Albert Isaac Grant – the human X-ray machine
When I was a child comics (remember them?) used to have a few adverts. The ones I particularly remember were those promising us bodies mirroring that of Charles Atlas for a modest subscription and a bit of exercise and ones offering us X-ray spectacles. Were they to be effective the ability to see through matter, clothing and the like offered the formative mind no end of pleasure. I never did invest and so I can’t vouch for their effectiveness but I suppose their powers were the in the imagination of the advertising copywriter.
Still, in the days before X-ray machines to have the power to see through the skin and observe the inner organs would clearly be an outstanding attribute to have and this is precisely what the latest practitioner of quackery to come under our microscope, Albert Grant, claimed to be able to do. Indeed, he appears in the 1911 census as “Scientist and human x-ray”. This astonishing skill ran in the family too; his brother, William, was also a practitioner.
It is not clear how the former sanitary inspector and insurance superintendent discovered his talent or realised that by harnessing it he could diagnose disease and generate new internal organs. In testimony to a coroner’s hearing Grant claimed that he had worked on his skills for a number of years until he was able to grow a completely new eye and lung on a patient. If necessary, he claimed, he could even grow a new heart. He was able to deal with any malady but he specialised in those who were blind or who had consumption or cancer; in other words, those on whom conventional medicine had given up and who had little to lose.
And business boomed. For in-patients, a week’s bed, board and treatment would cost two guineas and the family home could accommodate up to 5. On top of that Grant had between 50 and 300 outpatients a week, although he didn’t charge the poor. And all went well… for a while.
The first whiff of trouble came in February 1911 when 68-year-old Sarah Winn died from heart failure whilst under Grant’s care. When the case came before the coroner, Grant as a consummate quack, used the platform to laud his powers. “I can cure any disease that anyone likes to put before me. The scientific cure is hidden to the public, but not to me”. But not quite good enough for poor Sarah, clearly.
However, Grant’s claims reached the ears of Leicester consumptive, William Sharp, who was in a poor way and had nothing to lose, other than money, by putting himself in Grant’s hands as an in-patient. He was joined by a local tubercular victim, May Twort. Both died, however, in June 1911 and Grant was back in front of the coroner.
There was no evidence that the patients died of anything other than natural causes and there was no suspicion that the Grants had mistreated them. However, Grant’s claims were met with considerable scepticism from the bench. When asked whether any person he claimed to have saved was still alive, Grant admitted that he person was now (conveniently) dead and defended his lamentable record by saying that the patients were brought to him too late. The coroner retorted that he “was treading on very thorny ground”.
William was killed in the First World War and what happened to Albert is not known but there is no evidence of him practicing during or after the First World War. A quack, no doubt, but at least Grant’s professed skills did not worsen the patients’ plight and even gave them some hope in their final days.