Figure 1. Munyon monument. West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA. Photo: author.

Our theme for the day is taken from the ledger-stone grave of Herr “Professor” “Dr.” James Monroe Munyon in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. The self-serving epitaph of this patent-medicine magnate is considerably enlivened (and illuminated) by accompanying obituaries.

James Monroe Munyon
August 3, 1848
March 10, 1918

James Monroe Munyon Jr.
Oct. 19, 1884
May 3, 1918

I am sure if I reach
That great common place
Where nations are blended
Into one common race
Where caste is unknown
And creeds are no more,
Where the rich and the poor
Alike enter the door,
I shall hear a voice saying
“Here’s a jewel for thee,
As ye did unto others,
Ye did unto me.”


Beware of people who speak of themselves in the third person. See, too, how (evidently) God addresses Munyon as ‘thee’, but then eschews ‘thou’ for the plural ‘ye’ in two successive verses. There is similar chaos throughout the poem.

Munyon was a patent medicine dealer who styled himself ‘Professor’ and ‘Dr.’ so self-servingly so that his obituary—where we speak no ill of the dead—put the title “Dr.” in scare quotes throughout and maintains a thoroughly cheeky tone. Here is one of his obituaries in full, courtesy of find-a-grave dot com:

“Dr.” Munyon Dies In Southern Hospital

  WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., March 10.
—Dr. J.M. Munyon, a medicine manufacturer of Philadelphia, died today at a Palm Beach hotel. Heart failure was said to have been the cause.
  PHILADELPHIA, March 10. —
Few men have had a more versatile career than “Dr.” Munyon.
  Born at Thompson, Conn., August 3, 1848, he was in turn a school teacher, lawyer, social worker, editor, song writer and patent medicine manufacturer. He was president of Munyon’s Homeopathic Home Remedy Company and was rated as a millionaire. He was not a physician.
  When he started upon his career “Dr.” Munyon is quoted as having said that he had “virtually no capital except ambition and a belief of letting folks know about it.” He spent large sums in advertising and to this he attributed much of his success. His famous gesture, with the index finger pointed upward far above his head, and the phrase, “There is hope,” became familiar through newspaper advertising in many parts of the world.
  Dr. Munyon was married three times and divorced once. In 1908 he was married to Pauline Neff Metzger, and actress scarcely one-third his age. The union did not prove a happy one, and shortly afterward they were divorced.

Figure 2. Munyon obituary, 10 March 1918. Find-a-grave dot com.

While the bit about his unhappy (and unhappily brief) third marriage cannot but raise a laugh, it is the portion about his large expenditures for advertising that catches the eye. In fact, find-a-grave dot com is kind enough to post a specimen of ‘sponsored content’, the length of which assures us of its costliness. Masquerading as a political report at first, it devolves into more and more naked advertising copy from about the second half of the second of the three columns. It’s too much to type in here, but have a look at the piece itself. The reward is the picture of Munyon with his famous gesture.

Figure 3. Sponsored content by Munyon, July 9, 1911. Find-a-grave dot com.

This sponsored content (from 1911) quotes as a reaction text the verses we found on his ledger stone in West Laurel Hill. Here, too, is a case of his self-styling as “PROF. JAMES M. MUNYON”.

Munyon fils died soon after the ‘professor’, and his obituary cannot but raise an eyebrow or three, too, not least because he died in a very List of Adrian Messenger fashion, in an elevator plunge. I offer it here in full, thanks again to find-a-grave dot com.

  Injuries sustained by James M. Munyon, Jr., son of the late “Professor” James M. Munyon, patent medicine manufacturer, in an elevator accident, caused his death in a New York hospital today.
  The elder Munyon died in Palm Beach, Florida March 10. Mr. Munyon, who was thirty-four year old, was in an elevator which dropped from a New York roof garden to the basement of the building fifteen months ago. He suffered from injury and shock, and heart disease resulted.
  His brother Duke Munyon, the only surviving member of the family, said his brother’s mind was also affected and that he was delirious when he died. The funeral will be held Monday. Mr. Munyon lived at 54th and Columbia avenue.
  Mr. Munyon was married in 1907 to Miss Ada B. Gilliam. They later separated and Mrs. Munyon was given custody of two sons. Following the filing of his father’s will, a few days after his death, James M. Munyon, Jr., filed caveat to test the legality of the instrument. This action was later settled.

Figure 4. Obituary of James M. Munyon, Jr. Find-a-grave dot com.

It’s best not to read too much between the lines, but the confluence of the elevator plunge, the father’s death, the challenging of the executor of the will, and Duke Munyon’s allegation that James Jr.’s mind was “also affected” by the elevator plunge makes me think there’s a great late 1970s TV movie to be written here.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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