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Doctor Riggs and his stomach globules

Friday, March 7, 2014
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The great-granddaughter of a homeopathic physician and pharmaceutical maker from Amsterdam finally has secured one of her ancestor’s signature products, Dr. Riggs’ Stomach Globules for Dyspepsia and Indigestion.

According to Merriam Webster, dyspepsia is pain in the stomach caused by difficulty digesting food.

Anne DeGroff of Amsterdam said she has been looking for the stomach globules for 40 years and finally secured them from eBay with the help of Jerry Snyder, president of Historic Amsterdam League.

John V. Riggs was born in Schenectady in 1839. His father was a printer and publisher of a local newspaper, the Schenectady Cabinet. Young Riggs studied medicine at Albany Medical College and the Buffalo College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Medicine and music dominated his life. After becoming a doctor, he joined a minstrel troupe based in San Francisco as an interlocutor and bass soloist. While on tour in the South though he left the troupe to study yellow fever, which was widespread there.

He came back to the Mohawk Valley, opening a doctor’s office at 29 Market St. in Amsterdam. He married Annie Wilds of Schenectady in 1861.

He founded and directed the Arion Society, an Amsterdam singing group. He was known for singing pieces called “Queen Esther” and “Belzhazzar’s Feast” in performances at the Sanford Hall on West Main Street and the Union Hall on East Main Street.

In 1889 Riggs took a chance. He sold his medical practice and went to New York City to become a professional singer. Alas, Riggs came back within two years, opened a drug store on Market Street and made a living manufacturing medicines, including the stomach globules.

A 1911 newspaper ad for the product stated, “Every man is a rascal as soon as he is ill. At least that was the eminent opinion of the late Dr. (Samuel) Johnson. It is well understood that a morbid and grouchy condition irritates men and women. It’s my liver you say, and you diet, eat new food-stuffs, take quack remedies etc.

“More likely the trouble is with the stomach: not the liver at all. Some one of the powerful fluids that aid indigestion is not performing its duties. Dr. Riggs’ Stomach Globules will give you almost instant relief. Try it and you’ll be surprised with the result. They’re little medicated pellets, easy to carry and easy to take.

“Prepared from Dr. J.V. Riggs’ original formula by the Riggs’ Medicine Co., in the Blood Building. At all leading drugstores. Price 50c. Only genuine when bearing Dr. Riggs’ signature.”

The packaging states the globules are recommended for heartburn and acidity of the mouth and that the product is guaranteed under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

While marketing his potions (also including Dr. Riggs’ Wine of Cod Liver Oil, the great reconstructor), Riggs continued to perform as a singer. He was a member and one-time director of the St. Ann’s Episcopal Church choir. Choir member and poet Emily Devendorf wrote rhymes describing her fellow choristers. Devendorf wrote of Riggs that “his voice is deep and tremendous strong, and without him, we do not so well get along.”

Annie Wilds Riggs died in 1909 and John died in 1917. The Recorder noted that Riggs provided the local paper with daily Amsterdam temperature statistics for 20 years. Husband and wife are buried at Fairview Cemetery.

The doctor died Thanksgiving eve and Thanksgiving night his son James S. Riggs carried on the family musical tradition. The younger Riggs conducted the Liberty Bond Vocal Club at a concert that raised $150 to make life easier for Amsterdam soldiers who had been drafted into the U.S. Army.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or bobcudmore@yahoo.com.

 
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