Ninety years ago this month, Winston Churchill received what may now be the most famous doctor’s note ever written. In December 1931 Churchill sailed to America for a forty-lecture tour. Two days after docking in the company of his wife Clementine and daughter Diana, he went alone by taxi to the Fifth Avenue home of his friend Bernard Baruch for an after-dinner get-together. Annoyed that his driver could not find the address, Churchill stepped out into the two-way avenue traffic, looked left, and was struck by a passing car on his right.
Had he not been wearing a thick, fur-lined overcoat, Churchill might well have been killed. Instead he suffered a fractured nose and ribs, a three-inch cut on his forehead, and severe shock. He was rushed to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he developed pleurisy. Churchill was treated on the night of the accident by Dr. Otto C. Pickhardt, who became extremely taken with the patient and would maintain a correspondence with him for many years to come.
After his release from the hospital, Churchill went to the Bahamas to convalesce in the company of his family for most of the month of January 1932. When he did return to New York near the end of the month to begin his lecture tour, Churchill received from Dr. Pickhardt the now legendary medical note shown above that authorized the patient to circumvent the law of Prohibition during the last fully “dry” year in American History.
Barry Singer is proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City and author of Churchill Style (2012).
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