Dr. Henry S Tanner, a 19th Century Visionary
I just finished reading a little book, Forty Days Without Food, a biography of the fasting exploits of a nineteenth century physician, Dr. Henry S Tanner. I believe that Dr. Tanner was A Great Doctor. In 1877 Dr. Tanner suffered from an ailment known then as gastric fever. It was so severe that he went to the home of another physician and vowed to stop eating until either he got better or died. His friend was certain that he would die. But Dr. Tanner went 42 days without eating and cured his gastric fever.
Was Dr. Tanner a quack or was he a great doctor? Word leaked out of his feat and dozens of physicians wrote letters to newspapers expressing the opinion that it was quite impossible for anybody to go 40 days without eating. The prevailing opinion at the time was that 12 days was about the maximum time a person could survive without food. Tanner was branded as a fraud.
In spite of this Tanner continued to talk about things that were over 125 years ahead of his time. He said the major health problem was that people ate too much. He said that fasting was far more helpful in curing sickness than was drugs.
But most other physicians said he was a crackpot and a fraud. Finally to prove otherwise Tanner arranged for a group of medical doctors in New York to watch him 24 X 7 while he did a 40 day fast. Tanner started fasting with as many as 3 and 4 doctors at once watching him all day and all night. He was weighed every day; they measured every drop of water intake and every drop of urine he passed. The book I read, Forty Days without Food, is a detailed fasting journal of Dr. Tanner’s fasting journey in New York. He lost a total of 37 pounds. Nobody at the time believed this was possible and Dr. Tanner attracted international notoriety for this 40 day fast. On the day that he was to break his fast THOUSANDS of people crowded the streets outside the building he was staying cheering and yelling and screaming. Tanner was a rock star for having accomplished this impossible feat of going 40 days without food.
What is even more interesting was how he broke the fast. According to the journal the first thing he ate was a peach. OK that is not so bad. But he immediately followed eating the peach with the following: During the first 24 hours of the fast he ate something every hour or two including watermelon in large quantities, several pints of milk, apples, several beef steaks, beef tea, and potatoes stewed in milk as well as Hungarian wine and English Ale!
Tanner said everything tasted so delicious; he did not get sick and he gained 15 pounds in 3 days!
Dr. Tanner was a visionary medical scientist of the nineteenth century.
Although Tanner continued to be discredited nobody denied anymore that he had done a 40 day fast. His demonstration helped change the medical practice of force feeding very sick people. Dr. proved he was a great doctor. Tanner promoted the 40 day fast as a treatment model for many illnesses. He was truly a visionary and 135 years later medical science has still not caught up with the vision of Dr. Henry S Tanner.