let me tell you about the healing power of color
Let’s get this out of the way up front: color has no healing power.
Visible light does have some mild effects on the human body, mostly small things like affecting pigmentation — if you’ve ever had sun-bleached hair or spent time working on your tan, you know what I mean. It also spurs the body’s production of Vitamin D.
Individual colors are just different wavelengths of visible light, and none of those wavelengths produces a specialized physiological effect different from that of full-spectrum white light. You can bathe in a suffusion of yellow all you want, it won’t do a damn thing for your hypothyroidism.
Color does have psychological effects on humans. But human psychology is not a constant in the way that human biology is. Psychological effects of colors depend on on a variety of contexts that are not universal, from culture to experience. I once had a co-worker who was physically sickened by the color orange. Me? I’m an autumn, and I love it.
Plants? They’re a different story altogether, since they produce energy through photosynthesis, which uses light to power chemical processes. There is research that suggests different wavelengths of light can influence plant development, but the current scientific research into the subject is inconclusive at best and anyone who says otherwise is probably trying to sell you a colored grow light.
And yet today there are people who will seriously tell you that the proper application of color can cure whatever is ailing you. Where did this belief come from?
Curiously, it does not appear to be ancient. The ancients did use color in medicine, but primarily as a diagnostic tool. If you were yellow, then yeah, you probably had jaundice. But Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber wasn’t going to try and counteract your yellowness by rubbing you with something purple. He’d probably just cut you open to let out the excess bile. I’m sure he would have loved to try, though.
But the ancients were also held back because they didn’t have a good way to manufacture strong, colored light. That wasn’t really feasible until the mid-1800s, when three things happened. First, Newton proved that white light could be split into colored light, and and arbitrarily assigned seven colors to the spectrum so he could bring his color theory into line with his music theory. Second, the Industrial Revolution made it possible to manufacture colored glass, lenses, and mirrors easily. And finally, the Scientific Revolution brought us gas and electric lights which were far brighter than the light sources previously available.
Once it was possible to make strong colored light, the idea that color could be used to heal — or “chromotherapy” — emerged. Its practitioners ran the gamut from professional doctors to religious kooks, and their theories often relied equally on developing scientific theories as they did on esoteric texts on color symbolism.
So let’s talk about a few of these early chromotherapists, shall we?
General Augustus James Pleasanton
Probably the most famous of the lot is General Augustus James Pleasanton, Civil War veteran and gentleman scientist. He spent a lot of time working in his West Philadelphia greenhouse and thinking about plant development and chemistry, and that led him to an interesting hypothesis.
Pleasanton believed that the Earth’s core created a complex magnetic field that emitted positive electricity at the poles and negative electricity at the Equator. We’re off to a bad start already, because this isn’t not how spherical magnets work. But I digress.
In any case, the negative electricity at the equator attracted positively-charged “chemical rays” of blue sunlight, which promoted plant growth at those latitudes. The positive electricity at the poles attracted the negatively charged “calorific rays” of red sunlight, and as a result they were barren wastelands. The temperate latitudes received a mix of blue and red rays, and so they had plant growth, but not as lush as that at the equator.
Having developed his hypothesis, Pleasanton struggled to come up with ways to test it. It’s not like he could alter the magnetic field or call “chemical rays” from the sky. In the end, he did the next best thing: he installed some blue and violet glass panes in his greenhouse, in the hopes that it would electrically charge the light with all that life-giving blue-ness.
And it worked! Pleasanton’s grapes were plumper and sweeter. When he installed violet glass in his pig sty, his hogs grew larger and porkier. He even discovered that he could improve his health by standing in a beam of blue light, or when that wasn’t possible, wearing a blue hat. Apparently either would do the trick when it came to attracting chemical rays.
Pleasanton gave a series of presentations about his discoveries at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences, and in 1876 those talks were compiled with supporting anecdotal evidence into The Influence of the Blue Ray of the Sunlight and of the Blue Color of the Sky. Reception was mixed. The Academy of Natural Sciences did not endorse Pleasanton’s ideas but seemed to think they were worth investigation. Scientific American, on the other hand, called them “absurd.”
But you know who went nuts for them? The general public, who is always looking for a quick fix to complex problems. Farmers and gardeners ran out to buy blue glass for their greenhouses and increase yields. Homeowners installed blue glass windows on the south-facing sides of their house so they could bathe in vitalizing pools of blue light.
The resulting “blue glass craze” created so much demand that by 1878 it was almost impossible to find colored glass in America. Manufactured rushed to ramp up production, but by the time they were able to bring new product to market it was too late. The fickle public had already moved on to other fads.
Dr. Seth Pancoast
At the height of the blue glass craze, homeopathic physician Dr. Seth Pancoast published his own book, Blue and Red Light: Or Light and Its Rays as Medicine.
Pancoast’s own experiments with colored glass led him to conclusions diametrically opposed to Pleasanton’s. Red light, he declared, was exciting and invigorating, while blue was calming and restful. (He also tested yellow and green light, but found their effects to be so mild as to be not worth mentioning.)
Armed with this discovery, and his extensive knowledge of physiology, Pancoast devised a system of “full” and “partial” colored light baths that could be deployed to treat any number of conditions. He claimed to have successfully used this method to cure nervous prostration, rheumatism, sciatica, consumption, cholera, cerebral meningitis, and paraplegia.
Pancoast also differed from Pleasanton in one important way. Pleasanton’s system, though pseudo-scientific at best, at least had its roots in actual science. Pancoast’s system, on the other hand, owed its genesis to Kabbalah. And the parts of it that are about Jewish mysticism are actually kind of interesting!
Pancoast creates a balanced system of visible and “celestial” colors which he maps on to the Tree of Life in some intriguing ways. He associates red with chesed (strength), yellow with netsah (firmness), green with hod (splendor) and blue with geburah (beauty). The therapeutic attributes of the colors are then derived from their symbolic associations and relationships within the hexad, rather than any purported physical or chemical properties.
The science, though, is total garbage. Like Pleasanton, Pancoast relies on anecdote instead of data, and the lack of documentation makes his experiments essentially unverifiable. The good doctor also admits in his introduction that he doesn’t understand optics at all, and therefore doesn’t believe in it. How scientific.
Edwin D. Babbitt
Pancoast was followed by Edwin D. Babbitt, a serial entrepreneur, inventor and Theosophist, who published The Principles of Light and Color in 1878. Babbitt took Pleasanton and Pancoast’s ideas and turned the volume up to eleven.
Babbitt assigned therapeutic properties not only to red and blue, but to every color on the spectrum.
- Red was inflammatory, and could be used to stimulate the blood to treat nervous conditions.
- Orange and yellow were emetic and laxative, which could be used to treat constipation, bronchitis, kidney disease and hemorrhoids.
- Blue and violet were astringent and sedative, and could be used to treat skin diseases, tuberculosis, headaches, rheumatism, and lunacy.
Now, the best way to get healing charges of those colors was to bathe in pools of colored light. And the best way to generate that colored light, of course, was to use the patented Babbitt Chromo-Lume — essentially a stained glass panel that you could prop up in a window and selectively black out. Fortunately, Babbitt was selling them for the low, low price of $10 plus $1 shipping and handling. That’s about $285 in modern money. No word whether Babbitt allowed the option of making three low low monthly patients instead.
Of course, if you couldn’t afford a Chromo-Lume, Babbitt detailed some other ways to get the right color into your system. You could always eat appropriately-colored foods, or drink water that had been stored in tinted glass bottles. The water, though colorless, would nevertheless retain an imprint of the colored light that passed through the bottle. Very homeopathic.
Needless to say, Babbitt’s system was just as worthless as the others. Probably because it was completely derivative, freely quoting from his predecessors and adding little of value except for more technical-sounding jargon.
Niels Ryberg Finsen
The man who gave chromotherapy the most scientific legitimacy was Dr. Niels Ryberg Finsen. Unlike the men I’ve just mentioned, Finsen was actually a respected doctor and scientist who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Finsen suffered from an inherited condition which he tried to treat with sunbathing, which sparked an interest in both phototherapy and chromotherapy. His 1901 publication Phototherapy describes Finsen’s use of colored lights to torture salamanders and earthworms in his lab, and how he extrapolated from those findings to treat a variety of ailments from smallpox to lupus to tuberculosis.
His system is very similar to Pancoast’s, though his claims are not quite as extravagant. Indeed, some of his suggestions are downright sensible. For instance, Finsen suggests putting patients with scabrous skin diseases in rooms with heavy red curtains to block out harmful blue waves of sunlight. That’s not a bad idea. Why make your weeping sores worse with a sunburn? But Finsen wrongly attributes the improvement to the absence of blue light, instead of the absence of ultraviolet rays.
His other treatments are either completely ineffective (like focusing lights on patients to “burn away” bacteria) or are less about curing root causes and more about alleviating symptoms.
Once again, Phototherapy is not a terribly scientific book, relying on anecdote rather than data, and utterly misrepresenting what little data presents. (Go through and keep track of how many successful cures and total cases Finsen claims. They just don’t add up.) He also advances some terrible race theories that don’t bear repeating, and claims to be open-minded while simultaneously threatening everyone who dares to question any part of his theories.
After Finsen’s death in 1904, reliable pharmaceutical treatments were developed for most of the diseases he studied. His ideas about phototherapy were quickly discarded by the medical establishment.
Charles Wentworth Littlefield
Charles Wentworth Littlefied was a serial pseudo-scientist and crank. Over the years he claimed he could bring the dead back to life with a saline solution and “volatile magnetism,” create microscopic life from inorganic material, and cure any known disease through the use of his electrified Rainbow Lamp, which made Babbitt’s feeble Chromo-Lume look like a child’s toy.
And Littlefield had bigger plans. He wanted to create a series of “rainbow temples” around the country where color could be worshipped, and where true believers could be cured by rainbow rays coming through powerful skylights. He started building one in Seattle, but best as I can tell, it was never finished.
At least the Rainbow Lamp was a success. It inspired ton of imitators, like the Alpine Sun, the Helion, and the Chromoclast, which continued to be sold well into the mid-20th century.
Dr. Dinshah Pestanji Framji Ghadiali
And that brings us to the big one, the greatest quack of them all: Dr. Dinshah Pestanji Framji Ghadiali, Ph.D, LL.D, N.D, M.E, M.S-C, M.D. (honorary), D.C., D.OPT., D.F.S., D.H.T, D.M.T., D.S.T, E.S.T. Metaphysician; psychologist; colonel and commander of the New York Police Reserve Air Service; fellow and vice-president emeritus, Allied Medical Association of America; member, American Association of Orificial Surgeons; member, American Association for Medio-Physical Research; member and vice-president emeritus, National Association of Drugless Practitioners; academician and life member, Maryland Academy of Sciences; fellow, Theosophical Society; life member, American Anti-Vivisection Society; member, Anti-Vaccination League; member, Supreme Lodge, International Order of Good Templars; member, Independent Order of Rechabites; and most importantly for our purposes, president of the Spectro-Chrome Institute of Malaga NJ, and president of the Scientific Order of Spectro-Chrome Metrists.
Dr. Ghadiali was born in Bombay, India in 1873, though his family were originally Zoroastrians from Persia. He was fiercely intelligent, a voracious reader who hoarded read textbooks the way other children read fairy tales. He put everything he learned into practice, trying to experimentally confirm new theories and churning out a constant stream of new inventions. He was also charming, disarming, and a relentless self-promoter in the vein of P.T. Barnum.
In India, Ghadiali worked as a physician, practicing something akin to the “eclectic medicine” that was then-popular in the United States. (If you don’t remember from previous episodes, eclectic medicine was a last-gasp attempt by doctors from the pre-scientific era of medicine to retain authority by mushing all their quack ideas together into one giant system held together with duct tape.) His treatments were based on on now-discredited theories like vitalism, animal magnetism, hypnotism, the ether, and what one newspaper called “Oriental magic.” And like most eclectic physicians, he had a deep distrust of pharmaceuticals.
Ghadiali also experimented with cutting-edge legitimate science, though he never seemed to develop a true understanding of of the underlying ideas. Instead, he would reinterpret them in ways compatible with his Zoroastrian and Theosophical beliefs. He was very interested in x-rays, which he considered to be “a lower physical manifestation of astral light” emanating from the invisible spiritual and mental realms.
In 1896, Dr. Ghadiali traveled to the United States to attend a Theosophical convention. He must have enjoyed his time here, because he permanently emigrated to New York City in 1911. (Well, okay, he tried to emigrate to Canada first but was rejected because Canadian authorities declared that “Hindus” couldn’t prosper in the cold weather of the Great White North.)
He had difficulty finding work, because no one would believe his bombastic boasts about his incredible array of talents. Or maybe they did believe him and thought he was overqualified. Or maybe the problem was that of his advanced degrees were not recognized in the United States. Ultimately, he had to settle for working in a Park Avenue garage as a repairman.
After a few years he managed to save up enough money to move to Hillsdale, NJ, where he established himself as a prolific inventor. Among his inventions were the Dinshah Automobile Engine Fault-Finder, which seems to have worked but not to have been better than any other diagnostic tool on the market; the Anti-Forgery Electric Pen which used an electric principle to create un-erasable writing; and the Dinshah Photokinephone, an early form of talking pictures which failed to catch on. He also built a radio transmitter so powerful it could transmit messages to the other side of the Atlantic, until the government made him shut down so foreign spies could not use it to transmit messages that might violate America’s professed neutrality in World War I.
Most of these inventions were widely reported on by the press. Reporters loved Dr. Ghadiali, because he was always good for eating up a few column inches. They nicknamed him “the Parsee Edison,” less because he was a successful inventor and more because he was a crank who lived in New Jersey. He was also good for funny quotes about his pet ideas, like veganism, prohibition, and letting American women show off their legs at the beach.
In 1917 Ghadiali officially became a U.S. citizen on the second try. At his first naturalization ceremony he refused to remove his topi, a sort of Zoroastrian skullcap, on religious grounds and the judge refused to administer the naturalization oath. A few months later, he found a more tolerant judge who let him keep it on. He celebrated his newfound freedom by filing for divorce from his first wife, Manek, who had abandoned him and returned to India in 1913.
When the U.S. entered the great war, Ghadiali served his new country by volunteering for the New York Police Reserve Air Service. He was rewarded with rank of colonel and the positions of commander and head instructor… in lieu of pay. That lasted until September 1919, when he resigned after an argument with the top brass about whether non-citizens could be allowed in the service, though he would continue to use the rank of colonel off-and-on for the rest of his life.
In 1920, Dr. Ghadiali discovered chromotherapy. Or, I should say, remembered chromotherapy, since he’d been using techniques derived from Pancoast and Babbitt in his Indian medical practice. Ghadiali’s expanded their simple systems into a pseudo-scientific juggernaut: Spectro-Chrome Metry.
Unlike other chromotherapy systems, Spectro-Chrome Metry placed the colors in an artist’s color wheel instead of a spectrum. That gave Dr. Ghadiali twelve colors to work with instead a meager seven – that’s a 71.4% improvement already!
- At the top of the color wheel was green, the color of humility, which was a “physical equilibriator” that could be used to reset the body’s systems to normal.
- On the left side of the wheel were the warm colors, though Ghadiali referred to them as “infra-green.” These stimulated the organs. Red could be used to treat blood and liver ailments; orange, respiratory conditions; yellow, muscular and digestive disorders; and lemon could be used to treat nutritional deficiencies and dissolve blood clots.
- On the right side were the cool or “ultra-green” colors, which soothed overactive minds and glands. Turquoise was a depressant; blue had sedative properties and could treat skin disorders; indigo was good for calming the thyroid and lungs; and violet reinforced the spleen and decreased muscular activity.
- At the bottom of the wheel were the “artificial colors” made from a mixture of red and blue, which could be used to treat emotional and reproductive issues.
- Magenta, at the very bottom, was the “emotional equalibriator” which could reset the mind as green reset the body.
Are you with me so far? Well, it’s about to get wilder.
Not satisfied with the vague descriptions of treatments and tepid promises of improved health that characterized previous systems, Dr. Ghadiali provided ridiculously detailed courses of color baths, or “tonations” for every condition he could think of and he guaranteed that they would work to “normalate” the body into a balanced state. These were dribbled out monthly in his Spectro-Chrome Magazine and were eventually compiled into a hefty multi-volume Spectro-Chrome Metry Encyclopedia. These were not simple formulae. A series of tonations could go on for weeks and months, and often included variations for the patient’s age and any comorbidities.
- Aggravated by allergies? Begin by bathing your front and back in lemon, then alternating yellow and orange on the front only. Repeat while symptoms last.
- Diabetes got you down in the dumps? Cure it by bathing your front in lemon, followed by bathing your stomach in yellow and your feet in magenta. Repeat for several weeks and you’re good to go.
- Grumpy with gonorrhea? Just alternate green and blue light on your front until the immediate symptoms vanish, then spend a few weeks bathing in lemon and yellow until you’re no longer contagious. And then stay away from loose women.
(On any course of tonations, you should also avoid meat, dairy, alcohol, coffee, tobacco, stimulants, fluoridated water, prescription medications, and too much sexual activity. But that goes without saying.)
Now, you these tonations can’t be achieved by sunning yourself in colored light from some ratchet old stained glass panel. No, you need a Spectro-Chrome Projector, a scientific instrument manufactured to exacting tolerances, that projects the purest and most perfect attuned color waves for the measurement and restoration of the human radio-active and radio-emanative equilibrium. There were a wide range of models available, starting at $250 for the base model, with deluxe models retailing for almost $1,000. (Under the hood, though, they’re all the same: a water-cooled 1,000 watt light bulb and a selection of tinted slides. Basically, a jumped-up spotlight like the one on I used on theater crew in high school.)
Oh, and you’ll also need a Favoroscope to tell you the ideal time of day to begin your tonations. There’s o point in shining green light on your chest at dusk, and you don’t want to look foolish. Buy one of the deluxe models and you’ll get that thrown in for free.
Of course, you can’t just expect to use a Spectro-Chrome Projector right out of the box. This is a powerful and dangerous instrument and you don’t want to blow your thyroid to blue blazes with a lethal overdose of ultra-green! You’ll need to take an intensive two-week course at the Spectro-Chrome Institute in Malaga, NJ where Dr. Ghadiali will personally instruct you in safe operation of the device. That’ll be another $250 but when you’re done you’ll be a fully licensed normalator. All you need to do is pay a yearly maintenance fee to remain in good standing with the Institute.
Now, we understand that you might be a bit out-of-pocket after all this, so good news! Licensed normalators are allowed to rent out their Spectro-Chrome Projectors to affiliates in exchange for a commission, a small part of which gets kicked back to the Institute. We realize this sounds a lot like a multi-level marketing scheme, but that’s only because it totally is.
Through a bizzare combination of bewildering complexity and Dr. Ghadiali’s relentless salesmanship, Spectro-Chrome Metry caught on. By 1922 it was Ghadiali’s sole business, with projector sales and affiliate fees earning him enough money to buy a nice house in Malaga and marry an American woman, Irene Grace Hoger.
By the end of the 1930s there were hundreds of licensed normalators, with 10,000 Americans receiving tonations daily. The only thing preventing Spectro-Chrome Therapy from spreading faster was Ghadiali’s stubborn insistence that he was the only person qualified to train normalators.
Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
In 1925, Dr. Ghadiali knocked up his teenage secretary and drove her to Seattle to perform an abortion. He was arrested for violating the Mann Act, and took potshots at the Feds with a revolver when they tried to arrest him. At his trial he denied transporting the young woman across state line for immoral purposes, and blamed everything on a conspiracy by the American Medical Association, the KKK, Catholics, Negroes, Henry Ford, the Department of Justice and the kingdom of Great Britain. (That’s gotta be one hell of a conspiracy if it can get the KKK to work together with Catholics and Negroes.) Needless to say, there was no conspiracy, just simple racism. Ghadiali was sentenced to five years in prison, but when he failed to report to the hoosegow on time he had to be dragged in by federal marshals. Amazingly, his sentence was commuted by Calvin Coolidge in 1929 and he received a full pardon from FDR in 1937.
When Ghadiali was released from jail in 1929, he was promptly sued by two former students, Theodore and Anna Franks of Vineland, NJ. They were licensed normalators who had been prosecuted by state authorities for practicing medicine without a license. Furious that Spectro-Chrome Metry had been represented to them as a legitimate medical science, they sued the Institute seeking restitution for $212 in fines and $1836 in other miscellaneous expenditures related to their training. They won, and it opened the floodgates.
In 1930, Housman Hughes of Buffalo, NY bought one of the more expensive Spectro-Chrome Projector models and sunk $175 into the Institute’s training course before deciding he didn’t really need all that training When he failed to receive a diploma certifying himself as a licensed normalator (because he hadn’t finished the course), he went to the police and swore out a complaint against Ghadiali for grand larceny.
Ghadiali represented himself in court, because he claimed the case was too technical to be understood by a mere lawyer. He wore the prosecution down, cross-examining every witness statement in such minute detail that testimony would drag on for days. When it came time to present his defense he tried to turn the case into a referendum on Spectro-Chrome Metry in general, producing dozens of character witnesses and drowning the prosecution in technobabble. The charges were eventually thrown out.
Ghadiali declared the case to be vindication for Spectro-Chrome Metry as a valid medical practice. Alas, that was never actually one of they key issues being considered. Hughes had no problems with Spectro-Chrome Metry as a system, he just wanted a diploma that he hadn’t paid for. The judge and jury could see that the prosecution was motivated entirely by sour grapes, and ruled accordingly. But still, it was a victory, and a win is a win.
It was the only win Spectro-Chrome Metry would ever see in court.
In 1931, Ghadiali was convicted in Cleveland, OH for practicing medicine without a license. Same in Wilmington, DE a year later, and in Camden, NJ two years after that. The good doctor denied all charges, claiming not to practice medicine and that the Spectro-Chrome Institute was a “non-profit, non-stock-holding, educational, scientific, beneficial, fraternal and health organization.” (Of course, if you asked him why he presented himself as a Doctor, he would grandiosely declare: “I will never remove that title from my name. I am a medical doctor and I cannot change my title. If I am a king, I am a king forever.”)
The fines hurt, but the Institute was still pulling in enough money to give Ghadiali and his family a comfortable life. Though not comfortable for long.
In 1933 the United States moved to revoke Ghadiali’s citizenship, on the grounds that the Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted immigration to whites only, and the case of U.S. v. Thind (1923) conclusively established that “Hindus” were not white. Not only was Ghadiali at risk of being deported, so were his wife and children, since the law at the time meant that a woman gave up her citizenship when she married a foreigner.
Ghadiali again represented himself in court, and threw out every argument he could think of. He asserted that though he looked like a Hindu to American eyes, he was Persian and therefore white. He claimed the prosecution was orchestrated by the American Medical Association as revenge. He produced reams of evidence showing he’d been a good citizen for 16 years, promising to assimilate better, and pathetically pleading, “You will see my family become so American.”
Fortunately, none of it mattered. The immigration court sensibly ruled that the time to raise objections to Ghadiali’s immigration status was in 1917, when he’d applied for citizenship. The government hadn’t made a fuss at the time, and therefore his citizenship status was a matter of settled law. They weren’t going to take it away from him.
Ghadiali kept to his promise to “become so American” by standing for public office. He ran for governor of New Jersey in 1937 and received 1,264 votes, only 744,700 short of victory. (He only managed to get five votes in Malaga, which meant the only people who’d voted for him were his immediate family.) In 1948 he’d successfully run for the board of the Malaga Volunteer Fire Company, though his primary accomplishment on the board was selling the fire company a small parcel of land at inflated prices.
Now, it’s hard to imagine today, when any shmuck can fill a gelcap with sawdust and lawn trimmings and call it an dietary supplement, but there was a time in this country when the federal government actually cared about protecting the health of the average American. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Post Office would actually vigorously prosecute quacks and try to put them out of business. In the 1940s, Ghadiali and Spectro-Chrome Metry came to their attention,
The Post Office took the first crack at Spectro-Chrome Therapy in 1942. First, they started returning mail addressed to the Institute to the sender, with a big red stamp that screamed “fraudulent.” When Ghadiali tried to skirt this restriction by disincorporating the Spectro-Chrome Institute and replacing it with the Dinshah Spectro-Chrome Institute (such a difference), they brought suit against him for selling unapproved medical devices through the mail — essentially, they were accusing him of mail fraud. They also instituted that his MLM was actually a pyramid scheme, which he vigorously denied.
The case took several years to work its way through the court, but the Spectro-Chrome Institute caught fire in January 1945 on the eve of the trial. Authorities suspected arson, but an investigation was inconclusive. Ghadiali himself was spared suspicion because the building itself was under-insured, for only $20,000 vs. his claimed losses of $250,000. But it should also be noted that in addition to destroying many of his machines and materials, it also destroyed his student records and contact list, which were likely to be subpoenaed if the government won the case.
The government laid out its case patiently, claiming that Ghadiali had bilked Americans out of over a $1,000,000 with his bogus medical devices. The doctor responded with the same courtroom histrionics that had failed everywhere but Buffalo, loudly declaring that Spectro-Chrome was “not a money-making scheme but a recognized method of healing the sick.” The jury found for the government and Ghadiali and the Institute were enjoined from shipping Spectro-Chrome Projectors and educational materials through the post.
He could still make in-personal sales and transport the machines across state lines himself. Didn’t matter. Ghadiali brazenly flouted the order, shipping projectors through intermediaries or sometimes by himself. So in 1946, the Food and Drug Administration came after him for selling unapproved medical devices.
The FDA was worried about the closeness of the previous decision, so they pulled out all the stops in their prosecution. Scientific experts like David L. MacAdam of Eastman-Kodak attacked the pseudoscientific underpinnings of Spectro-Chrome Metry and denied the very existence of infra-green and ultra-green colors. Medical experts like Drs. Ira Kaplan and Arthur C. DeGraff of Bellevue Hospital reported on their own rigorous independent trials of the Spectro-Chrome Projector, which showed no clinical improvements whatsoever.
They went through Ghadiali’s list of testimonials and character witnesses with utter ruthlessness. Many of his trained normalators were outed as delusional cranks, get-rich-quick scammers, or both. Many patients who claimed to have been normalated never suffered from anything other than temporary conditions like constipiation or insomnia. They touted his failures with savage relish, presenting to the court a blind woman who still could not see and a paralyzed woman who was still confined to a wheelchair.
One Spectro-Chrome enthusiast, who claimed that his epilepsy had been cured by bathing in the orange light of the Spectoro-Chrome projector, started having a seizure on the stand. One of the government’s medical experts had to rush to his side and stop him from swallowing his tongue. (In Ghadiali’s defense, the guy was clearly an idiot. The prescribed treatment for epilepsy is violet light, a-doy.)
And they absolute destroyed his key witness, Dr. Kate Baldwin. Baldwin, the former head of nursing at the Philadelphia Women’s Hospital, had used Spectro-Chrome therapies on patients there for years and had become Ghadiali’s staunchest supporter and his favorite witness in court cases. She could speak eloquently and knowledgeably about medical issues. She lent his methodology the prestige of an established medical institution. And she was a kindly old white woman. What kind of monster would attack a kindly old white woman?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that’s who. Over several days of testimony they revealed that Baldwin had used Spectro-Chrome Metry at the Women’s Hospital over the loud objections of the administration, medical and nursing staff, and had been forced to resign when she refused to stop. Her clinical outcomes, presented as miracle cures, were revealed to be either wildly exaggerated or completely fabricated. In one tragic case, a young girl covered with third-degree burns that were supposedly “normalated” by blue light had actually died because those burns never healed. Baldwin’s once-sterling reputation was ruined and never recovered.
The trial lasted over two months. In the end, Ghadiali was found guilty on all counts. He was given a three year suspended sentence with five years probation, and assessed a $20,000 fine. All of the Institute’s surviving projectors and educational material were destroyed, and Ghadiali was forbidden to have contact with other Spectro-Chrome practitioners during his probation. The idea was to cut the head off the snake in the hopes that the body would die.
Ghadiali naturally tried to appeal, but lost. He then tried to leave the country and return to India without paying the fines. That didn’t work, because the authorities were watching him. They didn’t want him to miss upcoming fraud trials pending in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Portland. So he bided his time.
When his probation ended in 1953, he dissolved the Dinshah Spectro-Chrome Institute and incorporated a new entity, the Visible Spectrum Research Institute. The new Institute no longer sold Spectro-Chrome Projectors, but Visible Spectrum Projectors. Each projector was stamped with a warning to the purchaser specific, promising “no warranty, no guarantee, and no liability.” And just to be extra-thorough, the accompanying materials were quick to point out that the device had no known or approved medical uses. If Ghadiali thought that would cover his butt, he was sorely mistaken. The FDA took him back to court and once again shut him down.
That was the real end. Ghadiali still managed to eke out a living by delivering lectures and selling devices, as long as he made sure they did not leave the state of New Jersey and incur the wrath of the feds. By the time he died in 1966, Spectro-Chrome was long forgotten save by a handful of scattered enthusiasts.
Ghadiali’s children dissolved the Visible Spectrum Research Institute in 1975, and replaced it with the “Dinshah Health Society.” These days they’ll sell you plans for a Duo-Chrome Projector, which is not a Spectro-Chrome Projector (wink wink) and not to be used for any medical purposes (wink wink), along with some of Ghadiali’s prescribed tonations, for purposes of historical research and education only (wink wink).
Spectro-Chrome Metry was the last gasp of chromotherapy as science. The government’s protracted campaign against Ghadiali served as a warning, and future practitioners of chromotherapy were careful to present their ideas as religious or spiritual in origin to shield themselves from prosecution.
Most notable of these was Ivah Bergh Whitten, who expanded Theosophical ideas about “color breathing” into a full-fledged system of color healing. Her disciple Roland T. Hunt later founded the AMICA Master Institute of Color Awareness, to to share her “color wisdom” wth the world. It’s not worth going into AMICA’s ideas, are built on a weird melange of “Eastern mysticism” poorly understood by Western colonizers devoid of referents. AMICA’s primary contribution to the world of color was associating Newton’s seven colors with the seven chakras in order to direct color breathing exercises. Eventually that association propagated through New Age circles, inspiring psychic Nancy Ann Tappe to develop that “indigo child” nonsense that was all the rage a few years ago. (AMICA’s other major accomplishment was inspiring Jane Lynch’s character in A Mighty Wind.)
And that’s about it. These days no one takes any sort of chromotherapy seriously, unless they’re already into crystals and auras. As a serious concept it’s more or less dead.
Then again, people are still taking homeopathic cold remedies and we’re all gone nuts for essential oils, so who knows.
Maybe color is due for a comeback.
Dr. Ghadiali is one of the case studies in Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, which puts him in such distinguished company as fellow eclectic physician and hollow Earth theorist Cyrus Teed (who we discussed in Series 4’s “We Live Inside”), electron-denier Bayard Peakes (who we discussed in Series 5’s “I’m the Naughty Boy”), flat Earth prophet Wilbur Glenn Voliva (who we discussed in Series 6’s “Marching to Shibboleth”), and science fiction author Richard Sharpe Shaver (Series 11’s “A Warning to Future Man”).
These days the Dinshah Health Society is headquartered in Vineland, New Jersey. Vineland is no stranger to bad science: in the early 1900s it was home to H.H. Goddard, whose studies of “feeble-mindedness” were used to support eugenic policies across the world. We discussed Goddard’s legacy in Series 8’s “Common Clay.”
Vineland, NJ is the namesake of the Viking colony of Vinland, which we briefly discussed in Series 5’s “The Icelander” and really got into in Series 8’s “Westward, Huss.”
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