If you are a native of Jackson County, you have probably heard of Dr. John R. Brinkley, the notorious “goat-gland man.”
Brinkley was an affable con artist with an engaging personality that caused more than one victim to acknowledge that he had purchased one of Brinkley’s “miracle cure” tonics that allegedly restored hair, cured arthritis and relieved toothache only to find that he had bought a bottle of colored water. “Yeah, I knew that he was a crook, but I liked the guy.” Everybody seemed to like him, and his friends called him “Daddy.”
Some 75 years ago, Brinkley came back to Sylva to visit his relatives and to give a lecture at Western Carolina Teachers College. My grandfather was a big fan of Brinkley’s radio show that was broadcast from Del Rio, Texas, and featured a number of Grand Ole Opry stars, including the Carter Family, and Sylva natives Aunt Samantha Bumgarner and Harry Cagle. My grandfather not only attended Brinkley’s lecture, he took me with him. I couldn’t see the guest speaker, so my grandfather put me on his back where I had an unobstructed view of a bearded fellow dressed in white who capered and danced around the stage as he talked. He glittered, too. Rings, stick-pins, diamonds and a gold watch chain. My grandfather whispered, “Listen and remember this day, Gar-Nell. This is a famous man.”
Later, I couldn’t recall a single word of Brinkley’s lecture. All that I remembered was the way he talked, gestured and smiled. Nobody was surprised when he ran for governor of Kansas and toured the state in a big truck that Brinkley called his “Ammunition Truck.” I learned that he also had his own plane, several yachts, a dozen cars and several homes.
Daddy Brinkley was rich. My grandfather told me that he visited foreign countries, provided miracle cures for royalty and Hollywood actors.
Which brings me to the goat-gland operations. Yes, Brinkley claimed that he could restore sexual vigor by transplanting goat glands. We had a stack of Brinkley’s colorful promotion materials, and I often sat entranced by photos of Brinkley’s estate where peacocks walked around a swimming pool that extended into Brinkley’s home. Brinkley had a son named Johnny who was on the show, and there were photos of him riding his own horse or swimming in his own private pool.
As a child, I had no way of knowing that Daddy Brinkley was in trouble. The AMA had branded him a quack and a charlatan, the IRS was closing in on him for back taxes, and he was about to lose it all. In the end, his health failed. After a series of heart attacks, his legs were amputated, and he died shortly after that. His wealth vanished except for some tracts of land, one of which was in Tuckaseigee where his name can still be seen in the entrance to one of his favorite homes. For years following Brinkley’s death, his wife and his son, Johnny came for the summer.
In recent years, John R. Brinkley’s reputation has suffered. Indeed, the last biography, Pope Brock’s Charlatan (I have four) delivers a blistering condemnation of the man and his qualifications to perform surgery. Where previous biographies celebrated the “Roguish World” of Brinkley, (Gerald Carson, 1970), Brock does not hesitate to brand him as “a serial murderer” and lists all of the patients who died following their “surgery” at the Brinkley clinic.
Ah, but we are not through yet. With some of the technical advances in research, suddenly previously unknown sources are available on the Internet. In addition, a number of “filmmakers” have shown up prowling around Aunt Sally’s monument in Tuckaseigee. I recently viewed a pitiful biographical film on YouTube made by an incompetent filmmaker and narrator who calls himself “The Old Carpetbagger.” He tells the viewer in a hushed, dramatic voice, that Brinkley’s fraudulent medical degree was revoked by none other that Benito Mussolini when Brinkley “visited Germany.” Perhaps, the Old Carpetbagger means Italy. If you are curious, please check it out.
Finally, there is a biographical film available on YouTube that revealed events in Brinkley’s life that disturbed me. It turns out that Brinkley was an avid hunter and loved to slaughter African wildlife. There is footage of Daddy and Johnny gleefully exhibiting everything from hippos and lions to large deep sea marlins caught by the Brinkleys from their yacht. It was enough to make the cat laugh. (My grandmother used to say that.)
I was surprised to learn that Johnny survived his parents, but committed suicide some years ago. Makes me wonder what it was like to be the son of John R. Brinkley, but I think I know all I want to know for now.