The American Indians used to call them Medicine Men and in the annals of medieval Dublin they might have been known as Witches or Alchemists. But with the progression of science, names like Apothecary and Pharmacist came into use. But whatever we call the science, the Mushatt family became an institution in the Liberties area in Dublin for over forty years. With their mixtures and preparations, they seemed to cure all the ills of the poor and working classes of the city – they sometimes found their way to the better off and, because the rich had a choice, their beliefs were often stronger than the actual medicine they were taking.
It was 1886 when Harry’s father, a credit draper, came to Ireland from a small town in Lithuania. He settled in Dublin where he married and had a family of five children. They were part of a Jewish community that had started to come to Dublin from Eastern Europe around 1834 to 1880. Louis was born in Dublin around 1903 and Harry was born 7 years later. The medicine making started when the elder of the Mushatt brothers, Louis, got a position as an apprentice or assistant in the Mistear’s Medical Hall or Pharmacy. The Mistear's made a lot of their own preparations and it was this hands-on approach to compounding and putting together of medicines that was to make the Mushatt brothers locally famous. Louis Mushatt qualified as a chemist when he was 21 and it was a few months later that his father started a "chemist shop" at Number 3 Francis Street. The shop was officially established in 1922 where as a boy of 14 Harry would go down and help his brother after school. When Harry was 15 he went on to serve a four-year apprenticeship under his brother.
Remembering fondly his apprenticeship days, Harry recalls when he would ask his brother for more money ‘he would turn around and say ‘sure I served my apprenticeship for nothing - you’re lucky that you’re getting 3 shillings a week. But I washed the floors, I washed the bottles, I cleaned the windows. Whatever donkey work was to be done, I did it.’ Although Louis was 7 years older than Harry, they worked well together each doing his share of the work. Leaving the house in the morning at a quarter to nine, they often didn’t return until eleven at night.
The shop was situated at No. 3 Frances Street - that’s the Thomas St. end and my own vague memory of the shop was when my father took me there as a child. He was a firm believer in the Mushatt’s remedies. Jogging my memory, I'm told that the building was a tenement house with a small ground floor shop of about 12 feet long by 6 feet wide with shelves on the back and a mahogany counter in the middle that took up about 3 feet. In the back room they had the dispensing counter where they kept all their chemicals and potions. The shelves were full of brown bottles with ready-made remedies for quick sale. The front window displayed dozens of Mushatt’s skin soaps with a big painted foot on a card for Mushatt’s foot paste showing the sole of the foot.
Most of their customers were from the tenements in Dublin, particularly those in the Liberties. The people of the tenements who lived in abject poverty went to the Mushatt brothers because they really couldn’t afford a doctor. Because they made up their own medicines, they became known as the ‘fellas with the cures’. They made up to 44 different preparations, each written in a large book which they kept in the back of the shop under lock and key. The shop was never empty, serving up to 300 on a Saturday. The interesting thing was that most of their customers were women but, then again, women did most of the shopping for their men-folk in those days.
They sold all their preparations over the counter and, because of the local peoples' poverty, they often brought with them their own Baby Power bottle (small Irish whiskey bottle) for maybe a penny or tuppence worth of the various mixtures - camphorated oil for a child’s cough or iodine if they had a cut.
Not being able to afford the money for a doctor, the people in the area went to the Mushatt brothers for all their medical help. It was a big part of the business, whole families coming into the shop complaining of various ailments, stomach trouble or skin rash, tooth ache or scabies, but no matter what the complaint was they had a mixture for them:
- Foot paste for removing corns, calluses and warts
- Various lotions and potions for skin problems
- Stomach bottles for flatulence, acidity
- Pale and bloodless – an iron blood mixture
- Teething powder for the baby
- Worm powder for the children
- A sweet oil and ammonia with a little wintergreen for chilblains
While most of their mixtures and preparations had some measure of success, there were several of these ointments and creams for psoriasis and other skin conditions that became very successful.
Now for a hangover they would give you black draft as it was commonly known – a mixture of Senna pods and Epson salts which costs sixpence a draft or two ounces. Harry recalls, ‘this man came into the shop one day and I measured out two ounces for him and mixed it, handed it to him and waited while he drink it down. And then he says ‘if it works I'll come back and pay you and walked straight out’.
Then they had their hair tonic that was a stimulant to make the hair grow and be free of dandruff. Oh yes, the tonic was to grow your hair, which they had some success with. ‘There was this man who used to come in, a bricklayer, and one evening he came in and takes his cap off and says, I want something to make my hair grow. So my brother takes down his hair tonic - now my brother was bald! – and after a few minutes the man says ‘Ill tell you Mr. Mushatt, you use it on your scalp this week and I'll come in on Saturday and if it does you any good Ill buy it.
‘Another night a girl came in for a tuppenny box of face powder. And a half an hour later a little kid was back with the face powder and she says ‘Me sister sent me back with the box of face powder - she wants her tuppence back. So I says ‘Why? Does she not want the powder; is she not going to the dance? ‘She’s going to the dance alright, but the whitewash off the wall will do … the gas has gone out and she wants the tuppence for the gas meter’.
These are just some of the many funny stories as told by Harry Mushatt in an interview he did around 1994 at the age of 83. When Harry retired in 1967, a piece of Dublin folklore went into our history books. The people in the Dublin area had tremendous faith in the brothers and whenever you mention the name Mushatt, they knew it. Nobody else had a name like Mushatt and, as Harry said himself, "I'll tell you, I feel very proud that we had such a good name because my father, God rest him, was anything but a rich man but he said, there’s one thing I'll leave you and that is a good name. Guard your name, your name is worth more than money will ever bring you".
But they still live on in the memory of my generation and in the new products that I notice are now being produced under the name of Mushatt’s No. 9 Skin Care products. Possibly a tribute to Louis and Harry Mushatt for their professionalism and commitment to the people of the Liberties and Dublin.