I commute to a university in a rural area, and on the way, I pass many old barns and farms with horses and hay bales. It is a beautiful drive, one that takes me all the way up the shores of the Great Salt Lake and through a canyon that makes me feel closer to the skies. The canyon turns colors in the fall and is sometimes treacherous because of blizzards, but the beauty of the area always makes up for that. Just a few weeks ago, as I drove through some snow flurries in that canyon, I saw a red, heart-shaped balloon fly through the air and the snow. It must’ve escaped during Valentine’s Day, and it happened to cross my path that day.
After I leave the canyon, I enter a large rural valley. About halfway through that valley and to the university, there is a remarkable barn that stands out above all of the others; there are many. This one, weathered and brown, has words on the side of it.
These words are curious to me. What exactly is a woman’s tonic? Who is Dr. Pierce? What is the history of this old barn? Why do the owners continue to maintain its antiquated message? I’m glad that they do, but I had so many questions after driving past it so many times.
I finally stopped to take pictures. As I pulled off of the highway onto a side road to do so, I came to a small parking area with a plaque. It explained the story of the barn and the mystery was solved.
Apparently, the barn was painted during the Depression to promote Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce’s products. He was borne in Starke, New York, on August 6, 1840. There is some doubt as to whether he was an actual doctor, but the Woman’s Tonic was supposed to cure diseases caused by “feminine complaint.” The tonic contained Lady’s Slipper root, Unicorn root, Blue root, Oregon Grape root, and Viburnum. The original formula may have also contained opium and alcohol. The plaque says, “According to the locals, it contained ‘a baby in every bottle.'”
The barn was not Dr. Pierce’s. It belonged to Lovenus and Mary Olsen, who received $25 for the initial painting and $10 annually for rent. When the barn fell into disrepair, members of the community raised money and donated time to restore it in 1998.
I am glad I stopped to read the plaque, an Eagle Scout project of a local boy. I wouldn’t have known was there unless I stopped. I’m also glad I finally got some pictures of it.