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Snake On a Stake Numbers 21:4-9

Snake On a Stake

Hoaxes have been with us for ages, involving snake oil, missing links, long-lost diaries, computer viruses and incredible e-mail offers. Which leads us to wonder: Can we trust the story of the snake on a stake?

A little over a hundred years ago - long before there was a Fear Factor reality game show, Clark "The Rattlesnake King" Stanley is said to have held crowds spellbound at the 1893 exposition in Chicago as he slaughtered hundreds of rattlesnakes and processed the juices into a cure-all called Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment.

An ad for Stanley's snake oil described it as "a wonderful pain-destroying compound." It was "the strongest and best liniment known for the cure of all pain and lameness." It treated "rheumatism, neuralgia, sciatica, lame back, lumbago, contracted muscles, toothache, sprains, swellings," and it cured "frostbites, chilblains, bruises, sore throat, [and] bites of animals, insects and reptiles."

Wrong. There was no snake oil in Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment. In 1917, tests of a federally seized shipment of Snake Oil Liniment revealed it to be mostly mineral oil containing about one percent fatty oil - thought to have been beef fat - along with some red pepper and possible...

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