth-vomiter doesn't belong on this blog, I don't know who does. From the "Louisville Courier Journal," July 26, 1895:

A curious case that has puzzled half a dozen doctors during the past three months has just come to light. Fannie Thompson, colored, the wife of James E. Thompson, barber, has since the middle of April been throwing up teeth of all sorts. That is, they are hard. white substances resembling teeth. Some of them resemble dog teeth, others alligator teeth, cow teeth, hog teeth, horse teeth, sheep teeth, human teeth and in fact teeth of almost every conceivable kind. Drs. Flexner, Ed. Grant, the late Dr. Palmer, Dr. Samuels and Dr. E. D. Whedbee, colored, have all visited her. The woman has either developed a singular malady, or, what will seem more probable to most people, has a singular mania for swallowing teeth and throwing them up again. The doctors have not seen her swallow any, and no reason has been offered why the woman should resort to this singular and painful method of amusing herself and gaining notoriety. Some of the teeth look like they might have been picked up about the stock yards and added to the woman's collection.

The woman has been confined to her bed since last January. She was getting off a Jefferson street car at Eighth street, and was thrown to the ground because the car started before she had stepped off. She was injured internally and gave premature birth to a child. Dr. Whedbee was called in. She vomited blood dally up to April 17. On that day the doctor found what looked like a small tooth in the vessel into which the woman had thrown up. The woman, in fact, called the doctor's attention to the tooth. He dismissed the matter by saying it had probably been deposited in the vessel, before she threw up. She said she was sure that it had not, as she had felt it scratching her gullet when it came up. The tooth was very small. It was about a quarter of an inch long, pointed at the end, and was hollow. It appeared to be the tooth of a dog.

From that time the woman threw up from one to two of these substances a day, until the doctor began to grow interested. When she had thrown up about thirty of them their character changed. They became larger, but were of the same general shape.

These teeth, so-called, were merely thin shells and were filled with flesh, which the doctor removed and preserved in alcohol. She discharged about a dozen of these, when their character changed again, and they were of no fixed size or shape.

At the present time the woman discharges from four to fourteen a day. Last night within half an hour she threw up six in the presence of Dr. Whedbee. One of them looked like a horse's molar and had six prongs, four of which were broken off. It had the appearance of a tooth that had seen service and was about the size of the first joint of the thumb of a well-developed man. Another was about two inches long and very sharp at one of the ends. It curved like a hook. The woman throws up these things in the afternoon and night, and rarely in the morning. Her stomach is always distended, especially In the morning. She throws off the substances with great pain, and when in the act she emits the most agonising groans. She greatly fears the paroxysms due to discharging them, and will never discharge them unless a doctor is present. She fears that when she is throwing them up one of them will lodge in her throat and choke her. She always wants a physician present so that he can give her relief if she should happen to choke.

The woman complains of constant pains on the left side of the stomach near what is known as the cardiac orifice. About two months ago a swelling on the left side just below the ribs began to show itself. This seemed to be a fleshy tumor, but as yet Dr. Whedbee says he can not determine the exact nature of it. He scouts the natural suggestion that the woman swallowed the articles, but that is the only theory as yet entertained by physicians to whom the case has been reported. It is hard, however, to conjecture the woman's motive in practicing such a fraud, if fraud it is. He says she has not been out of her bed since last January and has herself not been able to get the teeth.

Several days ago Drs. Ed. Grant and Flexner were called in to examine the woman. Dr. Grant was solicited by a benefit society, of which the woman was a member. The officials of the society said simply that the woman was sick, and had been sick for so long that they wanted an investigation. He thought that the woman was suffering from some ordinary disease, but inasmuch as she did not live far from his office, he walked over to her home one afternoon. He met Dr. Flexner there, and was at once acquainted with the peculiar state of affairs. For the past few days both of the doctors have been making a quiet investigation of the strange affair.

Dr. Grant says he has been with the woman when she has discharged five or six of the teeth within twenty minutes' time. She seems to be able to throw them up at will, which in Dr. Grant's opinion, is a peculiar feature of the case. The discharge is accompanied by a glairy mucus, very much like saliva. They are never accompanied by any other contents of the stomach.

The only way to account for the teeth coming from the woman's mouth, says Dr, Grant, is that she first swallowed them. This she stoutly denies, however. The only thing that could prompt her to swallow the teeth would be insanity. Dr. Flexner is making a chemical analysis of some of the substances to determine just what they are. He has not yet completed the analysis, and will not for some days yet. Drs. Flexner and Grant were to make an examination of the woman yesterday afternoon, but Dr. Flexner was engaged, and it was postponed. It is their intention to put the woman under the influence of chloroform so that she will have no control of her stomach or abdominal muscles. They can then examine the abdominal walls and determine just where the sack, if there is any, is situated. This will be done in a day or two.

Dr. Grant says the hard lump, which recently appeared on the left side of the woman, is a curious complication which can not be explained unless they are allowed to operate on the woman. She will not listen to this. The lump is about the size of the two flats and is very hard. It has the outside appearance of a fatty tumor, but is too hard for this. The only effect pressure has on this swelling is to cause excruciating pain. It seems to be a growth of the abdominal walls, and may be due to a calcareous deposit of the blood vessels. The growth was very rapid.

The woman is very fleshy and is about thirty five years old.

The following day, the "Courier Journal" had another report:

The case of Fannie Thompson, the colored woman who has been throwing up teeth for the past three months, has attracted considerable attention among the physicians about the city. It is the opinion of those who have investigated the case and who have seen the teeth that they were first swallowed.

Three physicians visited the woman at her home on the northeast corner of Eighth and Green streets yesterday afternoon. They were Drs. Grant. Hodman and Flexner. The woman had promised the physicians that she would allow them to put her under the influence of chloroform and make a thorough examination of her abdomen with the object in view of determining the exact condition of the abdominal walls. When the doctors reached the house the woman refused to allow them to put her under the influence of the drug, fearing that she would die while in its power. While the doctors were at the house the woman ejected five teeth.

Dr. Grant said last night: "I believe that the woman is a victim of a peculiar phase of monomania. While insanity is not apparent to one who talks to her, it is shown by the fact that she throws up the teeth. The teeth are not held in the mouth and discharged from there, as is apparent from several circumstances. I have extended my finger down her throat on several occasions and have felt a tooth while It was still in the gullet and on the way out. The teeth also show by their appearance that they have been influenced by the gastric juice of the stomach. All the tissues which adhere to the teeth have been dissolved when the teeth are thrown off. showing that the teeth have been for some time in the stomach. The woman swallows them perhaps several hours before she knows that it is time for her doctor to call on her and is prepared to throw them up on short notice."

The physicians do not intend to let their investigations rest with what they have done so far. They will not be satisfied until they have determined fully whether or not the woman does really swallow the teeth. This can only be done by having the woman taken to some hospital or infirmary, where she will be isolated from any one who is disposed to carry her her daily allowance of teeth. An effort will be made by the physician to have the woman go to such an institution.

Dr. Flexner has not yet completed his analysis of the teeth which he has in his possession. It will be some days before he can say positively of just what they consist. He is very guarded in his statements about the case and will not declare that the woman swallows the teeth until he has more positive proof than is in his hands at present. He does not seem to have much faith in the dermoid cyst theory, however. He has had much experience with cases of dermoid cyst and in his practice and investigation he never knew a case of this sort where horse teeth were thrown up by human beings.
Curiously enough, our pleasant little tale then seemed to disappear from the newspapers. A sequel appeared in the "Courier Journal" three years later, on January 24, 1898, although, for reasons I can't begin to explain, the unfortunate woman's name was now given as "Mary Lytle."

Mary Lytle, colored, living on West street, between Walnut and Chestnut, who for several years has been troubled with a peculiar malady which has puzzled the medical fraternity of this city, has appealed to Chief of Detectives Sullivan for protection. She claims she is not able to spend a minute in peace owing to the constant strain of medical students who loiter about her home and try to chloroform her in an effort to kidnap her.

About three years ago the woman's case attracted wide attention. At intervals she coughs up teeth. When the woman was first afflicted her case received the attention of prominent physicians in this and other cities.

Since the first appearance of the disease the woman has been a subject tor all kind of experiments. She has undergone, she says, every experiment known to the medical profession. It has almost come to pass that a young man who contemplates the study of medicine does not enter college until he has visited the woman's home, questioned her and induced her to undergo a thorough medical examination.

The article went on to state that some of Lytle's relatives went to the police, accusing medical students of actually trying to kidnap her so they could carry her off to some medical college so they could "discover the secret of her peculiar malady." Detectives went to talk to her, and she asserted her desire to swear out warrants against her persecutors. Alas, I was unable to find any later articles about Mary--or Fannie--leaving it a mystery to me when or if she ever stopped emitting teeth, or if she managed to escape the clutches of overzealous medical men.


  1. I sometimes wonder that the change of names of the protagonist in such stories suggests an urban legend. Certainly, the journalists of those days weren’t at the most scrupulous point of their profession’s history. A bizarre tale, in any case.

    1. I did think it was highly possible someone just invented the story, although, for what it's worth, a check of genealogical records showed that the Thompsons and the doctors named did actually exist.

      If this tale is completely fake, I certainly tip my hat to whoever dreamed it up.

    2. I suppose the participants in the story would take exception to their identities being used - or misused - if the events hadn't occurred. Good follow-up on that.

  2. Not nearly as impressive as Mary Toft

  3. I wonder if this is a story based off a legitimate illness that blossomed into a medical tall tale. Woman falls, develops a hematoma on her side that eventually inflames the gallbladder and due to the lack of treatment, she ends up vomiting gallstones (vomiting is a common symptom of gallbladder problems, so it's not out of the question.)

    Now how we get from gallstones to teeth is up to the imagination of the storyteller.


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