A Story of His Life By a Man Who Has Never Gotten Anywhere: Robert Lincoln Watkins, M.D., 1863-1934. The Doc Puts Together a Coats-of-Arms Lantern-Slide Lecture.


In my spare time, as the Democratic Convention was holding sway in New York, an idea struck me, suggested but he coats-of-arms of the different states displayed along Fifth Avenue, for so few seemed to know anything about them.

The idea was to get up a steropticon lecture on these coats-of-arms. I began by writing to the governors of the various states for copies of the coats-of-arms of their states.

One governor’s secretary out West replied that he would refer me to the Adjutant-general’s office. His letter read as if he had never heard of a coat-of-arms, and suspected such belonged to the militia.

Some of the information could be obtained in books, but I wanted the up-to-date information. After much hard labor I succeeded in obtaining the required material.

Finding a good lantern slide maker, and finally a first-class artist, I obtained a set of beautiful colored slides of every state and territory, together with their seals, and the colored flower of every state that had one.

I even started to make slides of foreign countries, but I saw there would be no end to that, so I discontinued it.

[Background: here’s the preface, forward, and notes from the editor of R.L.W.’s memoir; here’s his account of his upbringing through medical school;  here’s when he self-inoculated with tuberculosis and went off to Paris with a charlatan; here’s where he  treated typhoid, learned to dance, theorized, and sutured guinea pigs together; here’s where he contracts cholera and hooks his uncle up with testicular juice; here’s his misadventures in self-publishing while treating a slow-motion suicide-by-drinking; here’s where he hangs out with a magician and a vaudevillian; here’s where he recounts his singing career; here’s his ode to a Fulton Market butcher; here’s where he explains his profound love of music; here’s an account of a hard-partying man named Emrich; here are his escapades with a reporter take him to Carnegie’s house; here’s where he gets rooked by a crook of a partner; here’s where he loses his shirt working on an invention for 15 years; here’s where he travels south during the World War and becomes a DuPont physician who’s present for a mass industrial accident; here’s his description of complications involving his patients and practice; here’s his take on syphilis, polio, avoiding impositions, and the nature of success; and here’s a piece I wrote for New York Press upon first reading the memoir.]

But I had interviews with the consuls in New York, for, as is often said, everything can be found in New York, and at any price, if one will look long enough. So the interviewing of these representatives of various countries was tedious, but interesting, work.

Each nation employed help from its own country. The French consul had French girls and men; the South American consuls, Spanish; Denmark, Danish; Finland; Finns. The Dominican Republic had black natives, as well as a sailor-dressed man in the office as interpreter who spoke bad Spanish as well as English.

It was an interesting study. In the Nicaraguan office, a pretty Nicaraguan girl behind the glass window opening told me the consul was out to lunch, so I would have to wait. I said to her, “Where did your country get its name?” She replied, “From the greatest Indian chief in the whole world.” I said, “Why, they told me that Guatemala had the biggest Indian chief in South America.” She very curtly replied, “It ain’t so. Nicaragua has the greatest.” She spoke “good English.”

There sat waiting here a young native, poorly dressed in sailor clothes, and when the consul finally came in, walking past us with some friends into the inner office, he kept us waiting some time. The boy said, in good English, “This man doesn’t know business. If he wanted to sell bananas, which we raise, he could sell a lot if he did business like an American.” The boy said the consul was just talking foolishness with his friends in Spanish, for we could hear them through the partition.

At the Peru office it was quite different. It was a big office, many rooms, all hustle and bustle. My card was immediately answered by the appearance of the consul in person. To my question he replied, “Yes, sir,” and turned me over to a clerk who showed me a typewritten description of his country, its resources, the history of its coat-of-arms. When the consul came back from the room to which he had retired, he said, “We are a rich country, rich in minerals, and the only one where Palladium Tungsten is mined. Come in any time, or telephone. At your service.”

The Danish consul’s office was a contrast, pretty well up to date, but both the men and the women working there were slower in the movements. The consul went and cut the coat-of-arms, the only one he had, out of a book. It was a loan, and I returned it later. he also gave me the coat-of-arms of Iceland, in which he reminded me that Denmark had an interest – a kind of superficial interest, he gave me to understand, for it is an independent kingdom.


And so it went. One could spend months going around in this way. The Argentine Republic was a good deal like Peru in its snap, but, in my case at least, the office did not live up to its promises – and much of what they said it seemed to me was mere braggadocio. Yet we know it is a wonderful country.

The British consul was very painstaking, but he was not accurate. He made a personal sketch of the coat-of-arms for me, and was a good amateur artist.

But if finished the coats-of-arms of the United States, and gave some lectures on them, with illustrations. Trying to get engagements for this lecture reminded me of the efforts of Joe Norcross, the minstrel singer, who chased Keith’s day after day pursuing promises of forthcoming contracts that were seldom kept. But Joe was used to it, and after a time would land a contract for a whole year on the road.

After getting the slides of the coats-of-arms made, I though I would show them first to an interested lady patient, so, since she lived in the neighborhood, I phoned her that I was coming over to show her something. She replied that she was going to a neighbor’s in fifteen minutes and would not have time. Without saying anything, I picked up my lantern and slides, was over there in five minutes.

In another five, while she was in the kitchen, I had everything set up – and a picture in natural colors of the flower of New Mexico thrown on the papered wall. When she came from the kitchen, the first thing she noticed as she entered the dining room was the cactus. It looked so natural that she at first imagined she had a new figure on her wall paper, and couldn’t understand how it happened.

Then I explained, and the long and the short of it was that she called in her neighbors, and instead of her going to them for entertainment, as had been planned, they were entertained by me. For I went through the whole lecture of 100 slides. She was so pleased that she insisted on my taking regular lecture pay for it, calling it my first exhibition.

As far as my research on the subject extended, I found that the coats-of-arms of the United States contained two things that no other countries had: a five-pointed star, and a sun. These I ferreted out to mean that our progenitors built better than they knew, for to me this means progress, evolution, and Christianity.

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