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Old Pills, Tonics in Historic Exhibit

January 10, 1998|JEFF KASS

Lining the shelves of this doctor's office are Doan's pills for aches, hair milk for dandruff, and a swamp root laxative.

No one at the Howe-Waffle House is prescribing those long-expired medicines, which date to the late 1800s and are still in their original containers. Nor is anyone using the antique medical instruments.

Rather, they are part of a newly expanded display at the historic house in downtown Santa Ana to re-create the working conditions of Dr. Willela Howe-Waffle, Orange County's first female physician.

"For the first time, it provides a peek into what an 1890s doctor's office looked, smelled and felt like," said Tim Rush, a board member of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society.

Indeed, an odor of menthol fills the air when visitors open a medical cabinet filled with an array of remedies from thyroid gland pills to turpentine oil.

Among the artifacts are a wooden wheelchair, an oak examining table and a large white bowl with black block letters that read: "LEECHES."

The medical tools, books and dozens of jars with pills and elixirs were donated by or are on loan from Orange County physician Lawrence Serber and his wife, Donna, who collect medical antiques. Rush valued the recent donations at about $15,000.

The Howe-Waffle House, run by the historical society, previously had a smaller exhibit of old-time cures.

"Certainly, it's a whole other universe," Rush said of medicine in Howe-Waffle's time. "But much of what worked back then is still in use today."

Tours of the Howe-Waffle House, on Civic Center Drive, are available for groups of five or more by appointment. Information: (714) 547-9645.

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