Live To A Thousand Years

One of the intriguing things about searching for stories to do the the Jack the Ripper Whitechapel murders is the number of tangents it can lead you off in.

You can be delving into a particular story, following the various threads and developments, when you suddenly discover that you’ve actually been diverted into a different story which, although it has little to do with the story you set off to investigate and research, is, nonetheless, just as fascinating.

This happened to me recently when I was looking into Jack the Ripper suspect Dr. Francis Tumblety.


Tumblety arrived in Liverpool in 1873, and began advertising himself as the “Great American Doctor,” and undertook a modest advertising campaign in which he sang his own praises as the greatest physician that the world had ever known.

I found it a fascinating exercise tracing the self-proclaimed “Great American Doctor through the newspapers, albeit Tumblety ceased advertising himself as such in the 1880s.

A sketch of Dr Francis Tumblety.
Dr Francis Tumblety


However, I was most intrigued to find the title being used in a series of adverts that appeared in various newspapers in July, 1899, reporting on claims that he had stated that people could live to be a thousand years old.

As it transpired, this time it wasn’t Tumblety making the claims, but rather Dr. Romane Curtis, Professor of Bacteriology at the Chicago College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The Birmingham reported on his claims in its edition of Tuesday the 11th of July 1899:-


We shall not be surprised if at the next meeting the City Council considerable interest is taken in Dr. Romane Curtis, professor of bacteriology at the Chicago College of Physicians and Surgeons. The connection may appear somewhat obscure, but it is none the less tangible.

It may remembered that Alderman Manton, in discussing the purchase of the land at the back of the Council House from the Colmore trustees, insisted upon the injustice of paying freehold value for nine hundred and ninety-nine years’ lease. It was not fair, he argued, to the ratepayers.

But the city remained strangely placid in the presence of this great injustice.

Perhaps the majority of the ratepayers came to the conclusion that what would happen a thousand years hence would have no particular concern for them.


But, according to Dr. Romane Curtis they are labouring under a grievous delusion.

The ratepayers, not only of Birmingham but of every other town, have a distinct chance, the great American doctor tells us, of living longer than the lease.


The doctor has written an open letter to Mr. Andrew Carnegie, the millionaire, in which he declares that if people would only live hygienically and scientifically they could live to the age of a thousand years.

He says that the secret of long life is the destruction of parasitism, and urges Mr. Carnegie to devote fifty million dollars to the founding of an institution for the teaching of hygiene and for the study of bacteriology for the benefit of the human race.

It is asking Mr. Carnegie to pay a pretty substantial sum for the privilege of living a thousand years, and the famous millionaire ought most certainly to have the first chance.


The “destruction of parasitism” is a rather vague phrase, and it is not quite clear why it should cost so much.

What particular parasites do the mischief the doctor deponeth not, and we are left to argue with ourselves whether is the income-tax man, the influenza germ, or the able bodied wriggler that gets into the Corporation water.

Anyhow these parasites must be pretty formidable enemies if it costs fifty million dollars, or the price of about fifteen ironclads, to destroy them.

We shall, no doubt, hear that some more celebrated doctors have offered to do the work for half the price.


The desired result, it must be confessed, is rather tempting.

Life may have its worries, but it must be very nice for a germ-proof greybeard to be able to loll back in his armchair and tell his friends how he distinctly remembers William the Conqueror landing at Pevensey, and what a good job it was that there were no evening papers at that time, or they would surely have made a great fuss over it with their special editions.

To be a multi millionaire, with a thousand years of absolute freedom from money troubles and bilious attacks, must be a beautiful prospect. It would almost make one think that his Paradise was on this earth alone.

The Society papers would be describing the weddings of the dashing young bridegrooms of three hundred and fifty with the blushing young brides of two hundred and eighty, and we should hear of people killing themselves with drink at the premature age of six hundred and ten.


But somehow or other we shall back Father Time and the Colmore leases against the American doctor and his new doctrine.

The people who tell us how to live to be centenarians and to fight the great battle with the demon bacillus generally die young themselves.

Dr. Richardson, who said that seven people out of ten ought to live to be a hundred, died himself long before he had reached the three score years and ten.

The cleverest bacteriologist that Birmingham has produced dropped down dead the other day at a local railway station at the early age of forty-six.

So probably Mr. Carnegie will keep his money in his pocket, and trust to luck for a long-delayed tombstone.”