In my more than twenty years working on Union County history I’ve heard lots of stories. The following is one that is new to me. First, notice the note that this information was received by “long distance telephone” to the Knoxville Journal and Tribune on July 26, 1902. The paper printed in big bold letters titled “Victims of Poisoning - The Forty or More at Maynardville Are All on the Road to Recovery, ” and a sub-title followed saying, “Vendor of the Acid-Poisoned Lemonade Will Not Suffer Prosecution.” This article was sent to me by Joe Stephens, son of the late Nadine Stephens, who was an Anderson County Historian. I’m always glad to receive new discoveries of old history.
(By Long Distance Telephone)
July 25, 1902. The forty or more victims who were poisoned here yesterday by drinking lemonade which had been overcharged with tartaric acid, are today much better and will all probably recover, though J. Warren Carr and two or three others are still quite sick.
The wholesale poisoning was the topic of conversation in Maynardville today. Many of those who were only slightly poisoned and sustained quick recoveries were on the streets today.
As Mr. Carr bears the best of reputation and simply made an unfortunate mistake from which he himself was the worst sufferer, no arrest has been made and none will be made.
Judge Ailor was able to be out today, though he is quite feeble from his lemonade experience. Dr. Shumate and others are out again, considerably the worse off from the lemonade they drank.
Most of the victims suffered greatly until late last night when the emetics [which caused vomiting] and antidotes administered them got to their work. All were affected in much the same manner, with severe pains and cramping of the stomach and bowels. It is regarded as quite fortunate that no deaths have resulted, and the hard work of the physicians who were kept busy the entire afternoon and night is responsible for the recovery of those poisoned.
My first reaction was, “What in the world is Tartaric Acid, and what was it doing in Maynardville?” For the what is it, I visited Okie’s Pharmacy; and Lisa Bailey provided me with the Wikipedia definition: Tartaric acid is a white crystaline diprotic organic acid. It occurs naturally in many plants, particularly grapes, bananas . . . and is one of the main acids found in wine. . . . Tartaric acid plays an important role chemically, lowering the pH of fermenting “must” to a level where many undesirable spoilage bacteria cannot live, and acting as a preservative after fermentation. In the mouth, tartaric acid provides some of the tartness in the wine, although citric and malic acids also play a role.” Now, this is just speculation, but perhaps there was enough demand for the Tartaric Acid for wine making. This was before prohibition when certain spirits could be legally manufactured and sold.
Almost always when we discover more history it raises as many questions as it answers. I did not find a J. Warren Carr in the 1900 Union County census, so this person may have been missed by the census or not have been living in Union County at the time. He was probably related to either the Dr. Willie Carr family or the Dr. John Harvey Carr family. Doctor Shumate mentioned was the dentist, Dr. Ewin Shumate., who had an office on what is now Nave Hill Church Road. What could this celebration have been? Could the tartaric acid been mistaken for citric acid? Did they not have enough lemons and were “stretching” the refreshment with the tartaric acid.
The Judge Ailor mentioned was the Honorable Nicholas Ailor, a prominent attorney born near Maynardville August 22, 1834. Judge Ailor was well educated and taught school for a time before studying law under Col. Evans of Tazewell. He was admitted to the Bar in 1859. He served in the Civil War. Judge Ailor died in 1913 and is buried in Carr Cemetery.
As always I’m grateful to Mr. Stephens for providing the newspaper clipping and to Phyllis Ailor George for providing information about her ancestor, Judge Nicholas Ailor. I look forward to hearing from anyone who can add to this story.