WellesleyWeston Magazine


Launched in 2005, WellesleyWeston Magazine is a quarterly publication tailored to Wellesley and Weston residents and edited to enrich the experience of living in two of Massachusetts' most desirable communities.

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Page 73 of 211

it was an unheard-of revelation. Chief Surgeon Dr. John Collins Warren spoke for the phalanx of doctors observing the procedure, exclaiming, "Gentlemen, this is no humbug!" The Boston Advertiser called it "the greatest boon to humanity that ever originated in Boston." Here the story becomes murky. Other dentists and doctors began coming forward, accusing Morton of stealing their ideas. Three claimed that they were the first to demonstrate the use of anesthesia, and that they, not Morton, should be wearing the "conquest of pain" crown for which he was receiving national accolades. Horace Wells, a Connecticut dentist for whom Morton had worked, claimed to have used nitrous oxide in 1844 to complete 12 pain-free dental surgeries. However, in an attempt to replicate the results in a 1945 demonstration for Harvard Medical School students, he had adminis- tered an inadequate dose of the gas, and the experiment had failed. Dr. Charles Jackson, head of a chemical research laboratory in Boston dedi- cated to discovering an anesthetic drug, asserted that he was the one who had first suggested to Morton the use of sulfuric ether as an anes- thetic. And Dr. Crawford Long of Georgia advanced the strangest claim of all: He described attending "ether frolic" parties, where participants inhaled sulfuric ether recreationally. Noticing the drug's numbing effects at these gatherings, Long claimed to have successfully used ether on a patient to remove a tumor — pain-free — in 1842. There were no witnesses, however, and he neglected to publish his findings. Morton spent much of his life dodging these allegations, and was regarded as somewhat of a scoundrel. Michelle Marcella, present-day manager of the MGH Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation, explains that the competing claims eventually found their way to Capitol Hill: "Congressional hearings were held on the subject of who should receive credit, and [the results] upheld Morton as the discoverer." And so, despite this controversy, history has awarded the Wellesley dentist the title of "founder of anesthesia." The Paintings: Robert C. Hinckley Two artists, proficient in producing large oil canvasses, have helped to cement Morton's fame by gloriously brushing him into the public spot- light. The first was Robert C. Hinckley, born in Boston seven years after Morton's historic demonstration. Hinckley spent 17 years of his youth studying portraiture in France, where he exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1882, and at one time shared a room with another promising pupil — John Singer Sargent. At age 30, Hinckley returned to America, hoping to bring to life on canvas the medical miracle—now called "Ether Day" —that had occurred in his native city nearly four decades earlier. 72 W e l l e s l e y W e s t o n M a g a z i n e | s u m m e r 2 0 1 6 D I A N E S P E A R E T R I A N T The Ether Dome. The historic surgery with the first use of ether took place near to the podium. The Prosperi oil on the wall depicts the proceedings Dr. William T. G. Morton

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