Being Dr. Stonestreet

In appearance, Clarence Hickey in no way resembles the historic personage he reenacts — the legendary 19th century physician Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet of Rockville, Md.

The famous doctor had mutton chop whiskers, a receding hairline and a serious gaze. He was probably taller than his reenactor, who cuts a dapper figure with his white, slightly curling longish hair, derby hat, old time gentleman’s black frock coat, trousers and vest buttoned over a white shirt and black string tie (sometimes a cravat with a pearl stick pin). This may seem inappropriate attire for a busy practitioner, but in the mid-1800s, this was the typical gentlemanly outfit of many doctors. Trotting along in his one-horse buggy, Stonestreet could have easily been mistaken for a prosperous businessman, unless one noticed the ubiquitous black medical bag at his feet.

Hickey spent four years researching Stonestreet, his family and times, Civil War-period medicine and medical procedures, and Rockville and Montgomery County history. It was the doctor’s humanitarian reputation that especially inspired Hickey to “know more and to bring this person ‘back to life’ for his community today.” With all the information he had acquired, Hickey wrote “Send for the Doctor,” a biography of Stonestreet, which was published by the Montgomery County Historical Society in 2009. All proceeds go to the Society. Hickey further informs the public about this notable person through the Montgomery County High Schools (MCPS) Speakers Bureau, the Stonestreet Museum and the MCHS programs for schools.

To hone his skills, Hickey often participates in workshops and training sessions for docents and re-enactors. He is a member of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., and the Society of Civil War Surgeons, which is “a present-day organization of Civil War reenactors and others interested in the history and historical truth of Civil War medicine.” He considers the docent training sessions sponsored by the Frederick Historic Sites Consortium and the Tourism Council of Frederick County some of the most worthwhile in this area.

The real Dr. Stonestreet received his medical degree from the venerable University of Maryland School of Medicine. After two years he returned to practice in his hometown of Rockville, where his family had constructed a small cottage-like office for their son on the grounds of their home and property near what is now Monroe Street. The office has had a fascinating history of its own, having once been tarted up to serve as the ticket office for the Rockville Volunteer Firemen’s fairgrounds. Fortunately, it has been beautifully restored and moved to the grounds of historic Beall-Dawson House, headquarters of the MCHS in downtown Rockville. Now the Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine, the office contains memorabilia of the doctor and exhibits of 19th century medicine bottles, medical tools and surgical instruments, sure to intrigue young visitors.

Seeing Hickey in action as Dr. Stonestreet is both highly entertaining and instructive. During Montgomery County’s Heritage Days, he stands coatless in his white long-sleeved shirt and black string tie in a replica of a Civil War army tent beside a supposedly wounded soldier. The realistic dummy has a battle-smoked face and unkempt hair. He has sustained a leg wound from one of the devastating minie ball bullets and another injury to his arm. He could have represented one of the thousands of casualties from the Battle of Antietam in 1862.

Before operating on the “victim,” three imaginary contract surgeons have already decided his leg can be saved from amputation. The reenactor then demonstrates several devices to anesthetize the patient with ether; one surgeon is prepared to hold down the soldier in case he reacts to the anesthesia.

Hickey has ingeniously dug a hole in the leg of the fake victim so he can demonstrate two Civil War-period instruments that extract an authentic bullet from the mannequin. He “cleans” the wound and packs it with lint (a substitute for cotton) to stop the bleeding. If the bullet hole needs suturing, Hickey demonstrates how natural silkworm-produced silk thread and a large needle were used for stitches. He enrolls a bandage (perhaps wound by women on the homefront) to bind the wound.

After his talk and demonstration, a small child and his mother returned to the tent “to see if the soldier is still dead.” Hickey carefully and assuringly tells the little boy, “Oh, he isn’t dead. He’s going to get better. He will be going to the hospital,” which after the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam was the Rockville courthouse, converted to an intermediate care hospital for the recovering wounded.

Despite their differences in appearance, Clarence Hickey and Dr. Edward Stonestreet share the same concern for their “patients’” well being.