In the same week that Missouri native Sheryl Crow was suggesting that American consumers reduce their toilet paper consumption to one square per bowel movement, a little pinch of Kansas City’s rectal history was listed for sale on eBay. A seller used the online auction site to sell a “vintage physician’s sample tin” that once contained rectal cones (active ingredients: tannic acid, hydroxyquinoline, menthol and benzocaine) prepared by the staff of the long-forgotten Thornton & Minor Hospital. The empty, pocket-sized blue-and-white tin –- no vintage cones remained -- sold for $9.75, a modest price for a relic of the days when Kansas City was literally flush with clinics for rectal and colonic diseases.
The Thornton & Minor Hospital dated back to 1877 and moved to increasingly larger locations in the 20th century. Founders Dr. T.W Thornton and Dr. William Minor were doing such a kick-ass business that, in the 1920s, they purchased the upscale Lucerne Apartment Hotel at the corner of Linwood Boulevard and Harrison Street. The six-story hotel was turned into a “modern, fireproof hospital of nearly 200 rooms that contains the latest equipment for treating rectal and colonic diseases.”
One of the biggest complaints for patients to the hospital in the years before World War II was hemorrhoids; if rectal cones didn’t help the pain and discomfort, surgery was always an option. Walt Bodine remembers that as a youngster, he would deliver packages from his father’s pharmacy – located in another apartment hotel at the corner of Linwood and Troost – and there would often be three or for patients sitting atop fluffy cushions on rocking chairs on the front porch of the Thornton & Minor Hospital. “That’s why we used to call the place the ‘Cottontail Club’ in those days,” he recalls.
The other big rectal resort in town was further north, at 1000 Paseo Boulevard. Another big brick apartment hotel was turned into the Parkview Hotel & Sanitarium by Dr. A.S. McCleary who treated gastrointestinal diseases there from 1921 to 1924. The next year McCleary moved his operation to Excelsior Springs, and in 1957, the Thornton & Minor Hospital staff also moved there when the two medical facilities were merged. Kansas City’s loss of its two best-known colonic clinics would be a real pain in the ass for patients who couldn’t make it to Excelsior Springs. But there were always rectal cones available in the better drugs stores.
Unlike many of Kansas City’s bigger mainstream hospitals that didn’t make it into the 21st century (Lakeside Hospital at 28th and Flora; St. Mary’s Hospital on Main), the two buildings that lured and cured many a sore behind to its doors are still standing. The old Parkview Sanitarium is now the Jazz Hill Apartments and the former Thornton & Minor Hospital is empty, except for a real estate office on the first floor. For the right price, the building could be turned into condos, lofts or maybe even a nightspot (the Cottontail Club, anyone?). The cushions and the colonic irrigation equipment may be long gone, but the memories can’t be just wiped away.