A Minnesota taxidermist became a self-proclaimed healer. But his 'cures' maimed people
Still in business today, 140-year-old Storey Taxidermy in Duluth was founded by a "chiropractor" who peddled quackery.
DULUTH — At 140 years old, Storey Taxidermy is one of the oldest businesses in Duluth.
Owner Jim Hagstrom, 77, said he doesn’t work as often as he used to, but still makes time to work on mounts every day inside the building at 611 N. Sixth Ave. E., where he first began working when he was just 12 or 13 years old. Growing up in the neighborhood, he was the same age as then-owner George Flaim’s son.
But the son, also named George, would become a Duluth police officer after returning home from the Vietnam War. So, in 1978, the business was passed on to Hagstrom.
“I just kept working here,” he said.
For some, it’s the story of the business’s founder and namesake, Thomas H. Storey, a taxidermist-turned-self-proclaimed healer, that intrigues them.
It was a history Hagstrom wasn’t very familiar with until recently. “Actually, I’ve learned more just going on the internet,” he said.
Writing on his website Zenith City Press , Duluth historian and author Tony Dierckins said Thomas H. Storey was working as a taxidermist in the 1880s in Duluth (advertisements for the shop often said it was established in 1882).
But in 1897, Thomas H. Storey’s son, Thomas J. Storey, took over the business. It was the same year his dad began calling himself “doctor,” Dierckins wrote.
Not long after, the trouble started for the "doctor."
The beginning: Taxidermist turned chiropractor
On May 12, 1899, the Duluth Herald reported the elder Storey was arrested and charged for practicing medicine without a license. The paper described him as as a “‘vitapathic’ physician.” Vitapathy is a “‘religious scientific system of health and life for body and soul’ that is claimed the operate through ‘Spirit Vitalization’ to ‘cure all diseases,’” according to KookScience.com.
“Dr. Storey is charged with administering electrical baths and vapor baths for typhoid fever,” the Duluth Herald reported.
The charges were dismissed, the News Tribune reported the next day.
But it didn’t deter Storey. He continued to pursue dangerous treatments, repeatedly landing him in legal trouble.
But not before he disappeared from Duluth in May 1902, withdrawing $1,100 from the bank and leaving a note for his wife saying, “I have been called away suddenly,” the News Tribune reported.
A day later, the paper said “a telepathic message” told Storey to go to India “to perfect himself in theosophy and occultism, under the tutelage of one of the acknowledged leaders of the cult” who he met at the World's Fair in 1983. As Dierckins wrote, Storey represented Duluth and St. Louis County at the fair, bringing with him mounted Minnesota birds and animals, including a large moose and elk to display.
The next week, the News Tribune reported he had traveled to Seattle, then southern California, and was recovering from an illness.
And finally, nearly a year after his disappearance, the News Tribune in March 1903 published one last follow-up.
Storey was in Los Angeles and Daniel David (D.D.), Palmer, considered the founder of chiropractic, traveled to California to treat him. Storey had in 1901 attended, and possibly graduated from, the Palmer School and Infirmary of Chiropractic.
Palmer treated a dislocated vertebrae in Storey’s back and that supposedly also healed his confusion and memory loss. The adjustment meant his “mental ailment disappeared and he became as mentally sound as ever,” the News Tribune said.
“This is probably the closing chapter in one of the most mysterious cases of disappearance which ever startled the city at the head of the lakes,” the News Tribune noted.
But it was not Storey’s closing chapter.
In a December 1999 article in Chiropractic History, Brian Smith wrote a detailed history of Storey’s life. It recounts his years as a taxidermist, then as a vitapath, in Duluth and then his years in Los Angeles.
While Smith said Storey is credited with inventing the bifid table, “the most ubiquitous of all chiropractic equipment,” he was still using electricity in his treatments and was also using the so-called “mallet cure” and “hanging cure.”
In 1905, a man who sustained spinal injuries after falling off a bridge sought treatment from Storey and got the “hanging cure.” Smith wrote the man “was treated by being suspended by the neck in a harness and being repeatedly struck on the neck” to try to force broken vertebrae back into position.
It was no cure. Instead, it left the man paralyzed from the waist down. Storey was later found guilty and fined $500 for unlawfully practicing medicine without a certificate from California’s Board of Medical Examiners, Smith wrote.
He would again get in trouble for a so-called cure gone wrong. Smith wrote that in 1907, Storey used his mallet and chisel, a cervical adjustment method he developed, on a man with kidney and liver problems. An hour later, the man was dead.
“He was beaten with a mallet. His bones were massaged with instruments of torture and a heavy wooden drill was inserted between the vertebrae of his spine and then pounded with a mallet,” the man’s wife said in a Los Angeles Daily Times article cited by Smith.
The paper compared the treatment to the Spanish Inquisition and chiropractor journals denounced the treatment, Smith wrote.
Storey fled for a bit in Mexico to avoid arrest but ultimately returned, faced a short trial and was fined $500, Smith wrote.
Storey’s remaining years were spent forming a chiropractic school in Los Angeles — a graduate of the school, Charles Cale, would form a chiropractic school there of his own, which is now the Southern California University of Health Sciences — and amassing tracts of land in and around Los Angeles.
He died July 8, 1923, and the fate of his estate took years of court proceedings to resolve, Smith wrote.
Back in Duluth
Meanwhile, as Storey made headlines for his bogus “cures” he developed in Duluth and Los Angeles, his son, Thomas J. Storey, was back in Duluth running the taxidermy business. He also made the news for techniques he developed.
According to a newspaper clipping saved by Hagstrom, Thomas J. Storey began making fish mounts with papier-mache over a sawdust core, inspired by a sawdust ragdoll he found in his yard.
The technique garnered attention from the Smithsonian Institution, Chicago’s Field Museum and the National Geographic Society. The Smithsonian even ordered a 50-pound muskie and 50-pound lake trout from him.
Dierckins said the younger Storey likely died in 1948, the same year Flaim took over the business until he retired in 1978 and Hagstrom took over.
The storefront on Sixth Avenue hasn’t changed much over the years, but its front windows are now boarded up. Hagstrom said it’s because snow cleared from the road is often pushed up right against his storefront and because of a break-in.
Last month, Hagstrom received a $950 grant “for repair and replacement of broken windows and door to improve the look and prevent future damage” from the city’s Love Your Block program.
Hagstrom said he doesn’t do as much taxidermy these days, but still tries to spend some time on it every day. There are customers he’s served for 50 years that still seek him out.
He had no idea that when he started working there as a teenager that he’d still be doing it 65 years later.
“It’s just fun for me,” Hagstrom said.