Skip to main content

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts was not only America’s first garden cemetery and became the final resting place for many famous Americans, but it has also been the setting for ongoing conflicts between rivals. One of these involved William Morton and Charles Thomas Jackson—at the time, one living and one dead.

In the nineteenth century, surgeons tended to take the moral view that pain was God’s punishment for sin. These doctors took pride in the ability to execute complicated procedures quickly and they had little interest in using laughing gas or ether in their practices as a way of reducing pain in their patients.

On the other hand, dentists at this time were largely self-taught and they attempted to attract new patients by making dentistry less painful. In Hartford, Connecticut, Horace Wells and William Morton were partners in “mechanical dentistry”, a practice which specialized in replacing rotting teeth with dentures.

Morton, who had been a clerk, printer, and salesman, had enrolled in the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, but left without graduating. He went to Hartford to study under the dentist Horace Wells.

Morton photo 447px-WTG_Morton_zps1fc28a35.jpg

Morton is shown above.

In 1844, Horace Wells found that nitrous oxide—generally known as laughing gas—could be used to make dental extraction relatively painless. He tried to convince other doctors and dentists to incorporate this into their practices, but failed. In 1848, he committed suicide, being depressed and addicted to sniffing ether.

In 1843, Morton married Elizabeth Whitman. Her parents strongly objected to Morton’s profession and agreed to the marriage on the condition that Morton study medicine. Morton entered Harvard Medical School, and once again dropped out before graduating. While at Harvard, however, he had attended the chemistry lectures of Dr. Charles Thomas Jackson. Jackson introduced Morton to the anesthetic properties of ether. Ether was the main ingredient in toothache drops which could be applied to teeth topically before extraction.

Thomas photo Jackson_Charles_Thomas_zpsa3ff3046.jpg

Jackson is shown above.

Morton was determined to find a painkiller which he could use in his dental practice. He decided that he could get a more controlled effect if the patients inhaled ether vapors. He also realized that he would have to purify the ether vapors. As a result he created what he called Letheon Gas.

Following a successful painless tooth extraction with the use of Letheon Gas in 1846, Boston surgeon Henry Jacob Bigelow arranged for a demonstration of the new anesthetic at the operating theater of the Massachusetts General Hospital. At this demonstration, Dr. John Collins Warren removed a large neck tumor with no pain to the patient.

Morton and Ether photo 800px-Morton_Ether_1846_zps33840d82.jpg

The painting shown above depicts Morton administering ether to a patient.

While it was widely known that Letheon was actually ether, Morton obtained a patent for Letheon. With this action, Morton’s old mentor, Dr. Jackson, claimed that he had first come up with the idea of using ether as an anesthetic. For the rest of their lives these two men would be locked in an acrimonious battle for fame and fortune.

Morton died in 1868 and was buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery. His supporters erected a memorial at his grave which credited him as the discoverer of anesthesia.

Mount Auburn Cemetery was also a place for the living and throngs of people came in for outings, walks, and a quiet lunch. According to one story, Jackson was walking through Mount Auburn one day when he happened upon Morton’s grave and monument. According to some people, Jackson was drunk and threw a major fit. Some people feel that this is the event that drove him into insanity. He died in 1880 in the McLean Asylum in Somerville, Massachusetts and was buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Fri Oct 18, 2013 at 11:11 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site