At the Candy Kitchen in Wilton, Iowa, a customer called out for a "hadacol." George Nopoulos, in his white tied-at-the waist apron, reached for a tall glass and long spoon.
I laughed. Hadacol, the real thing, was long gone. It was a hoax in a bottle in the 1940s and '50s. For sure, not today at a soda fountain of innocence like the Candy Kitchen.
George put in a squirt of vanilla syrup, another spurt of root beer syrup, some crushed ice and filled the glass with carbonated water. He stirred, all the time making bird-like whistles. Customers turned their heads, looking for a canary flying around the store.
The iced brown concoction tasted like good old créme soda, the kind I can't find in the stores anymore.
"I invented this drink one day for kids," George says. "Now, it's a pretty good seller. I had to call it something, so I called it hadacol."
HADACOL, in its original form, was a wildly popular patent medicine that left the shelves with a hangover more than 50 years ago. It was marketed to cure everything from an aching back to athlete's foot. No wonder. It was 12 percent alcohol, passed off on the bottle as a "preservative."
The "hadacol" that George Nopoulous stirs up is as innocent as a chocolate soda. No alcohol, no siree.
"But I sure remember the real stuff," laughs George.
So does Ron Bellomy, a Davenport antique dealer who says that today an empty Hadacol bottle with paper label is worth $15 to $18. "Many of our grandparents would swear by it," says Bellomy. No wonder - with that alcohol content, it eased a muscle strain or an aching molar.
The original Hadacol was the product of Dudley J. LeBlanc, a Louisiana state senator who concocted the idea after injuring a foot. A doctor gave him a pain killer that the wily senator developed into a phony cure-all made of water, vile-tasting flavoring and alcohol. He bottled it under the name Hadacol.
LeBlanc was the quackery Barnum of his day. He swamped the radios with testimonials about his miracle potion. He wrote a jingle, "Hadacol Boogie," that was popularized in song by Jerry Lee Lewis. Infatuated by his power, LeBlanc turned out "Captain Hadacol" comic books and Hadacol water pistols.
Time magazine once described him as "… a stem-winding salesman who knows every razzle-dazzle switch in the pitchman's trade."
It was non-stop. In 1950, LeBlanc offered large sums of money to anyone who came forth with a parrot that was trained to say "Polly wants Hadacol." The parrot was to appear on TV and visit large drug stores. It was to travel by limousine, reside in a gold cage and stay in only the finest hotels. No parrot was ever found, but the media ate up the offer.
The senator's entrepreneurship hit its peak with the "Hadacol Caravan," which brought Hollywood celebrities to ball parks around the country. No one remembers if it ever made it to the Quad-City region. The lineup was impressive: Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Hank Williams. Admission was two Hadacol boxtops for adults, one for children.
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The crafty LeBlanc knew when to get out when the getting was good. In 1951, he sold to an enterprise that buckled and finally went under because of debts. LeBlanc had been spending more on advertising than he was taking in on receipts.
Still, the huckster was not quitting. He ran for governor of Louisiana, but lost. He blamed bad publicity. He died in 1971.
"In the Name of Science" a book by Martin Garner, mentions an interview LeBlanc gave on Groucho Marx's TV program. Groucho asked what Hadacol was good for.
"It was good," the senator said, "for five-and-a-half million for me last year."
Today, that name Hadacol is still around, usually as a geriatric joke, or at Wilton's Candy Kitchen where George's version of "hadacol" sells for 90 cents, a
16-ounce glass. It's a gentle summer cooler that doesn't have the kick of the original. Thank goodness.
Contact Bill Wundram at (563) 383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.