Medication dating back to the 1800s stolen in Homer

Jun 30, 2017

The Wiseman Trading Company Building in Wiseman, Alaska.
Credit Courtesy of Judith James

Tracking down antique vials of medication dating back to the late 1800s isn’t typically on the Homer Police Department’s agenda, but it is this week. A long-time Homer resident reported a box full of antique medical supplies stolen Tuesday. Some of the items taken were destined to return to the village of Wiseman, where they were collected nearly 70 years ago.

Judith James has been gathering several items belonging to her deceased husband, Walter Johnson, to bring to the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Consortium Library and the village of Wiseman. Johnson, a former physician, attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the 1940s. He owned the Wiseman Trading Company store in the small village about 240 miles north of Fairbanks while he attended college.

James intended to donate several records and items he collected during that time, but when she stopped by her storage unit Tuesday, several items were missing, including the box full of antique medical equipment.

“Sealed glass tubes I remember seeing in the box with silk suturing thread and a sterile needle,” James explained. “That’s how they kept it sterile. These things are well over 100 years old, and the packaging is a little bit rough.”

Some of the medications date back to the 1880s. Johnson collected medical supplies that were sold in the store and some that had been sitting in the attic. He brought them with him when he left for medical school in 1948.

Johnson also collected several records on gold mining in the Wiseman area and has written several papers on a variety of historical topics in Alaska. The university’s Consortium Library already has several of Johnson’s papers and items in its collection.

James was preparing for a trip back to Wiseman in July to spread her husband’s ashes and return the antique medical equipment to the store, which now serves as a museum.

“They’ve the refurbished the old trading company store and there are many antique and historical items on display there,” James said.

She is upset someone would steal such sentimental items, but James is also concerned about some of the medication could be extremely toxic.

“I just started getting really worried yesterday thinking about somebody leaving these things perhaps in a place where children could access them, pull the corks or break the seal and maybe smell or ingest these things,” James explained.

James still has some of Johnson’s collection from his time in Wiseman, including business licenses dating back to the 1920s. She still intends on making the trip to donate them.

James has reported the incident to police. She asks that anyone with knowledge of the box and its contents bring it to the police department or another location where it will be safe. She has not heard if there are leads in the case. Homer Police could not be reached for comment in time for this story.