The ads were placed in newspapers in the Midwest, enticing those unlucky in love:
“Parted friends, sweethearts, husbands, or wives brought together, either sex; everything strictly confidential. Send stamp. F. M. Brown, Smithsburg, Md.”
“Friendship or love easily won or regained, 10 cents. F. M. Brown, Smithsburg, Md.”
But these promises to the lovelorn were precisely what landed “Professor” Francis Brown in jail for two months in 1918 after he pleaded guilty in federal court of using the mail to defraud individuals.
“He stated in his advertisements that for the sum of $3 [nearly $60 in today’s dollars] he would help persons in their love, business or family affairs,” according to the Democratic Advocate (Westminster).
“The indictment charged Brown with advertising three of his specialties. They were ‘Strong Power Art Spell,’ ‘Three-In-One Double Strength Love Powder,’ and ‘Secret to Win Love.’ By the use of these he guaranteed that any one could win the love of a person of the opposite sex,” reported The Baltimore Sun. “He also dealt in charms to promote hatred and ill-will, and special remedies of hairs from a black cat and other ingredients for special cases.”
Users of the powders were instructed to sprinkle them onto the clothes of the person they wanted to love them, or put some in a letter in order to reach the intended. It is believed that the powders were simply talcum powders. “He is accused to using the mails for this purpose for some time,” according to an article in The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pa.), “and it is claimed that he collected as high as $40 in one week from the sale of his ‘love powders.’” That equals about $770 in today’s money.
“The patients of the professor, as indicated by their letters, were many of them men and women of intelligence and refinement who earnestly believed they would regain lost love. Many were young people of the impressionable sort, and others merely ignorant,” according to an article in The Des Moines Register.
And as for the “professor”? It turns out Brown, a 32-year-old father of six, was a laborer who worked on a small farm near Smithsburg. He claimed to learn how to make the love powders from his grandmother and from the knowledge of astrologers and scientists such as Aristotle, Hippocrates and Socrates, reported The Sun.
Sources: The Baltimore Sun, February 16, 1918; CPI Inflation Calculator (Bureau of Labor Statistics); Democratic Advocate, December 21, 1917; Des Moines Register, December 30, 1917; The Evening News, July 20, 1917