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History Is Their Passion

Editor’s Note: Randy Heuston is the author of The Story of the Grand Celebration: Commemorating 100 years of Chiropractic and the editor of Streams from The Fountainhead: 100 Years of Palmer Chiropractic Education. He is currently working on a book and other educational materials about the history of Life University.

By Randy Heuston
Steve Troyanovich, D.C., had been a long time on the trail. Now, pulse racing, he stood in the grass at Dubuque, Iowa, looking down at the object of his quest—the unmarked grave of Solon Langworthy. One of the first graduates of D.D. Palmer’s original chiropractic school, Langworthy reportedly coined the now familiar chiropractic term “subluxation.”

Could he place a headstone there, Dr. Troyanovich urged the proprietors of Linwood Cemetery. No, they had decided, not without permission of the deceased’s family, and sorry but nobody knew their whereabouts. But Troyanovich had come too far to give up, so away he went and hired a private detective. At long last they tracked down a Langworthy granddaughter… and hit a brick wall.  For personal reasons, the granddaughter said, the family must insist that the grave remain unmarked.

“I couldn’t let it go at that,” says Troyanovich, who practices in Illinois. “Solon Langworthy in an unmarked grave? His books, articles and exhibits were critical for the Morikubo trial and the survival of chiropractic. Without Langworthy, we might not have any chiropractors.” Then the frustrated Troyanovich had an idea. The 1987 Palmer College graduate appealed to his alma mater, and today on the campus in Davenport, Iowa, in the courtyard outside the building that houses the library and historical archives, stands a headstone honoring Solon Langworthy.

Troyanovich’s passion for chiropractic history is hardly unique. For quite a few in this profession, history is more than a hobby; it is a mission, and it moves them to do more than pick up a little memorabilia here and there. These amateur history buffs trade for artifacts on E-bay, doggedly track down historic sites, volunteer months of their time doing research, write articles accepted by peer-reviewed journals, and sometimes invest sizeable sums of money to protect what they see as a precious and instructive legacy.

PERHAPS THEIR passion isn’t all that surprising, considering that the history of this embattled profession is laced with high drama, fierce conflicts and colorful characters; it’s downright intriguing even to many who aren’t chiropractors. Still, for chiropractors their history is more than just interesting. Some say learning the history enhances their appreciation for chiropractic pioneers who fought so hard—at least 600 went to jail—for the privileges chiropractors now possess. Others say it increases self-awareness; the more they understand their heritage, the more they understand their role as health professionals in the 21st century. Still others say history offers lessons to shape the profession’s future. They cite the familiar cautionary note—attributed to poet and philosopher George Santayana—that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

One of these serious history buffs is Norris Erickson, D.C., another Illinois chiropractor. He recalls volunteering many of his weekends at the B.J. Palmer Mansion, cleaning the knife collection and painting the place. He spent five weekends organizing B.J. Palmer Chiropractic Clinic records, putting them into chronological order to benefit future researchers. He also created a $10,000 endowment that initially turned the historic beacon light back on in the “Up-E-Nuf” tower on the Palmer campus and since then contributes to the upkeep of the Palmer mansion.

“My dad, mom and aunt were all DCs,” Dr. Erickson says, “and that sparked my interest in chiropractic history. Plus I was a packrat as a student and would pick up anything related to chiropractic. Over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of books, magazines and photos. I found other people with a like interest and traded duplicates to add to my collection. E-bay helped also, and others learned of my interest and would give me pieces of history.”

While practicing in Iowa, Myron Brown, D.C., (now in South Carolina) and colleague Gene Zdrazil, D.C., tracked down the location of “Sweet Home.” That’s what the founder of the profession, D.D. Palmer, called the farm where he was raising bees and developing a raspberry hybrid long before he delivered the first chiropractic adjustment to Harvey Lillard in 1895. Drs. Brown and Zdrazil had talked to the author of a book about the Palmers, who thought he knew where the plot was. His recollection wasn’t accurate, so Brown and his friend went on the hunt themselves. “It was fun becoming amateur sleuths,” he recalls about their search several years ago. “It took about a year, including several trips to the area and the search of several courthouses.” The two sleuths believe they finally found the right spot; it’s about eight miles from New Boston, Illinois, and, yes, they put a marker there. For them finding Sweet Home was, well, sweet!  

AGAIN, WHY do things like that? For some like Simon Senson, D.C., a prolific writer on chiropractic history, it’s part of their life’s work. Dr. Senson has filled up his basement with stacks of articles, with more on his computer hard drive, all a bit chaotic, he admits, but manageable. He recently published Success, Health and Happiness: The Epigrams of B.J. Palmer, the fourth book in a series. “It’s a great joy to pull together pieces that have yet to be woven. Without knowing the context from where chiropractic emerged, and without understanding how worldviews shape the profession, we’re in trouble. The greatest thing we can do is to nurture the tenuous links to our roots and grow into something our predecessors would be proud of.

But therein lies a challenge. “We need a lot more written about our history,” says Erickson, “because some people have distorted the truth to fit their own agendas as far back as before 1895. A lot of our history has been written about, but incorrectly, and keeps getting repeated incorrectly.”

Brown totally agrees. “History is extraordinarily delicate, and memories can be fickle. Our profession is riddled with agendas, and much of our history is revisionist.” He cites a case where the late Joseph C. Keating, Ph.D., a long-time chiropractic historian, alluded to another’s opinion that B.J. Palmer and his attorney Tom Morris crafted “chiropractic philosophy” as a self-serving afterthought to win the Morikubo case in 1907. (Shegatoro Morikubo, of Lacrosse, Wisconsin, was acquitted of the charge of practicing medicine without a license.) However, as Brown argued in an article published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Chiropractic Humanities: “Philosophical constructs existed prior to the Morikubo trial.” In spite of those facts, Brown says, the profession’s anti-philosophy camp seized on Keating’s suggestion so that they could undermine the credibility of chiropractic philosophy.

So what is the current state of historical chiropractic knowledge? “The good news,” says Claire Johnson, MSEd, D.C., a professor at National University of Health Sciences, “is that we’re in a much better position than we were 30 years ago. Then there weren’t a lot of scholarly works. Today we have a body of knowledge we didn’t have before.” Dr. Johnson is editor of the Journal of Chiropractic Humanities, the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics and the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine. Along with those journals, she cites other scholarly resources, including the Journal of Chiropractic History, published by the Association for the History of Chiropractic (AHC). “The bad news is that as in other professions the average practitioner doesn’t care about our history or else has a fictional take on it.”    

“I’m afraid that with increased acceptance,” agrees Dr. Troyanovich, “has come increased complacency. I practice on an equal footing with my medical counterparts. As chiropractors we’re beneficiaries of previous sacrifices, and yet many have no idea of the sacrifices made by earlier generations.” That brings him to the danger of not learning what historical truth can teach. “One lesson from our history is that we could get much stronger if we would stop the infighting and work together.”

“ANOTHER LESSON going way back to the time of D.D. Palmer,” adds Dr. Brown, “is that our people have too often abandoned our basic principles and taken the easy path for the sake of remuneration. We’re now paying the price for the 1980’s and 1990’s when so many chiropractors hopped onto the insurance gravy train…. Now we risk losing our professional identity.” 
Johnson says that increased accurate knowledge of history actually can help the profession secure its identity and speak to the outside world with a single voice. “When we have a sense of history, we have a more well-rounded perspective, and we’re better prepared to understand and respect differences and to realize we’re all in this together. One reason we don’t get invited [to help determine the future of health care] is we haven’t resolved our own differences. We need to stop behaving like babies throwing food at each other so that we’re allowed at the table. What’s that expression? If you’re not invited to lunch, you are the lunch.”

And what will it take to further educate the profession about the lessons of its history? The history buffs agree it will take commitment of time, energy and, yes, more money from more chiropractors. “Some of our history has just disappeared or we haven’t found it yet,’ Dr. Erickson says; “it takes money to do research, catalog, store books, maps, artifacts and papers.” Troyanovich adds, “Our history association needs to figure out how to generate more interest, and it in turn needs more monetary support from the professional associations and the chiropractic colleges.” One easy way to personally demonstrate support is to join the Association for the History of Chiropractic, which has an annual history conference, this year held in May at St. Louis. The AHC website is www.history of

Chiropractic history “is really more than a legacy,” says Johnson. “It’s our lineage. As chiropractors we need to understand our past because we’re responsible for our future.”   


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