A salesman tried to dupe Twain. His response? A turn-of-the-century burn of the century.

Prostitution may be the “world’s oldest profession,” but quackery can’t be too far behind.

In the 19th century, American medical doctors began to take a scientific approach to practicing medicine, but it didn’t stop the growing number of con artists pushing fake medical cures, elixirs, tonics, and serums across the countryside.

These traveling sales people would set up tents and make fire-and-brimstone speeches touting the unbelievable benefits of their products that were said to cure everything from tuberculosis to baldness.


These displays were often accompanied by confidence tricks and fake testimonials.

via Carol M. Highsmith/Wikimedia commons

By the time the people who bought the medicine realized it was fake, the con artists were off to the next town with pockets full of their money.

Two hundred years later, people are still duped by quacks who practice unscientific medicine such as homeopathy, reflexology, and aromatherapy.

While the Internet age has given people greater access to information, it has also advanced unscientific heath scares such as the anti-vaxxer movement and big pharma conspiracies.  

People who peddle fake medical cures are especially insidious because they convince people to take ineffective courses of treatment that can lead their problems to worsen.

Countless people have died by using alternative medicine to treat terminal illnesses instead of scientifically-proven courses of treatment.

via Wikimedia Commons

In 1905, five years before his death, author Mark Twain ("The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Tom Sawyer") eloquently railed against practitioners of quackery with a brilliant letter he wrote to a detestable charlatan.

J.H. Todd sent a letter to Twain pitching him on a bogus medicine called “The Elixir of Life” that he claimed could cure meningitis and diphtheria. Meningitis had killed Twain’s daughter in 1896 and diphtheria claimed his 19-month-old son in 1872.

A furious Twain dictated a letter to his secretary that eviscerated Todd with his trademark folksy wit.

Nov. 20. 1905

J. H. Todd  

1212 Webster St.

San Francisco, Cal.

Dear Sir,

Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link.

It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me.

A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.

Adieu, adieu, adieu!

Mark Twain
Most Shared
Facebook / Mikhail Galin

Putting your pet in cargo during a flight isn't always safe. In 2016, the Department of Transportation reported a total of 26 pet deaths and 22 injuries on flights. Because conditions in cargo can be uncomfortable for animals, the Humane Society recommends taking your pet aboard when you fly, or just leaving it at home.

It's not surprising that one Russian man didn't want to put his overweight cat in cargo during an eight-hour flight from Moscow to Vladivostok. What is surprising is the great lengths he took to fly with his four-legged friend.

Russian airline Aeroflot allows pets to fly inside the plane's cabin, as long as the cat weighs under 17.6 pounds and stays in its carrier during the flight. When Mikhail Galin went to check in, he was told he couldn't fly with his four-year old cat, Viktor. Viktor weighed in at 22 pounds and would have to be relegated to cargo.

But Viktor was sick from their earlier flight from Riga, Latvia to Moscow. And besides, Viktor had been allowed to fly inside the cabin during that flight. The airline staff didn't even bother to make Viktor sit on the scales. Galin was unable to persuade staff to bring his fur baby on board.

"To all attempts to explain that the cat won't survive there on an 8-hour flight with the baggage and would haunt her in her nightmares for the rest of her life, she (the Aeroflot staff member) replied that there are rules," Galin wrote in a Facebook post translated from Russian.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Photo by Kelvin Octa from Pexels

Newborn babies don't seem to do much beyond eating and pooping and, of course, hiccupping. A lot. Parenting advice on how to cure a baby's hiccups runs the whole gamut. It's recommended parents try everything from nursing to stop feeding the baby so much, from giving the baby gripe water to letting the hiccups play their course. But when your baby hiccups too much, you shouldn't freak out. There's a good reason why.

A new study published in Clinical Neurophysiology found that hiccups play an important role in a baby's development. Researchers from the University College London found 217 babies for their study, but only looked at 13 newborns with persistent hiccups. Ten of those babies hiccupped when they were awake, and three hiccupped during their "wriggly" sleep. We have no idea how the scientists got any work done with all that cuteness lying around.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon / YouTube

Actress Kristen Bell and "The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon showed off their vocal and comedic chops on Tuesday night when the performed a medley of 17 Disney songs, spanning nine decades, in just five minutes.

The duo started with 1940's "When You Wish Upon a Star" and ended with 2013's "Let it Go" from "Frozen."

Bell will reprise her role as Anna in Disney's upcoming "Frozen 2."

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Ask almost any woman about a time a man said or did something sexually inappropriate to them, and she'll have a story or four to tell. According to a survey NPR published last year, 81% of women report having experienced sexual harassment, with verbal harassment being the most common. (By contrast, 43% of men report being sexually harassed. Naturally harassment toward anyone of any sex or gender is not okay, but women have been putting up with this ish unchecked for centuries.)

One form of verbal sexual harassment is the all too common sexist or sexual "joke." Ha ha ha, I'm going to say something explicit or demeaning about you and then we can all laugh about how hilarious it is. And I'll probably get away with it because you'll be too embarrassed to say anything, and if you do you'll be accused of being overly sensitive. Ha! Won't that be a hoot?

Keep Reading Show less
popular