AUGUSTA — A century ago, when funeral directors and embalmers doubled as ambulance owners and drivers, Henry W. Plummer patented a tourniquet, one that would keep pressure on a major blood vessel while the patient was being rushed to medical care.

The advertisement for Plummer’s Adjustable Tourniquet shows the nickel-knobbed device held in place by a leather strap around a leg and a wrist.

Leo Murphy, who bought Plummer’s Funeral Home in 1962, found boxes of them in his attic, along with diagrams showing how to use it around the neck, and the patent application and drawings.

“Whoever uses these should know something about anatomy,” Murphy said. The users would need to be familiar how to halt bleeding using femoral arteries and carotid arteries, among others.

He pointed to a tourniquet atop his kitchen table: “This would stop it until something could do better.”

The ad offers the complete device for $3. If the buyer wanted to supply the strap, which looks similar to a dog collar, the rest of the device cost $2.50.

“I was thinking these days maybe Velcro would do the trick,” Murphy said.

In fact, Murphy has a box of 100 of the devices that use a spring and a screw to hold and release pressure, as well as a carton full of boxes of them fully assembled. There are drawings that were used to apply for the patent as well as wood block illustrations used to print the ads.

Plummer wrote in his ad that the adjustable tourniquet could help prevent gangrene because it could be targeted to a specific artery or vein.

He said it worked well “for you simply band the limb tightly enough to hold the plunger or compression member in position over the artery, push down the plunger until the hemorrhage is controlled, leaving the collateral circulation unimpeded to supply blood to the limb below the point of control.”

It was not clear how many of the devices Plummer — who died in 1948 — sold.

“It’s about time he got credit for something,” Murphy said. “He’s been dead a long time.”

Murphy said Plummer’s device seemed an improvement over a basic tourniquet that cut off all circulation.

Plummer himself noted, “In times of accident involving the severing of an artery or vein many of the tourniquets now in use have been more dangerous than the accident itself.”

The boxes of tourniquet items were in the attic of the funeral home, which has been at 16 Pleasant St. since at least 1959.

Plummer, who was a licensed funeral director and embalmer as well as a coroner for at least part of the time, started his business at 363 Water St., and by 1907, according to a Directory of Kennebec County, Maine, had moved to 25 Bridge St.

Later he relocated to Pleasant Street.

“Mr. Plummer died in that living room,” Murphy said, pointing to the front room on the second floor.

Murphy bought the business in October 1962 from Plummer’s widow and her two sons and remains a professional practitioner of funeral services. Murphy recalls that the business still offered free ambulance service until 1967, and it was likely that Plummer’s tourniquets were on board, along with oxygen and a number of other things.

“We had to bring whatever we had to bring,” Murphy said. Many of the emergencies involved a lot of bleeding.

The ambulance got the patients to the hospital and frequently took the patients home from the hospital after discharge. That’s when Murphy would talk to them and get to know them. When they needed a funeral director, they remembered him.

“We weren’t the only ones offering free ambulance service,” he said, adding that other funeral homes did so as well.

When the funeral home stopped providing ambulance service in 1967, Murphy said, he offered the city his two ambulances, “keys and all.” However, they were rejected.

Murphy, now 89, grew up in Fort Kent and had his first job at Gerard D. Daigle’s funeral home while he was still in high school.

“Since I was 8, I wanted to be a funeral director,” Murphy said.

He followed up a two-year apprenticeship with a year at McAllister College in New York City, where every five weeks the students spent a week at Bellevue Hospital to learn their embalming skills on unclaimed bodies destined for a potter’s field. He graduated in 1948. Today, the college is known as the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Services.

Murphy then went to work for J. Paul Kelleher Funeral Home in Millinocket and got his license as an embalmer and funeral director in 1950. Murphy stayed there 10 years before moving to Augusta to work at Plummer’s.

“They had a damn good reputation, I’ll tell you that,” Murphy said.

Amid the tourniquets and ads displayed on the table, Murphy had a copy of a Plummer’s Funeral Home bill for services in 1923. The total was $132, with almost half going for a casket and $15 for embalming.

Murphy recalled the early days when most bodies were laid out at home in the front parlor under a portable canopy and drape device he referred to as a jack in the box. It was small enough to be taken up the stairs to a third-floor apartment or so.

Then the bodies were taken to church for services.

Murphy, treasurer and majority stockholder of Plummer’s Funeral Home, continues to work in the family business.

Murphy was stumped when asked how many funerals he’s done over the past 70-some years.

“Holy suffering catfish,” Murphy said. “I wouldn’t begin to tell you.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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