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“Night Nurse”


“Noctec (chloral hydrate) is a hypnotic used to treat insomnia and to calm patients before surgery or other procedures. Common side effects of Noctec include drowsiness, trouble waking up in the morning, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, and headache.”

Not illegal today, chloral hydrate was still removed from the market in 2012. It was a popular drug during the late 19th century, however, and both widely used and abused. Working families, where both parents were employed, often during the same work period, used it to calm children during their absence from home; in this use it was in a category of over-the-counter- drugs called “Night Nurse”, a cheap though sometimes tragic substitute for child care. I ran across a reference to chloral hydrate recently in the connection, yes, of 19th century architectural history.

Harvey Ellis was among a cadre of 19th century  draughtsmen known for the delineation style (skill at making presentation drawings). Ellis’s colorful yet vaguely documented life invited “invention”, filling in the gaps with, more often than not, over-romanticized bullshit which put purpose to the hazy record we have of his actions and movements. The perpetrator of this was a sometime-banker from the Twin Cities who developed the fiction that Ellis had created a false identity named Albert Levering — about which I wrote a paper titled “Who was Albert Levering and why are they saying all those terrible things about him?” As it has recently been revealed, Harvey Ellis was an abuser of chloral hydrate, which provides an alternate reason for the thin historical record.

I’ll have a bit more to say about drugs of this sort as they were used more generally during the 19th century.

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