The James J. O’Mara Pharmacy Museum on Water Street West is a wonderland of the historical and bizarre, in the realm of illness and cure.
Potions, powders, pill presses, scales, all manner of tools, and preparations of the kind our forefathers turned to when troubled with sore throat, head lice, poor constitution, or other common complaints of the time. All told, over 1100 items grace the former Peter O’Mara Drug Store, and most still contain the original medications.
Housed in an equally remarkable building, Apothecary Hall itself is a blend of Art Nouveau and Art Deco design, arguably the coolest building left on the west end of Water Street.
The museum is fitted out with stunning oak shelving constructed in England in 1879, lined with vintage bottles, flasks, and tins. Coloured or ridged bottles often represented poison. The museum’s guides are knowledgeable and engaged, and will show you how the enigmatic gadgets on the large wooden counter work.
A ship’s medicine chest or “Sea Merchant Chest” from 1947 is an extraordinary display, both for the weird and wonderful mixtures it contains (“clap mixture” among them), and for the slightly chilling realization of how far healthcare has come in the last 70 years. Another item, a tonic beef and iron wine, recalls stories from my Bay de Verde nan of a fisherman, who drank so much of the stuff that “when he fell down drunk he always pointed north.”
The museum is celebrating it’s 30th birthday on Saturday, September 15th. As it is usually only a summer operation, this day makes it a unique chance, post-tourist season, to get a tour, see demonstrations, and take part in the cod liver oil tastings. Tshirts and tote bags will be 10 percent off.