By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Benny McNair recalled a horrific incident from his childhood at a recent gathering of downtown merchants.
It was around or maybe even on Easter Sunday at a family luncheon, when when a pot of hot gravy got spilled on an 8 or 9 year old McNair, burning his legs.
He was taken to what was then Holy Name of Jesus Medical Center, and he remembers the sisters taking him down a dark hall to be treated.
They washed all the gravy away – “I can still remember how it hurt,” McNair said.
Then they coated strips of gauze with a malodorous liquid and covered the burns with it.
And within a day, he recalled, he was ready to go out and play.
McNair was treated with Cumarindine, a strong smelling ointment made, at that time, in Altoona.
He shared his story with fellow downtown Gadsden merchants after the announcement that Cumarindine, after being off the market since 2008 – is going to be available again.
Cumarindine will be relaunched April 5 at First Friday in downtown Gadsden. First Friday visitors will have a chance to get the first batch.
Old jars of Cumarindine labed it as an “ointment for burns and indolent ulcers,” but visit the Facebook page for Cumarindine and there are testimonials for its use for psoriasis, stomach ulcers and other maladies. The page states it “aids in the relief of Burns, Radiation Burns due to Cancer Treatment, Ulcers, Skin abrasions, Bed Sores, Shingles, Rash, Open Wounds, Arthritis Pain, Sore Muscles, Bruises, and much more.”
The story of how Cumarindine came to be is one of a fortuitous accident, and Daniel Reynolds, Director of Sales and Marketing for Alabama Cosemeceuticals, which will make and distribute the product, said its second coming is “a God thing.
“It’s really crazy how it all happened,” he said.
Reynolds’ mother Wanda worked for Dulcie Whitten, who made Cumarindine in a lab behind her home in Altoona, starting in 1985. Mrs. Reynolds said Mrs. Whitten’s passion was production of the salve invented by her father.
In the 1920s, Luther Terrell was working on making a grease to use on equipment at the sawmill he operated. He burned himself, and grabbed a handful of the grease and rubbed it on the burn. And he discovered that it helped with the pain and healing of the burned skin. Terrell turned his attention to converting a would-be lubricant for machinery into a healing ointment.
Over the decades that followed, Cumarindine was trademarked and continued to be made in Altoona. Terrell’s daughter — Dulcie Whitten — took over its production after her parents’ deaths, and in a small lab, she continued to make the ointment while closely guarding the formula for it.
When Whitten died in 2008 at the age of 101, it seemed to be the end of Cumarindine, too.
Years later Daniel Reynolds and Beck were talking and the topic of his mother’s past employment came up.
“He said, ‘oh, I remember that stuff,’” Reynolds recalled, and they discussed the uses and the effectiveness of the ointment. That led to talk of trying to revive the product.
They found Dr. Jim Kirksey at UAB, who had worked with Whitten in the manufacture of Cumarindine in the 1970s – and who had the formula for making it.
And after some research, Rynolds found the trademark for the product recently had expired, opening the door for someone to buy it and begin making the product again
Reynolds, Beck, Kirksey and Richard and Billie Johnson formed a partnership in Alabama Cosmeceuticals, to begin producing Cumarindine.
Mrs. Reynolds said she’s excited that her son is going to be involved in reviving a wonderful product that she she helped to provide for people in the past.
“We made it all by hand,” Mrs. Reynolds said. Whitten “would dip out the oils. She kept all that secret.”
Mrs. Reynolds remembers how Whitten would add the ingredients and use a square, wooden, churn-like mixer to combine them in 32-quart pots and pans, then dip the mixture into giant coffee pots.
Mrs. Reynolds said she would get jars ready, they would be filled with Cumarindine, and she would placed the jars with the lids tilted against them, waiting to be closed the next day, after the ointment had cooled and settled. “If you sealed the jars too soon it had a big pocket of air in it,” she explained.
Mrs. Reynolds also helped with the packaging and sending out Cumarindine, Mrs. Reynolds said. Whitten would get phone-call orders from all over the country, she said, that had to be filled and shipped.
Daniel Reynolds said the product was a success over the decades it was produced, but was not marketed as widely as it could have been. He said there was a period of time when Cumarindine was sold in some local Wal-Mart stores and Wal-Mart was interested in selling it in its stores nationwide, but Whitten did not seem to be interested in expanding that broadly.
“She wasn’t a corporate-type person,” he said.
The current partners, Reynolds said, are interested in taking the product to it’s full potential. The product is being produced at a lab in Piedmont, Reynolds said. A run of 5,000 units is being produced for the launch, and if all goes well, production may grow.
Minor changes have been made in the formula, Reynolds said. Where latex was used in the past, Emu oil has been added as a carrier in the ointment. The color is not as dark as it was, which should prevent the risk of staining clothes. And the smell may not be quite as strong as in the older versions.
“It still smells,” Reynolds said. “When you open the jar, you’ll know what you’ve got.”