Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fasting & Premature Burial

Fasting Expert Dr. Henry S. Tanner

            Long Beach had its own health guru in the person of Dr. Henry S. Tanner .  Believing there was a deeper meaning to the Bible’s account of Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert, it was Tanner’s belief  Jesus was trying to show mankind the health benefits of fasting.  In 1877 Dr. Tanner fasted forty-two days after experiencing what he and another doctor diagnosed as low gastric fever.  During that time he carried on his daily activities and consumed nothing but water.  At the end of ten days of fasting the symptoms disappeared; he gained strength, but he continued the "experiment" for another 32 days. The outcome was so surprising and successful that his notoriety spread and in 1880 he repeated his "experiment" again in New York, this time abstaining from water for 41 days.  On August 7, 1880, he finished his fast and proceeded to devour a peach, and then a forty-five pound watermelon, regaining nine of the thirty-six pounds he had lost within 24 hours, and the rest of the 86 pounds in another eight days.
           Dr. Tanner was so popular that people flocked to Long Beach from all over the country to take his treatment. Even Mark Twain in his 1897 book  Following the Equator mentioned Dr. Tanner in passing: "I think that the Dr. Tanners and those others who go forty days without eating do it by resolutely keeping out the desire to eat, in the beginning, and that after a few hours the desire is discouraged and comes no more."  
            In March 1908, Miss Etta Priscilla Grove traveled all the way from Chicago to fast under the guidance of Dr. Tanner.  Tanner believed fasting rid the body of toxins that caused disease and sapped a person’s energy.  Miss Grove had been experiencing a lack of stamina and came to Long Beach to seek Dr. Tanner’s cure.  She maintained her fast for the entire forty days, dropping from 123 to 104 pounds, and claimed she had never felt better.
            Not all were up to doing the entire forty days.  Mr. and Mrs. E.W. Elder of Pasadena fasted only fourteen and ten days respectively, under the direction of Dr. Tanner.  Both sought relief from stomach trouble.  Mrs. Elder stated the fast had an entirely different effect upon each of them.  She experienced sleeplessness and nausea,  had  little desire for food,  however the headaches which plagued her disappeared entirely.  Mr. Elder had no problem sleeping and felt his lumbago and rheumatism had lessened.  He told the Long Beach Press about his experience in the September 25, 1908 issue:

      “The story that some people tell of losing all desire for food after a fast of a few days is entirely contrary to what I feel.  I could eat a generous portion of a chicken right now.  It takes will power to fast, but I am thoroughly convinced that it has done good in my case and I believe and hope I will be able to keep it up long enough to cure my ailments.”

            In May 1909, the famous Dr. Tanner had ten people fasting under his direction at his Long Beach clinic.   Among them was E.P. Smith, of Los Angeles, who had gained fame by writing 19,000 words on the back of a government post card.  Guy H. Parkinson of 642 Pacific Avenue in Long Beach, was also under Tanner’s care.  On May 18, 1909, Parkinson broke the world’s fasting record set by Tanner, by abstaining from food for 43 days.  What was remarkable was that Parkinson, a house mover, worked at his strenuous job almost every day of the fast without suffering loss of stamina or energy.   Parkinson had been having trouble with his stomach, and felt “out of whack.”  He tried a great many things, but found no relief.  He went to Dr. Tanner and took his advice on fasting and along the way vowed he would break the world’s record.  Tanner, however, claimed his fasting record of 41 days in 1880 still stood.  He had also abstained from water (making it a pure fast), while  Parkinson drank water three times a day.  By July 1909, Tanner's notoriety had spread to such an extent that he opened a fasting hospital in Los Angeles, though he continued to make his headquarters in Long Beach at 416 Pine Avenue.

Dr. Tanner & Premature Burial
            Dr. Tanner was interested in other things besides fasting—such as premature burial.  Others in Long Beach were concerned about being buried alive and wrote Tanner for guidance.  In the Long Beach Press of March 31, 1908, Tanner responded.  He said he was considering forming a premature burial society that would be mainly educational, teaching people not to be too hasty in burying people.  He told of an undertaker from San Bernardino embalming a man who noticed the body beginning to perspire.  His embalming had progress too far for him to stop, and the more he embalmed, the more the body perspired.  He finally finished his work but confessed to Tanner that the man had been buried alive. 
            Dr. Tanner used the story of Rip Van Winkle to stress that in present society Van Winkle would have been prematurely buried.  In England, Dr. Tanner told the newspaper, a body was kept six days before being buried, and this prevented, in many instances premature burial.  Tanner felt this was a good idea which America should adopt.
           Tanner, born in England in 1831, died in San Diego on December 28,1918.  He was buried six days after his death, no sign of perspiration noted.