Saturday, March 1, 2008

Uncle Doc

My grandfather, Pop-pop Joslin used to tell us stories of his "Uncle Doc." He was a society doctor in Asbury Park, back at the turn of the last century, he knew Arthur Conan Doyle, he was the first man in town to own a car.

Dr. James F. Ackerman was all that. He was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, to Joseph Ackerman and Susan Reed. His father was a successful provisions dealer. Uncle Doc attended Amherst, but left to pursue a medical degree at Homeopathic College and Hospital in New York City. In 1890, he graduated and spent a year in Vienna. In 1891, he joined the practice of Dr. Bruce Smith Keator. Dr. Keator's health caused him to step down later that year, and Dr. Ackerman took it over.

The son of an astute business man, Uncle Doc inherited a strong business acumen; he was on the board of several corporations, including at least one bank. His efforts led to the creation of Fitkin Hospital in Neptune Township, which is still in operation to this day.

According to my grandfather, Uncle Doc was sitting in a train car at a station in New York City, reading a new book of stories about a fictional detective. Engrossed as he was, he couldn't help but notice an agitated man on the platform outside the train who kept looking in the window at him. A moment later, the man boarded the train and came into Uncle Doc's cabin.

"I say," he said, "I can't help noticing that you're reading that new Sherlock Holmes book, and I was curious to know how you find it." Uncle Doc offered that it was a fascinating story, very original and inspiring.

The man's face erupted into a grin; "Delighted to hear it! Forgive me for my interruption, but I had to know; I wrote it, you see; please allow me to introduce myself, I am Arthur Doyle!"

They quickly ascertained they were both men of medicine, and my grandfather maintained they corresponded off and on, and would occasionally meet up at medical events in New York and Washington DC. ( I have not been able to corroborate this story, but I am working on it!).

He married Ann Rouse in 1896. Annie was the daughter of Martin Rouse of Jersey City, himself an American success story. Rouse started off as a cooper, worked his way up to chandlery, and eventually was a partner in Goulard and Rouse, with offices on Wall Street, Chicago and St. Louis, and served on the board of the Produce Exchange for many years. Rouse's oldest son, John, married Transylvania Ludwig, the daughter of wealthy sea captain and merchant Capt. Joseph Ludwig.

John and Transy had three children together(Transylvania, Wiliam Martin, and Hattie), but the marriage didn't last. Aunt Annie and Uncle Doc took in John's two daughters and son for a time. They gave the girls all the advantages a debutante would expect at that time, and even celebrated the girls' "coming out." They became young Tranny's favorite aunt and uncle, and after she married Stew Joslin, they and their son, Stew Jr., were frequent visitors to 1001 Grand Avenue, Asbury Park. When Stew Jr. had trouble getting accepted at a college, Uncle Doc arranged for him to attend Amherst.

One year at Thanksgiving, my grandfather and some neighbors were discussing first cars, and my grandfather told us about Uncle Doc's car. "It was the first car in town, and the only car in town for several years. I remember they'd put it up for the winter in the barn. Oh, no, you couldn't drive a car in the winter back then: you'd jack it up to save the tires, and empty the radiator, and cover it in blankets to keep the dust off. In that season, he'd use the horse and carriage, which he did most often, anyway, because it was more reliable."

My grandfather also reported that Uncle Doc delivered the illegitimate daughter of Warren G. Harding; a story echoed by at least one of Harding's biographers. While I haven't determined the truth of that, his Amherst biography does indicate that among his achievements, he belonged to the US Secret Service; an odd membership for a doctor!

He died in 1936, and his obituary appeared in the New York Times, including the picture above.

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