Chiro-Picker’s Fresh Pick — Saving the Writing on the Wall: BJ’s Epigrams Gain New Life

Updated Picker Imageby  Todd Waters, aka “The Chiro-Picker” – SpinalColumnRadio featured blogger

You can imagine that as the ChiroPicker, my eyes are always open looking for cool vintage items that represent the history of chiropractic. Sometimes these items are not the dusty, old antiques you’d expect. Sometimes they are not even something you can hold — like stories.  For this particular Fresh Pick installment, and the couple that follow, I want to share some of these finds.

I love the story of Dr. Robert Borer’s search for BJ’s original epigrams.  Epigrams, of course, are pithy sayings or remarks that express an idea or concept in a cleaver and amusing way. To say that BJ had an affinity for them would be an understatement for sure.

Palmer Epigram wallUp to the year of BJ’s death the Palmer School of Chiropractic was covered with these thought-provoking quotes — from the bathroom walls to the sides of the buildings.

All free wall space was fair game.  “Get the Big Idea. All Else Follows” and “The Power that Made the Body, Heals the Body” are just two examples (more here).

However after BJ’s passing, his son David assumed the presidency of the school and had the epigrams painted over in favor of a fresh coat of paint. Most did not survive the Palmer College of Chiropractic’s facelift, but a few did.  One area where the “writing on the wall” still can be seen is on top of the D.D. Palmer Memorial Building (Up’E’nuf).  It was here that the epigrams were actually etched into the roof ledge walls — a technique that was certainly safe from the brush of paint.


But it is perhaps the little known, hidden areas where these unscathed epigrams still remain that inspired me to “collect” this story — a story that ties us to Ann Arbor, Michigan chiropracTOR, Robert Borer. During his years as a student at the freshly painted Palmer College of Chiropractic, he and some other students passionate about chiropractic history led a campaign to bring BJ’s epigrams back to the walls of the school.

“It was a really fun, dynamic time when I was there. There was a lot of remodeling going on – in the process all sorts of walls were being opened up or ceiling panels being removed – exposing long forgotten epigrams that were simply covered up by construction done long ago. Whenever there was a construction crew on campus – I grabbed my camera! “

Epigram Team

The Epigram Team

In BJ’s attempt to creatively utilize wall space to display his favored quotes, he treated those riding up and down the PSC elevator with a dose of memorable and “thot” provoking quotations.  But the epigrams were not, as you might think, on the walls of the elevator — but on the walls of the elevator shaft.

Early elevators were very different from what we are used to today.  The elevators of yesteryear were more like “cages,” allowing riders to clearly visualize the sides of the shaft passing by as they traveled up and down. But when the college swapped the caged, antiquated lifts with solid-walled, modernized elevators, the shaft writings were no long visible to riders and thus were forgotten and virtually entombed.

When the epigram-resurrectionist, Dr. Borer, learned of them, he was granted special permission to ride on top of the elevator to capture them on film to aid in his project.

Borer and his team were able to reconstructed the known epigrams on removable wall hangings that are now proudly displayed in the school halls once again — never to be painted over. In addition, Dr. Borer now makes these signs available for chiropractors to hang in their office walls as well.


These words, after all, are the words BJ lived by and displayed proudly to inspire others for generations to come.

‘Til next time.  — CP

P.S. Inspired in part by BJ’s epigrams, I too, began putting together some of my insights regarding life and chiropractic in witty “pictograms.” And while some encouraged me to call them “Water-grams,” I could not, as one can never begin to approach (let alone share a similar sounding name) the genius behind BJ Palmer and his collection of epigram writings.

The DC Angle:

Thomas Lamar, DC

“Rule Number 9”

This has got to be one of the coolest stories!!!  I absolutely love it — and for a number of reasons.

For one thing, wall writing epigrams allow us to quickly “adjust” our head space.  All too often the negativities and distractions of life get our thinking out of alignment, and thus influence our actions.  And so BJ’s epigrams were thought-provoking “course correctors,” if you will.

restroomsI’ve had a fascination with BJ’s epigrams for some time.  In fact, it’s a subject I bring up whenever I have the opportunity to get an oldtimer behind our mics.  I remember asking chiropractic icon, Reggie Gold, what his favorite BJ Palmer Epigram was.  Without hesitation he stated it was the one that was painted in the men’s restroom: 

“Rule Number 9 — Don’t Take Yourself Too Damn Seriously.”

My first brush with a BJ Epigram, of sorts, occurred in the main hallway of the Palmer West College of Chiropractic campus as a freshly-graduated DC. I was awaiting to take the dreaded oral examination for the California State Licensing Board.  The epigram wasn’t a quote, per se, but was a word:  “Spizzerinctum.”  If I  had known what that word meant, I’m sure it would have calmed my nerves and given me proper perspective before going into the test.  But I didn’t.  And even though no one else I asked knew either, I continued to remember it. Fourteen years later when I began to finally learn and understand its meaning, spizzerintum became my favorite word.  It’s a shame they painted over it.

I love this epigram story because it ties us back to our chiropractic past.  Seeing these epigrams —these quotes — displayed throughout Palmer Davenport really reveals the character of our Developer — acting as his fingerprints about the campus, and yet his echoing voice at the same time.

Knowing that these epigrams were painted over in the name of redecorating, just doesn’t seem right. To see these quotes come out of hiding as the campus was remodeling would have been quite chilling, to be sure.  And then to be given the adventerous-step-back-in-time opportunity to ride atop the elevator to take in the collection of epigrams that had been hidden from human eyes for decades would have been off-the-charts exciting!

But, perhaps, the biggest reason I love this story is that it demonstrates that the efforts of a few can make a difference for the many.  The fact that a group of passionate chiropractors (chiropractic students, no less) — passionate about the underpinnings of our rich chiropractic philosophy and heritage — was not okay with the destruction of these historic markings and decided to do something about it, is inspiring.  They chose to make a statement by standing up and speaking up at the right time — shinning a spotlight on the problem, and, more importantly from a practical standpoint, providing a working solution as well.  No doubt, the fruits of their actions most certainly made a difference in their lives and the lives of chiropractors past, present, and future.  As BJ Palmer would say (and, no doubt, etched on his wall), “We never know how far reaching something we may think, say, or do today will effect the lives of millions tomorrow.”– TL

Dr. Thomas Lamar  loves chiropracTIC and its associated history.  He podcasts, with the assistance of his audio-engineer son, Logan, on SpinalColumnRadio.com from his home studio in Kingston, WA.  Lamar also practices chiropractic in Kingston with an emphasis on family wellness.

PS. Tune in for more about BJ’s Epigrams and to hear Robert Borer’s “elevator-epigram-adventure” firsthand on SCR 169.

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