Besides the Lentell Map, the Bank of Eureka Building and Nealis Hall, one of the most recognizable items in the museum are the pharmacy cabinets. Over the years, they’ve moved around the museum quite a bit, from being in the Victorian Room to standing in front of the tall windows on the east side of the building to now standing front and center in the middle of the Humboldt Made Visitor Center in the foyer of the Museum. They’re a spectacle to see, elaborately carved with dozens of labeled drawers with intricate handles and glass shelves. The pharmacy cabinet is a longtime resident of the museum and Humboldt County and has connections to early immigration to Humboldt county, and early drug stores in the area.
The mahogany pharmacy cabinets themselves were made in France in the late 1890s to early 1900s. Since this was before the Panama Canal and the transcontinental railroad, the cabinets had to be shipped to Eureka from France. Museum records claim that the cabinets were shipped around the Horn of Africa to Eureka. Their first home would be in the Bohmansson Drug Company store at 301 F Street in Eureka, where Old Town Mazzoti’s is now.
Mr. Robert Hugo Bohmansson, the owner of the cabinets and the pharmacy they resided in, was born in Sweden in April 1865. He went to college in Stockholm and graduated from the College of Pharmacy. In 1888 he came to the US and worked in Nebraska and South Dakota. He was part of a larger movement of Swedish citizens during the 1880s moving to the US for work. From the Midwest, he decided to go to San Francisco-at the time, there was no transcontinental railroad so like many other people, he walked across the Plains, arriving on the west coast in 1894. From there, he moved up to Humboldt County in 1901, where he first opened a drugstore in Arcata. It was a roaring success so in 1908 he opened a branch in Blue Lake and in 1910, one on F St. in Eureka, which he purchased from Charles Fitzell. He managed all three drugstores for a time and moved to Eureka about 1910. He only used the finest of products and was frequently asked for advice by other druggists.
Drug stores during this time sold many things beyond drugs to treat various ailments. They sometimes functioned as general stores for personal items like shampoo and soaps. A closer look at the drawers on the cabinets reveal that they contain a variety of herbs and substances, some that are nowadays considered poisonous while others are still used as herbal remedies today. The glass shelves would hold bottles of substances ranging from rubbing alcohol to vanilla along with cannisters of other bulk medicinal substances like cannabis. These drug stores were also the home of the first soda fountains, when soda was used as a medicinal item to treat any number of ailments. As time went on, the drug stores were also able to sell whiskey and wine during the Prohibition era – by prescription to treat ailments ranging from anxiety to influenza.
Nowadays, the Pharmacy cabinet that once resided in Mr. Bohmansson’s pharmacy are stationed in the front of the Museum, as part of the Humboldt Made Eureka Visitor Center. Next time you stop by, take a closer look at the world-traveled cabinets that made a home in Eureka for the last 100 years-and have become a part of the community here at the Clarke Historical Museum.