The Garten Institute

Nebraska newspapers from the late nineteenth century include numerous advertisements for local Keeley hospitals or treatment centers for patients addicted to alcohol, nicotine, and narcotic drugs. Dr. Leslie E. Keeley opened the first Keeley Institute in Dwight, Illinois, in 1879, and by the 1890s every state and nearly every county had a Keeley institute where injections of “bichloride” or “double chloride” of gold (from which the treatment for alcoholism became known as the “Gold Cure”) could work its wonders for the addicted.

Lincoln had its own institute for the cure of alcoholics and morphine addicts, organized by Dr. M. H. Garten.  Dr. Garten, a native of Indiana, was a graduate of Rush Medical College in Chicago. He came to Lincoln in 1883 as an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist, and in 1892 established the Garten Institute at University Place, now a part of Lincoln. S. D. Fitchie, closely associated with the institute, in 1921 described the treatment offered.

“In the treatment they [the patients] were first permitted to drink all the liquor they wanted. The medicine was then injected into their system, producing a terrible nausea like sea sickness which resulted in a horrible dislike for even the smell of any kind of liquors. The many drunken men about the village before cures were effected, created quite a commotion in the college town of University Place, much to the disgust of citizens and annoyance of students of the Nebraska Wesleyan.”

As a consequence of these difficulties and to promote “the sale of territory and [the] establishing [of] institutes in different states,” the Garten Institute was reorganized as the Garten Medical Company and relocated to the second floor of Lincoln’s Lansing Theater building. “The boys who have taken the treatment speak enthusiastically of it,” said Vanity Fair, a Lincoln newspaper on March 26, 1892. “Dr. Garten stated positively that in his remedy there is . . . [nothing] that is deleterious or injurious to the human system when properly used, and in the many cases treated there has been no complaint of impaired eye sight or double vision, loss of memory or mental derangement, or loss of any of the physical powers or other difficulties met with in other cures professing to be the ‘best.'”

Dr. Garten’s remedy enjoyed some success outside Lincoln. Seward had a Garten Institute in 1892 headed by Dr. J. H. Woodward, and Sacramento County, California, had a “Garten Gold Cure Institute Company” in 1894. “Plans are now under consideration to introduce the remedy in Europe,” said Vanity Fair shortly after the institute moved to the Lansing Theater building in 1892. “With the known enterprise and push of the gentlemen interested in the company, Lincoln people will not be surprised to soon see the Garten remedy and Lincoln its birthplace, well known in every family in both continents.” However, these sanguine expectations were not fulfilled.

Dr. Garten continued his medical career in Lincoln, where he was known as one of the city’s most respected physicians, until his death in 1909. During the last ten years of his life he operated a private hospital for the care of his numerous patients. 

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