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Medicine: The Old Blood Stream

2 minute read

The author of Huber the Tuber, a Story of Tuberculosis, had a new one on the bookstalls: Corky the Killer, a Story of Syphilis (American Social Hygiene Association; $1). The author (and illustrator) was Dr. Harry A. Wilmer, a young scientist who took five degrees in eight years at the University of Minnesota. His book is a slightly bawdy blend of fact & fancy that seeks by cartoons and comic-strip dialogue to tell about the syphilis spirochete and how it works.

Villain of the tale: Corky, a dark-visaged spirochete 1/3000th of an inch tall, with a corkscrew body, a nose like a golf tee and spindly legs somewhat less hairy than those of Popeye’s Alice, the Goon. As leader of the syphilitic saboteurs, he is Mayor of Chancretown, whose civic anthem is Down by the Old Blood Stream. At the Royal Gorge Café (where the population doubles hourly), his constituents sing:

With a one, two, three and a one, two, three,

It’s a great convenience, as you can see

To be able to double indefinitely.

When bloodhounds (antisyphilitic “magic bullets”) are set upon Corky, he realizes that he must make a mad dash through the body, decides that the quickest way is to get into the heart and get pumped around. So he latches on to the first blood cell that floats by and puts an outboard motor on it. At Mucosa, where he finds his cohorts blasting out a skin eruption, he embarrasses them by using the naughty, half-forbidden word, syphilis. He is reminded: “We don’t mention the word among ourselves, and brother, we get around.”

Corky, finally tracked down, is carried off to court for trial. When a lawyer asks him: “Where.were you on the night of September 21st?” he blushes, refuses to talk. Eventually he is dragged off to the Soap and Water Chamber of Torture, where he is scrubbed to death.

The moral of Dr. Wilmer’s story: syphilis can be cured if caught early and treated adequately. But the author’s deft cartooning somehow defeats his lofty medical purpose. Corky emerges as such a dashing, ingenious little cuss that perverse readers may find him the hero of the piece.

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