From the Feb. 3, 1956 edition of the Gazette:

You get a sense of history and the continuity of events by perusing the files of newspapers, which can be gained nowhere else in quite the same way.

In fact just outside the house which now contains the Gazette’s side door, in 1881 a drama was reaching a climax, with the published intention of laying out the way known as Davis Lane, an aftermath of heady controversy between the town and Mrs. Octavia Backus Davis, widow of David Davis of Davis Academy fame. She kept placing obstructions in the way of travel along the sandy little road, while the town as promptly removed them. Note, though, that Octavia really had the last word, for her name is perpetuated in one of the shortest and most charming of Edgartown streets.

And speaking of that continuity once more, the mail service was dressed down a century ago in a way reminiscent of the present, and with perhaps less reason than in some late years of steamship trouble, for the Old Editor spoke severely at a time when ice and snow were plaguing the good old steamers. He surmised that the mail contractor “may have gotten locked up among the mail bags,” with further unsympathetic comment of the kind.

And then — how familiar this sounds — Tisbury was in a quandary about its school situation half a century ago. It had 211 pupils in the public schools and didn’t know what to do next.

Clark’s Sweet Balm, around which the jingle and the article are framed, was a product that was well known on the Island three-quarters of a century ago. In occasional old houses a bottle comes to light even today, bearing the label which sets fourth the miraculous qualities of this cure-all. No one remembers much about it, and probably few people realize that it was made in Vineyard Haven, in the down-Neck section, known then as Frog Alley.

William Clark, the discoverer and manufacturer, was a type of man who was common enough on the mainland in his day but a rarity on the Island. What he made his balm from no one knows, and the miracles which he claimed for it can only be guessed at from the mention in the jingle. Clark’s method of promoting sales was the old, time-honored “tail-board” medicine show variety, altered to better fit his community. For while the traveling peddler of snake-oil and bitters would stand at the tail of his wagon while a comedian played guitar and sang ballads, Clark hired a hall, literally, and put on a full-length program of entertainment to draw the crowd. Having caused a number of people to assemble, he then peddled his “balm” to the gathering. As has been explained by old inhabitants, the words which follow were sung by his entertainers, accompanied by music, before the sale began.

There is in Frog Town City
At the lower end of this town
A man who lives in a cottage
And he manufactures his balm.
He was born in Mattapoisett
So many years ago
And the good he is going to do
The folks, he wants them all to know.

Now if any are afflicted
With colds or lung complaints,
Just try a bottle of this balm or else, you’ll join the saints.
And if you have tried medicine
And everyone has failed
Just send this man a quarter
And you will get a bottle mailed.

The next, his tried assistant
Brave Henry now appears
Who has worked on this magic balm
For almost eleven years.
And now it is completed
And before the winter is o’er
The croup it will be busted
And consumption be no more.

There is one more thing
We would like to say about one Mr. Swift
Who had a cough for nine long months
And toward his grave did drift
And all the folks around the Neck
Thought he was gone under
He took one bottle of this balm
And knocked it all to thunder.

There’s nothing if not adventure in driving through the main section of Vineyard Haven these days. It’s a cold day indeed, or a hot one, or a sunny one or a foggy one, which doesn’t find some barrier to passage other than the bumpety-bump road which is the present price of the Great Drainage Project. For quite a while the First National corner was shut off from the world while operations proceeded.

Some day this months’ long project will be finished, just as Edgartown’s much less ambitious one was and as Oak Bluff’s bulkhead work is, and the highways will be velvet smooth again, and the summer people will praise our roads, not knowing what we went through in the dark days of fall and winter to make ready for their coming.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox