Bichon Pharmacy, also known as Bichon's Drug Store, was a famous hoodoo shop in Houston during the mid 20th century. This is an extract from the book "Sig Byrd's Houston" by Sigman Byrd (Viking Press, 1955) that describes the Bichon Pharmacy in its prime:
Well, here on lower Milam Street, the three-hundred block, mostly respectable, is called Milamstrasse--so named by Teddy Buck, who runs a store specializing in clothes for fat men. Teddy has been acclaimed Burgomeister of Milamstrasse by his neighbors.
These include Bichon's Drug Store, our town's main hoo-doo supply house, where black-cat floor wash sells for two dollars and a half in the large economy size. Here citizens who dabble in mojo and hoodoo can buy such innocuous items as dragon-blood sticks, for luck; wonder-of-the-world root, for locating treasures; and sweet mama shakeup, to encourage romance. If you need something a little stronger, you can get oil of bendover, Adam and Eve root, spirit oil, Chinese business powder, black-cat perfume, five finger grass, lodestones, steel filings, easy-life powder, controlling oil, anger powder, mad water, high-john-the-conqueror root, and getaway powder.
Bichon's sells drugs too, including some proprietary preparations bearing the store owner's label: Bichon's Liniment, Mouth Wash, Cough Syrup, Sanitive Wash, Hydralto Injection, and so on. But hoodoo goods are the best sellers, with candles leading -- from van-van tapers, for luck, priced at three dollars a dozen, to death candles, at ten dollars each.
There are black devil candles, for getting shed of enemies; Louisiana occult candles in assorted colors, for various uses; and three wick candles, in red for business, green for work, and pink or blue for love, depending on the sex of the objective. Master candles, at three dollars each, are supposed to enable you to master any situation. But it's the death candle that will slay you, the folks who believe in hoodoo tell me. This comes in the shape of a coffin containing a doll ten inches tall--male or female. Light the wick, name the doll for an enemy, and if the hoodoo works he will expire with the last guttering flame.
The next corner, at Preston Avenue, is the place where Fenderbender White used to make his headquarters.
Fenderbender would stand around with a big toolbox that had a sign on the side: STOP ME--FENDERS STRAIGHTENED WHILE YOU WAIT. He was very good at his trade, and his prices were considerably lower than those of the regular body-and-fender shops, but the law frowned upon the noise he made, and he finally vanished.
The four-hundred block, where the Four Hundred never go, is called Catfish Reef.
The Reef is bi-racial. The light and the dark meet here. Generally speaking, the odd numbers, on the east side, are dark, the even numbers light; but the exception proves the rule.
You can buy practically anything here. Whiskey, gin. wine, beer, a one hundred and fifty dollar suit, firearms, a four bit flop, a diamond bracelet that will look equally good on the arm of a chaste woman or a fun-gal. You can buy fried catfish in Catfish Reef. You can buy reefers on the Reef.
Or you can get faded, get your picture made, your shoes shined, your hair cut, your teeth pulled. You can get your teeth knocked out for free. You can buy lewd pictures, and in the honkytonks you can arrange for the real thing. The reef is a quietly cruel street, where rents are high and laughter comes easy, where violence flares quickly and briefly in the neon twilight, and if a dream ever comes true it's apt to be a nightmare.
The Bichon Pharmacy was still popular in 1965, as this blog commentary notes in passing:
My fellow scout buddies (circa 1965) would take a bus downtown, explore Foley's, have a pizza slice or hoagie at Woolworth's, walk down to Market Square to visit Bichon's Drugstore that sold voodoo and occult charms, walk around European Import and then lunch at Felix [a Mexican restaurant], the downtown location of which was cafeteria style.
The Bichon Pharmacy was founded by Leon Louis Bichon (April 1855 - April 1925), a native of Nantes, France who immigrated to the United States in 1876. In 1879, at the age of 26, he enlisted in the United States Army and by 1880, he was stationed in Standing Rock, Boreman County, Dakota Territory. He re-enlisted and served in an Army hospital, which is where he learned the pharmacy trade, and he was discharged on April 9, 1891 at the age of 36. According to his Army records, he was 5'10" tall, with "Hazel" eyes, "Gray-Black" hair, and a "Dark" complexion.
Leon Bichon's wife, Mamie Jane (also spelled Marie or Mary in some records] (April 1868 - June 1925) was born Mary Jane Carn in Virginia, the child of Irish immigrants.
The couple married in 1887, while Leon was in the Army, and had seven children:
Leon Bichon did not start a hoodoo drug store immediately upon rejoining civilian life. The City Directories of Houston tell the story of his progress:
In 1899 he was a "Clerk" for James P. McLean and lived at 813 San Felipe.
In the United States Federal Censuses of 1900, 1910, and 1920 Leon and his family were located in Houston's Third Ward, where his occupation was listed as "Druggist" in a "Drug Store."
In 1900 Leon co-owned the Washam and Bichon Drug Store at 1702 McKinney Avenue (Phone 891) and resided at 1009 Jackson. In 1902 he apparently lived next door to the Washam and Bichon Drug Store, at 1704 McKinney Avenue. In 1903 he opened his own sole-proprietorship drug store for the first time, at 1119 Crawford, on the corner of Dallas Avenue SW. (Phone 3172-1), and the family lived at 913 Jackson.
In 1905 the drug store remained in the same location, but the family moved closer, to 1610 Dallas Avenue. In 1911, the Bichon Drug Store had moved a couple of blocks, to 1305 Crawford and the family was living at 1317 Jackson. The store's phone number was changed to A-2907.
In 1915, the drug store was in the same location, but Leon and Mamie had relocated their home to 1618 Elgin Avenue. Their oldest daughter, Leonie, listed her occupation as a "Clerk" for Thomas Goggan and Bros. and she still lived with her parents.
In 1917 the Bichon Pharmacy had moved again, to 2001 McKinney Avenue, just a few blocks from the location of the original Washam and Bichon drug store.
In 1920, Leon and the family were still living at 1618 Elgin Avenue. Their grown daughter Andrea T. Bichon was a clerk at the Bichon Drug Store on McKinney Avenue, and she resided at 2017 Bell Avenue. Their daughter Mamie R. Bichon resided with her parents, but was employed as a secretary at the competing Cockrell's Drug Store.
In 1922, the Bichon Drug Store moved to 312 Milam Street in the racially integrated neighborhood later described by Sig Byrd (see above). The family, including Leon and Mamie, Leon L. Jr., and Mamie R. relocated their home to 401 Bomar, and Mamie R. continued her employment as a secretary at Cockrell's Drug Store.
Leon Bichon died in 1925 and one of his pallbearers was his fellow-druggist, and the former employer of his daughter, Abbott Cockrell. Here is Leon Bichon's obituary:
LEON LOUIS BICHON 1855-1925With the death of Leon Bichon in 1925 and the passing of his wife two months later, ownership of the Bichon Pharmacy was bequeathed to the next generation, but there were some hurdles in the way:
Funeral services for Leon Bichon, 70, who died at a local hospital Tuesday (April 7, 1925), will be held at his home 401 Bomar Avenue, at 4 p.m. Friday, Rev. T. J. Windham officiating. Burial will be in Hollywood Cemetery under the direction of the Morse Company, undertakers. Mr. Bichon is survived by his wife; two sons, Leon, Jr. and Louis Bichon; four daughters, Mrs. W. A. Jehn of San Antonio, Misses Mamie, Charlotte and Frances Bichon, and two grand children, Mary Jehn and Andre Bichon, all of Houston. Pallbearers will be L.A. Kottwitz, Abbott Cockrell, W.N. Forbes, Max Henke, R.E. Cuthrell and Sam C. Randle.
From The Houston Chronicle, April 9, 1925, page 22.
First, there was a lawsuit. L.A. Kottwitz, one of the pallbeaers listed above, was the family's lawyer and the executor of Mamie Bichon's estate, and almost immediately he had to represent the surviving family members in a trademark and patent suit involving the Bichon Drug Store's proprietary formulas. In this suit, which the Bichon family won, we learn that Leon Bichon conducted a "mail order drug business" -- that is, a typical hoodoo drug store, advertising in Black owned newspapers throughout the nation -- and that upon his death, one of his employees, W. W. Glass, "opened up a drug store in Houston and [was] both advertising the fact of his former connection with Leon Bichon and circularizing the customers of Leon Bichon's drug store" in an attempt to appear to be the legitimate successor to the Bichon Pharmacy, going so far as to make and sell the "secret formulas" and the "written matter used by Leon Bichon in the conduct of his mail order drug business" -- that is, instructions for the use of goods. The judge noted that Bichon had not copyrighted, trademarked, or patented his material, but that "for a number of years prior to April, 1925, Leon Bichon conducted a mail order drug business in the city of Houston, manufactured, sold, and distributed" certain goods, that he had the "right of discoverer" of his own "secret formulas" and that the Bichon family's use of names and "emblems" (labels or packaging designs) was protected from the former employee's "application of them to [his] new and distinctive enterprise" because that "would tend to mislead [the] public and injure the association first so using them." The suit was settled in December 1925 and W. W. Glass's appeal for a rehearing was denied in July 1927.
Next came the issue of succession. The couple's oldest daughter, Leonie Elizabeth, was married and living in San Antonio. Their second child, Mamie R., died a little over a year after her parents passed, in September 1926. Their next child, and oldest son, Andra [also spelled Andrea] Francis, had preceded his parents in death, having passed away in 1922. Two more daughters, Charlotte and Frances, seem to have had no interest in the pharmacy and never worked in the family business.
In all likelihood, the Bichon Drug Store was to have been left to Leon Louis Bichon's 19 year old namesake son, Leon Louis Bichon Jr. (February 1906 - February 1972), but this was not to be, for, according to the 1930 Federal Census, Leon Jr., then all of 24 years old, was listed as an "Inmate" at San Quentin Prison in Marin County, California, where his assigned occupation was "Laborer, Construction." What crime he committed to be incarcerated in a federal penitentiary is not known to me, but given the time period, when the Volstead Act was in effect, and the family's history of operating a drug store, it is possible that he was convicted of selling illegal alcohol, a crime that was very harshly punished under federal laws at that time. After serving his time, Leon L. Bichon Jr. never returned to Houston. He was living in Chicago in 1954 when his brother Louis Leon died and was still there in 1967 when his sister Leonie Elizabeth died. He himself died in 1972 in Riverside, Los Angeles County, California.
It fell to the youngest son, Louis Leon Bichon, born in 1910, to take over the pharmacy. However, he was only 15 years old when his parents died, and so he was joined by his oldest sister Leonie, who was 37 at the time.
As a young woman, Leonie had married a man named Walter A. Jehn [also spelled John in some records] in Houston and had a daughter named Mary Leonie [later Leonie Jehn Salazar]. At the time of her father's death, in 1925, Leonie was living in San Antonio, Texas, but she moved back to Houston with her daughter to operate the drug store.
Louis spent his entire life in Houston, where his son, Louis Leon Bichon Jr., was born around 1931. He died on September 2, 1954. Here is Louis Leon Bichon Sr.'s obituary:
LOUIS L. BICHON, 44, of 4408 Floyd St. died 10:35 PM Thursday (September 2,1954) in a Houston Hospital. Native and lifelong resident of Houston. Was owner of the Bichon Drug Store. Survivors: Widow, Mrs. Louis L. Bichon, Houston; son Louis L. Bichon, Jr. Los Angeles, Calif; sisters, Mrs. Leonie E. Skinner, Mrs. Frances P. Collins, both of Houston; brother Leon L. Bichon, Chicago, Ill. Services 4 PM Saturday, Chapel of Geo. H. Lewis & Son's. The Rev. E.O. Dubberly. Burial, Hollywood Cemetery. Pallbearers; Raul Perz, Reynold Perz, E.E. Hughes, H.M. Lemez, Andrea Wolff, I.P. Skinner. Geo. H. Lewis & Son's, 400 block, McGowen Avenue, Linden 3141.
Sig Byrd's book was published in 1955 but was based on earlier newspaper articles he had written, so it is likely that both Louis and Leonie were the co-owners of the pharmacy when Byrd visited and described the place.
With Louis Leon's death at the young age of 44, Leon and Mamie's oldest daughter, Leonie Elizabeth Bichon-Skinner, became the sole proprietor of the hoodoo drug store. Her second marriage was to Isiam Payton ("I.P.") Skinner, who was her husband at the time of her brother Louis Leon's death, and had acted as a pallbearer at his brother-in-law's funeral.
Here is Leonie Elizabeth Bichon-Skinner's obituary:
LEONIE ELIZABETH BICHON-SKINNER 1888-1967Louis Leon's son, Louis Leon Jr., married a woman named Susan Collins in Texas in 1968. It is unknown to me whether he ever took part in running the drug store after the death of his aunt Leonie.
Mrs. Leonie E. Skinner of 1503 Vassar Place, died 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, May 24, 1967 at her residence. Native of El Paso and a long time resident of Houston. Alumnus Incarnant Word Academy, retired former owner of Bichon Pharmacy. Survivors: Husband I.P. Skinner; daughter Mrs. Leonie Jehn Salazar; sister Mrs. Frances B. Collins, all of Houston; brother, Leon Bichon of Chicago Ill.; three grandchildren and a number of nieces, nephews and other relatives. Funeral services 11 a.m. Friday, George H. Lewis & Son's, McGowen Avenue Chapel with Rev. Emmett O. Dubberly officiating. Interment, Hollywood Cemetery. Geo. H. Lewis & Son's, 400 Block McGowen, JA-4-3141
From the Houston Chronicle, May 25, 1967.
Finally, this story would not be complete without my presentation of a little-known fact about the Bichon Drug Store that cements its place in hoodoo history:
According to her student and colleague George R. "Tarostar" Bennien, it was at Bichon's that June Dey Zabawsky, also known as Charmaine the Champagne Blonde, first learned about African American folk magic.
Charmaine, who was a stripper, and her husband, Steve Dey, a tap-dancer, eventually ended their performance careers in Las Vegas, where they opened one of the premier hoodoo shops of the 1960s-1970s, Bell Book and Candle of Las Vegas.
Charmaine Dey's influential text "The Magic Candle" -- which fuses old-timey Bichon Drug Store hoodoo with some of the Wicca-like techniques she learned from her friend Sybil Leek -- remains in print thirty years after Dey's passing, and is one of the best-selling books of its kind. Embedded within it are gems of Houston hoodoo gold, circa 1920 - 1950, for those with eyes to see.
So although almost every building mentioned above has been razed to the ground, and the people described are now long gone, in the pages of "The Magic Candle," the magic of Bichon Drug Store lives on!
This material is reprinted from
posted by Duke Jones.
posted by Jay Francis
The Houston Chronicle
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