Chiro-Picker’s Fresh Pick — Composing the BJ Palmer Mansion

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

From the moment you walk in, you are overcome by a feeling of heaviness. For the Second Empire structure recognizes no other time than the period it housed its master, Dr. BJ Palmer.

Those that have had the opportunity to visit the BJ Palmer Mansion — which sits on the south end of the block of buildings on Brady Street that make up the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa — quickly recognize the richness to our past that this piece of chiropractic history affords.

BJ Palmer Mansion 1920 framed

I’ve been to the mansion twice myself and have attempted to photograph every nook and cranny — an impossible and overwhelming task, because there are just too many fascinating items.

Amidst the amazing collection of antiques, you are drawn to the stimulating color schemes of each room, while your attention is drawn to the giant-sized chess sets in glass cases.  Then you notice the giant tree trunks arising from floor to ceiling, stained in glossy ebony finish.  Carved Elephants make their way around the circumference of the trunks with limbs stretching across the ceiling where an RCA radio dog perches and looks down at you.  Colorful, lit lanterns also hang from these branches, glowing and showing off the same color tapestry of the room.  It truly is an experience.

I find that I can add to this experience when I revisit the mansion through someone else’s eyes, enabling me experience it anew. I’m always curious to see what items of interest capture their eyes. Invariable, we  end up taking photos of the same things, but there are times when someone captures a more artistic or exciting perspective than I had originally witnessed.  And then there are times of pleasant surprise when their lens captures a little statue or treasure that I had completely overlooked.

In some of my recent Chiro-Picker Fresh Pick articles, I have showcased some lesser-known stories I have collected that tie us to our chiropractic past.  To round out this Fresh Pick Story Series, I recently came across an Australian chiropractor, Dr. Joe Ierano, who uniquely shared his mansion experience in a story… of notes — but not just any notes.  After visiting the Davenport residence, he wanted to express and share the magic of his experience through the notes of musical arrangement.  His original composition entitled Mabel’s Mansion really captures, in my opinion, the wonderment and amusement of the BJ Palmer (and yes, Mabel Palmer) Mansion.

Take a listen to his instrumental offering with the player below (or get it here)  and peruse the great gallery of photos he caught with his lens (here), and see if it brings you back — if you have been so fortunate — to your first visit.  And if you have never been, may it make you feel as though you have.

[The slide show below of the BJ Palmer Mansion is a compilation highlighting photos borrowed from both Todd Waters and Dr. Joe Ierano.  Check out their complete collections by clicking on their names. — TL]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When you visit this home that now occupies a spot in the National Register of Historic Places,  you are literally stepping into BJ’s world — experiencing the same sensations as he.  The beautiful, woodwork of the house smells rich with the history it absorbed.  The old woodwork presents a dark and striking silhouette as it is illuminated from the light that beams through the home’s high windows. Personal photographs of BJ, wife Mabel, and son David are abundantly seen throughout the house. Among the photos, you are witness to an array of BJ’s belongings collected from his “round the world” experiences. It is quite astounding. It literally is a plethora of sensory overload, living up to everything I have heard about it.  And yet I can’t help but think, that as amazing as it is, it would be but a mere backdrop if one were in the presence of the colorful man who once occupied it:  the one and only “B.J. of Davenport.”

‘Til next time.  — CP

The DC Angle:

Thomas Lamar, DC

“To See BJ! Pull Latch & String.”

A Little Bit of Heaven 2That’s what the sign said next to the Palmer Mansion’s back door that led out to the sunny courtyard of their word-renown gardens referred to as “A Little Bit O’ Heaven.” Visitors from far and wide would make the trek to experience that “little bit of heaven” in what was once Davenport’s most popular tourist attraction.

Construction of the contemplative gardens was initiated by BJ in 1923 during his recovery of a nervous breakdown. He and wife Mabel took up adventures of world travel to escape the rigorous stresses of running the PSC and would bring back all sorts of collectibles, artifacts, and statues. From the artistic to the religious — from the mythological to the completely esoteric — if it attracted the aesthete in Palmer, he was sure to haul it back for display.

Palmer’s gardens were really an extension of the Mansion and the way in which they were decorated was no different.  Live alligators in the pond, a forty-foot waterfall in the green house, taboo icons of fertility cults, and a 10-foot-high-3-ton-bronze Japanese buddha all coexisted amongst the cobblestone walks and lush foliage.

To date, I have not personally visited the Palmer Mansion.  Although it is on my bucket list.  Unfortunately, I understand that a large part of his A Little Bit O’ Heaven was destroyed and dismantled in 1981 to make way for expansion and of the college (both for in terms of physical space and wanting to be seen by medicalized outsiders as more scientific and legitimate). A number of pieces were hidden away in the mansion’s basement. Too bad many are quick to cast off some of the most fascinating parts of our profession’s heritage as an embarrassment.

I most certainly enjoyed experiencing the mansion through the Picker’s article and the lens and musical composition of Dr. Joe Ierano.  I equally enjoyed stepping back in time to take in the Palmer grounds through this website tour of A Little Bit O’ Heaven. (more on the gardens) (Todd’s photo collection of the gardens)

Here is my favorite picture of the gardens.

Little Bit of HeavenI like it for a number of reasons.

One reason is that this is the pond were BJ’s live alligators were kept in the summertime. Recall Dr. Gary Street and I discussed how they overwintered them in the mansion basement on SCR 44!  It was Dave’s job (BJ’s son) to clean up after them — lest the stench waft into the living quarters.

I must admit the Seattleite in me got pretty excited (and it’s the second reason I like this picture) when I found out that Palmer purchased the quartet of Alaskan totem poles seen in the right of the photo from our local, Seattle-based Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.  (Whoo Hoo!!! Another Washington State Chiropractic History Connection!)Pull to See BJ

But, perhaps, the coolest part of the this photo has to do with the sign by the door:

“To See BJ! Pull Latch & String.”

Remember that in its heyday, A Little Bit O’ Heaven and the Palmer Mansion was a very popular tourist attraction, known the world over. It would not be unlike BJ, the Developer of the grand profession of Chiropractic, to part the door’s curtain when summoned …and make a theatrical appearance!

So when time allows, I plan on packing up the Lamar Bus to head to the “Mansion on the Hill” that overlooks Davenport to relive a bit of history. I hear admission is $5 to tour the first floor, but that chiro-history buffs like myself might want to pony up the Ben Franklin necessary to check out the other parts of the house — certainly a “must do” on my list.  But what I really want to do is “pull on the latch and string” to see BJ!

Todd… once this Spinal Column Radio thing wraps up, I think I just may have the perfect job for you.  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.

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