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HEALERS I HAVE KNOWN

A Passion for Healing

When the money didn't matter...and when it did.

On December 14, 1941, the Chicago Tribune printed a front page story describing the arrest of Dr. Joseph Liss for “practicing Naprapathy without a license”. The article was part of a series  written by undercover reporters posing as patients visiting “quack” doctors. It goes on to describe how Dr. Liss wrapped this “patient” in an electric blanket and then advised her not to eat meat or fried foods. “Meat kills more people than bullets” the Tribune quoted Dr. Liss. Even though Dr. Liss was a doctor of naturopathy (DN) and a doctor of chiropractic (DC) his actions were considered so controversial at the time that he was eventually sentenced to six months on a prison farm for violation of the state medical practices act.

Dr. Liss was part of a subculture of alternative healers in Chicago who practiced a potpourri of healing techniques from all over the world. They shared a passion for healing and, back then, money was not so important.
When I met “Doc” Liss in the mid-1970s he owned a very small health food store on Devon Avenue. Back then, such stores were rare and usually run by dedicated individuals with a sense of a mission. Doc was no exception. He had been on a mission his entire life to get society to wake up to the damage that was being done. He had been a “Wobbly” (a member of the Industrial Workers of the World) in the 1930s. He had also helped organize labor unions until some hired thugs threatened to hang him. But Doc’s real calling was that of a healer.

Doc had been a vegetarian since before World War I. His life was dedicated to healing “suffering humanity”, all those who unnecessarily died prematurely. He would tell anyone who would listen that an unhealthy diet can cause cancer and heart disease, but only a few cared to listen. That idea seemed outrageous throughout most of the twentieth century.

His “practice” was more like a country store than a doctor’s office. Customers would leave money by the old register, or a note explaining what they owed. Doc lived as simply as a monk with a bedroom the size of a walk-in closet in the back of the store. Besides his few clothes, his only possession was a small clock radio. In the late morning Doc could be heard singing along with the operas.

I first went to Doc’s store because in the 1970s health food stores were one of the few places you could buy yogurt. We became friends and Doc successfully treated me for digestive problems. He put me on a cleansing diet consisting of daily enemas, fenugreek, soups and Doc’s “special compound” tea.  Doc refused to accept payment, but he did agree to let me help out at the store.

One day a bright, shiny new sedan pulled up in front of the store. A husband and wife in their fifties came in for some of Doc’s free advice. When they left, Doc observed, “He takes better care of his car than his body.” Doc’s remark struck deep into my consciousness. I realized that I usually did treat my car better than I treated my body. I would never consider putting cheap oil into a new car, but I wasn’t always as careful about what I ate.

One morning while I was working, the door burst open and in came a very tall man in his twenties, bent over and grimacing in severe pain. He was supported on both sides by friends who brought him to the rear treatment room which was right next to Doc’s bedroom. About two hours later the man walked out unassisted, bought a few items and said he felt 100 percent better. Doc emerged shortly thereafter and when I asked how he performed that miracle he laughed and said, “Elimination and purification—that’s all there is, Bob, that’s all there is.” When I questioned him further about what had happened, it turned out that Doc also used an old electric blanket to heal people. There was something about the coils in the blanket that soothed musculoskeletal pain. Doc told me that they quit making that type of blanket years ago and he only had one left.

A few years later Doc tripped and fell, fracturing his thigh bone. He was operated on, but never fully recovered, although he said the surgeons did a good job. About a month later while on vacation in Jamaica, I looked up and saw a skull on the moon, which frightened me. I refused to go out, thinking this was a bad omen. When I returned to Chicago a few days later, I learned that Doc died the night I saw that sign. I lost a dear friend and the world lost a compassionate healer.

Alternative healing has come a long way since the early days of Doc Liss. The Tribune printed a story on October 22, 1978, called “‘Eating right’ with Joe Liss”. Doc was no longer the “quack” of 1941, but a legitimate health adviser. The State of Illinois eventually licensed many alternative healers, and the profession has created numerous organizations to spruce up its image. Articles in several major magazines describing the millions of dollars Americans were spending on alternative health helped bring the movement a legitimacy that had eluded it for decades. Natural healing may have been difficult for the average American to understand. But America understands financial success, and with that comes the underlying belief that if a group is financially successful then they have passed the litmus test. There must be something to what they are saying.

Doc Liss lived simply and eschewed money and all that came with it, but it was money that helped put alternative healing on the map. Because of that, you may find yesterday’s quack working at today’s hospital run clinic…with a passion for healing.

— Bob Kearney

 
 
 


link to portrait of Dr. Liss Link to Trib article on Dr. Liss Link to small article on Dr. Liss

 

Bob Kearney, CST - 1400 N. Lake Shore Drive - Annex 2 - Chicago, IL 60610 - 312.337.0677 office - 847.971.5990 cell - craniorobert@msn.com