Friday, March 24, 2023


Born in Bucharest, Romania about 1864, Moscu I. Herdan came to the United States sometime between 1884 and 1890. His early years in the U.S. are a little sketchy. The 1890 voting register for Chicago, Illinois, notes he had lived in Chicago for one year but lived in Illinois for four years. It states his naturalization occurred in Kansa City, in 1884. He claimed he had medical degrees from several schools, none of which were verified. Dr. Herdan had dreams about making it big in the medical world and tried several ideas. None seemed to have worked. The bottle he had produced is tangible evidence of unfortunate circumstances that kept Dr. Herdan from achieving success.


Dr. Herdan’s first advertisement was located in Atchison, Kansas. It set the stage for his future advertising style where he generally worked from his hotel ‘residence’. He often stated that he was in residence permanently, which was usually not very long. Herdan also openly stated that he preferred women and children patients. (The Atchison Daily Champion, Atchison, Kansas, July 12, 1890)

By December 1890 Herdan had moved from Atchison,  west to Salt Lake City, and set up shop in the St. James Hotel, advertising “Diseases of Women a Specialty” (Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah, December 26, 1890)

 Suicide is generally considered an act of desperation to avoid continued mental or physical pain. It was on January 10, 1891, in his room at the St. James Hotel in Salt Lake City, that Herdan attempted to kill himself. He left Salt Lake the following Tuesday, knowing his act would have ruined his reputation as a trusted physician. “At the depot, before the train pulled out, he amused the bystanders with a speech, in which he paid his compliments to the city and its people and said that he would never visit the place again”   (The Salt Lake Tribune, (Salt Lake City, Utah) January 15, 1891, Page 8) 


 Cabinet card of Dr. Herdan with his signature top hat, taken circa 1892.  Photo taken in Austin, Nevada. Sunbeam Photo Gallery, L. A. Weller, Operator. (Picture courtesy Mildred Morris  at Berman-Morris/Pressly/Williams/Mount Family Tree at

He may have gone back to Chicago for a short while, as he had a brother located there, as well as a woman that he wanted for his wife. By the end of January, Herdan had located his residence and business in Reno, Nevada, living at and working from the Inverness Hotel. (Nevada State Journal, January 27, 1891)  In March 1891 Herdan added Carson City to his consultation circuit, working out of the Arlington Hotel, in Carson, on Mondays. (The Daily Appeal, Carson City, Nevada, March 12, 1891)



Dr. Herdan began working the cities of Reno, Carson and Virginia City with his main residency dictated by demand, and this changed a number of times. This circuit, with which Herdan maintained he was not a traveling physician, divided his time into what must have been a very difficult schedule. All the while he advertised almost daily in the local newspapers, which would have been a significant part of his budget. Occasionally, Herdan would even ply new ground in the vicinity as noted by a one-day visit at the Union Hotel in Verdi, Nevada. (Nevada State Journal, July 22, 1891)   

The first mention of Herdan’s connection with his patent medicine venture was in Reno, when the newspaper noted, “Dr. Herdan has applied for a patent on a medicine invented by himself called “Self Helper” for private diseases, which he claims is the greatest medicine yet produced.  He has refused $2,500 for it, but will form a company and place it on sale in every drug store in the United States” (Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada 14 Apr 1891, Tue, Page 2) It is not clear if he actively began production for his “Ladies Star” at this time, but he probably did not. Newspaper advertisements did not occur for another six months.

By December 1891 he claimed a new ‘permanent’ residence in Winnemucca, Nevada. Aside from seeing patients from his room at the Winnemucca Hotel,  Herdan had an additional idea for this city. In the following January, he proclaimed his intention to open a sanitarium for drunkenness, based on the new gold-chloride treatment recently practiced by Dr. Keeley of Dwight, Illinois. It was appropriately named The Nevada Sanitarium for the Cure of Drunkenness. Little is known of the establishment which was actually located in the Silver State Hall. 


Herdan was apparently quite taken by the Keeley cure process and decided to use the concept for his new sanitarium in Winnemucca. It was a novel idea and most Nevada towns had no shortage of individuals who imbibed in too much alcohol. Whether the residents wanted to quit alcohol use is another issue. (The Silver State, Winnemucca, Nevada, January 6, 1892, pg 3)




The sanitarium was a failure, and owing back rent, Herdan left town on May 9, 1892, and headed south for Austin, Nevada. (Advertisement from The Silver State, Winnemucca, Nevada, March 17, 1892)

On November 19, 1892 The Self Helper Company was organized in Austin under the corporate laws of Nevada. Along with Herdan were two other directors, David S. Truman and Osmer B. Vincent. Truman was a practicing lawyer and continued in that capacity. It is likely that he obtained the corporate papers for the new Pacific Self-Helper Co. Truman worked as a lawyer for the remainder of his career, mostly in Nevada, until his mysterious disappearance in 1910. He was never heard from or located after that date. (The San Francisco Call, February 3, 1910) 

The primary objective of this new corporation was to, “purchase of Dr. M. Herdan and his co-owners, a certain patent for the right to manufacture exclusively those medicines made by them and for which a patent has been applied for from the Hon. Commissioner of Patents of the United States of America, by said Dr. M. Herdan, and which said medicines are known as and called Dr. Herdan’s SELF HELPER and Dr. Herdan’s LADIES STAR and also any trade marks he may obtain therefore.”  The capital stock of the corporation was $500,000, with $342,500 being paid up at the company’s inception. The paid-up amount appears quite large and is difficult to believe. This amount was probably inflated or may not represent actual cash.

 The partners soon decided to move their laboratory and bottling facilities to San Francisco, where supplies were more readably available. Herdan remained in Austin where he continued his practice as a physician.  Osmer B. Vincent became the agent in San Francisco. He was a telegrapher by trade and was probably a great asset to this new company in relaying information about the Pacific Self Helper Co. to various newspapers. Truman’s role was probably just as an investor along with dealing with legal issues as they may arise.

Meanwhile, Herdan became frustrated with his inability to successfully operate as a physician in Austin. He openly expressed his feelings in the local newspaper by stating . . . “the inhabitants are very sociable, but don’t get sick often enough, which healthful condition he attributes to the lack of bad whisky and gossip”. (The Daily Appeal (Carson City, Nevada) December 10, 1892, p 3)



Six inches in height, the bottle is produced with clear glass and is well made. It could be the product of any established glass works of the period. Embossed on the front panel is, LADIES (Star of David) STAR. On the right panel is PACIFIC. On the left side is, SELF HELPER CO.


The other side of the bottle showing the embossing. The remaining large bottle face is devoid of lettering, probably reserved for a label.

The advertisement for Ladies Star was printed throughout the West during 1892 and 1893 (The Central Nevadan, (Battle Mountain, Nevada) December 8, 1892, Page 2)

Herdan left Austin in January 1893, but the day prior to leaving he sold a block of his shares in the Self Helper Company, and that night he lost $220 at faro. (The Silver State, (Winnemucca, Nevada), January 31, 1893, p 3) Gambling was one of his weaknesses. 

Herdan finally convinced his love interest, Mollie Abraham, to marry him. They tied the not in Chicago on February 20, 1893. After returning to Austin their relationship became strained and Mollie decided to leave him and she went back to Chicago – and Herdan stayed in Austin. “ The Reveille says: Dr. Herdan has returned to Austin. He had partially raised money enough to take him back to Chicago but blew it in a game of stud poker Saturday night, and from present indications, he will spend the summer in Austin.  His sleek plug (slang for top hat) sits at the same angle, however, say 45 degrees, as formerly, and his shirt front is as immaculate as ever.  He still persists in trying to run a lot of business in Austin, including this office, but we take pleasure in announcing that he is “not in it.” (The Silver State, Unionville, Nevada, April 14, 1893, p 3) This is a clear indication that Herdan worked newspapers to the best of his ability.

Herdan left Austin, Nevada, on April 19, 1893, and it was thought he was going to Lovelock, but he went to Grand Junction, Colorado instead. After his arrival there, the local paper noted, “Dr. M.I. Herdan, the new physician and surgeon, has removed to his headquarters over Haskell’s drug store, The Dr. comes very highly recommended, and came here to reside permanently.  He is a graduate of the Imperial Hospital of Austria, and post graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago, and is, also an active member of the World’s Fair congress of physicians and surgeons, which meets in Chicago next month.  The Dr. is a scholar and collaborator of medical periodicals, and very often his pen in materia medica and scientific points appears in the newspapers.” (Grand Junction News, April 29, 1893)  In his usual manner, likely motivated by poor success, Herdan left Grand Junction on July 22, 1893. His next location was probably Chicago for several months, however; the record is silent. His next try at success was in Richmond, Indiana, where his sister-in-law was living. The local paper noted, “ Dr. M.I. Herdan, a physician from California, is in the city and will locate here. . . he is a graduate of a European college and of the Chicago Medical college.” (The Richmond Item, Richmond, Indiana, November 4, 1893)

Herdan operated for about a month in Richmond. By the end of December 1893, he made his final act from which there was no return. Dr. Moscu I. Herdan took his own life while staying at the Palmer House in Chicago.

The newspapers quickly picked up on the story of Herdan’s suicide, with none more complete than the Inter-Ocean of Chicago:

“MADE SURE OF DEATH – Dr. Moses I. Herdan Found Dead in the Palmer House – HE WAS TIRED OF LIVING. – Thought the World Unappreciative of His Talents.”


“The chambermaids have tried to get into No. 443 several times today.  The door was always locked, with the key on the inside.  No one answers to their knocks.”


“This was the report made by a Palmer House bellboy to Clerk Cunningham last evening.”


“Mr. Cunningham glanced at the rack before him and saw that “Moses I. Herdan, M.D., City” was posted up as the occupant of room No. 443.  Mr. Cunningham went to the room, a bellboy was lifted up to the transom, and said that there was a dead man lying on the bed.  The boy clambered into the room through the transom and opened the door.  Dr. Evans, the house physician, was called and led the way into the room.”


“Dr. Herdan had been dead some hours.  He lay propped up on a pillow, his shoes off and vest and collar unbuttoned.  An empty glass and a syringe lay on the dresser with a phial containing about ten grains of morphine.”


“If the phial was full,” said Dr. Evans, “he injected about fifty grains of morphine into his body.”


“Dr. Herdan arrived at the hotel at 6 o’clock Thursday night.  He left his trunk check with Clerk Cunningham and said he expected his wife to arrive in the morning.  He never left the room after taking possession.  He probably spent the night writing letters, for his bed had not been occupied, except when he administered the injection.  On the top of the dresser was a pile of burned paper.  On the table lay several letters, an express company’s receipt, a meerschaum pipe, a bag of tobacco, six cigars, and his gold watch.”


“In a letter addressed to the Coroner the suicide said:

Deliver my body to the A. O. U. W. brothers of this city.  I don’t want to be buried before three days.

The cause of my suicide is I don’t think life worth living.

Inform my brother at No. 354 May street; also my father-in-law, at No 1826 Bishop street.”

“I don’t think it is necessary to hold a postmortem examination. Yours  respectfully.

                                                                                                    DR. HERDAN”


“In a letter addressed ‘To my wife,” he said:

God bless you.  As God is my witness I have loved you truly.  Please forgive me for this act. I think you will be happy without me.  I hope you will forgive me for this wrong act.  So marry again and be happy.  I know I love you and you alone.  Your husband,  MOSES”


“Another letter was addressed to The INTER OCEAN. – Will you be kind and wire through the Asoc Press to Austin, Nev., to Mr. Louis A. Veller to my last act.  I took this mean. I know I was a reader of your Paper many thousand miles from here.”


“The cause of my act is I have enough of earthly misery; I had good success always in my profession but I heat (sic) to practice. A Doctor and a Dog is alike., people don’t appreciate the value of a good Physician.  So I think to finish tonight I love my wife and poor woman, I leave her in the biggest misery.  O God have mercy with her, and to think she is in a delicate position, but I can’t resist from doing which makes me Dey (sic) twice I trust in God and leave her in his care.  Thanking you for your kindness in executing my last wish.

           Yours Respectfully,

                                    M. I. Herdan, M.D.”


“His last letter was probably written to his brother, Abraham Herdan, for he says:

My head aches me and I fee awful mean.  Please don’t write hom to our parents my last act. God bless little Molly. Your brother,



“The body was removed to the morgue at No. 73 Fifth avenue, and in accordance with the wish of Dr. Herdan, Louis A. Veller, of Austin, Nev., was notified of the suicide.”


“The brother of the dead man, Abraham Herdan, who is a clerk in a retail clothing store and lives at No. 354 May street, was overcome with grief when told what had occurred at the Palmer House.  He went at once to Sigmund’s morgue and identified the body as that of his brother.  As he did so tears streamed down his face, and it was with difficulty that he could be made to leave the place of death.”


“My brother’s name,” he said, “was Moskou I. Herdan.  He was born in Bucharest, Roumania, and was 27 years old.  He studied medicine in Roumania and came to this country four years ago and engaged in the practice of his profession.  A year or so ago he came to Chicago, where he met the daughter of Meyer Abraham, of No. 1826 Bishop street.  They were married and went to Austin, Nevada to live.  They never got on well together.  Although there was never anything of a very serious nature between them.  A few weeks ago my brother returned from Nevada.  He had patented several medicines which promised to sell well, but he was tricked out of the patents by some designing persons.”

“He returned yesterday from a visit to his sister-in-law, Mrs, Morris Rice, at Richmond, Ind., where he had gone with his wife.  She was not with him, and he said nothing about her.  Thursday afternoon he left the house, in good spirits seemingly. We told him to be sure and return and he replied that he would certainly do so.  When he did not come back we supposed he had gone to visit his father-in-law, Meyer Abraham.. The only reason I can assign for the act of my brother is that he had become despondent over the loss of his patents and because he was out of funds.”


“Herdan’s parents live in Roumania, and are well to do, his father being a retired farmer. Another brother lives in New York. He has been notified.  The inquest will be held this morning.” (The Inter-Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, December 30, 1893)


As the story of his death worked its way across the country newspaper accounts became even more bazaar, with the most outlandish being Herdan’s promotion of ingesting human fat to treat obesity. Many articles include his odd behavior, including his verified proclivity for gambling and his periodic use of drugs, which are probably true. Herdan did appear to have an unusual personality, and struggled with proving his legitimacy as a licensed doctor.


The news of Herdan’s suicide made headlines across the country, but perhaps the most sensible information about the man was found in the Grand Junction, Colorado, paper – the last place Herdan practiced medicine in the West. It paints a picture of a unique individual who carried deep-seated troubles. This should be expected based on his unusual actions over the previous several years. (The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colorado, December 30, 1893, p. 4)

Herdan is buried in Waldheim Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois. His wife, Mollie W. Abraham, was born abt 1872 in New York. She died May 31, 1944, in Los Angeles County, California,  and is buried in the Home of Peace Memorial Park, East Los Angeles, California, near her mother and sister.


                                Post Script

 After assembling a draft of the information noted above, I went back over some of the roughly 35 news articles that I pulled from various newspapers relating to Herdan. In doing so I stumbled across one that I had saved which initially didn’t appear to have much importance. Like a number of others it simply dealt with Herdan helping a sick or injured person, of which there are many in newspapers. After compiling a brief story of Herdan’s life, and reading the article appended below, I was gobstruck! Something about it was eerily familiar with the life of Herdan. The article, in fact, was the same story that unfolded in the life of Herdan himself, but was written some six months prior to his suicide. The article, which was presented to the newspaper by Herdan, tells of a man who attempted suicide, and it happened to be for the same circumstances that induced Herdan to take his own life. This cannot be a coincidence. Of course, in the article the man was saved by Herdan, or else there would be a body to deal with, which would ruin his idea of concocting it. The article was sort of a “dry run” of what was to come.

The strange news article that appeared some six months prior to Herdan's death, with fictional contents that were to become a reality for Dr. Herdan. (Grand Junction News, (Grand Junction, Colorado) June 24,1893, Page 5)

Also of significance is that no patent was approved for Herdan during his lifetime. If he did apply it was not approved. However; it is more likely that he tricked his partners into believing he held a patent for the medicine. Further, no trademark was found as well. His newspaper advertisements, which included his trademark, would have still been valid, but it just wasn’t secured by either the state of Nevada or the federal government. My assessment of Herdan is that he was operating on a healthy diet of delusion along with a mix of quackery. He may have meant well but crossed the line of cultural mores and ethical boundaries of society.

All advertisements for Ladies Star and the Pacific Self Helper Co. came to an abrupt end with the death of Dr. Herdan.


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