Dr. Howard Markel writes a monthly column for the PBS NewsHour, highlighting momentous historical events that continue to shape modern medicine. He is the director of the Center for the History of Medicine and the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan and the author of “The Secret of Life: Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick and the Discovery of DNA’s Double Helix” (W.W. Norton, September ’21).
Health Jan 19Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest mystery was his death
A man was discovered lying in the gutter, confused, bedraggled, and under the influence. Shabbily dressed (in someone else’s clothing, as it turned out), Edgar Allan Poe was in dire need of medical assistance.
Health Dec 17How a strange rumor of Walt Disney’s death became legend
When you hear "Disney on Ice," you may think of the wildly popular ice shows featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse and others skating in hockey arenas across the nation. But there's also the disturbing urban legend that Walt Disney’s corpse…
Health Nov 11The medical story behind Thomas Eakins’ gory masterpiece
It is difficult for the 21st century observer to imagine the shock and revulsion Thomas Eakins provoked with both "The Gross Clinic" in 1876.
Health Oct 22The medical mystery that helped make Thomas Edison an inventor
Deafness allowed Edison to shut himself off from “all the meaningless sound that normal people hear.” But what caused his deafness is still debated by doctors and hearing experts to this day.
Health Sep 26George Gershwin’s too-short life ended on a blue note
The cause of his untimely death was most likely glioblastoma, the same type of brain cancer that killed Senators Edward M. Kennedy in 2009 and John McCain this September.
Health Aug 16Elvis’ addiction was the perfect prescription for an early death
Like so many rock stars, Elvis employed an all-too-willing physician to feed his addiction and hasten his death.
Health Jul 23How a hotel convention became ground zero for this deadly bacteria
From July 21 to July 24, 1976, more than 2,000 members of the Pennsylvania chapters of the American Legion attended their annual state convention at a Philadelphia hotel. By Aug. 15, 182 Legionnaires who attended the convention were ill with…
Health Jun 29The brilliant brothers behind the Mayo Clinic
Although Will Mayo rose to become an assistant in surgery and a demonstrator in anatomy at Michigan, one of his professors told him he would never succeed in medicine.
Nation May 05How Nellie Bly went undercover to expose abuse of the mentally ill
Nellie Bly's investigative work became a classic in the annals of psychiatry and a cogent warning against inhumane treatment of the mentally ill.
Health Apr 12Franklin D. Roosevelt’s painfully eloquent final words
FDR’s health finally gave out after years of carrying the weight of the United States, and ultimately the free world, on his muscular shoulders.