Guest post by Dr. Thomas Potisk
As a student at Chiropractic College in the mid 1980’s, I was in awe of the unique natural approach to health as taught there. The Chiropractic principles that we essentially each are self-healing, have our own inner doctor and that a free flowing nervous system is critical to optimum health were refreshing and enlightening to me, a former pre-med student.
But nothing peaked my interest more than the stories I was hearing of a Chiropractor who had built a world-wide following of patients seeking his sometimes miraculous care, worked 7 days a week seeing hundreds of patients weekly, built a monstrous sized unique clinic, and all done in an obscure tiny town called Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Those who knew him personally told me he wore wildly colorful shoes.
This man was Dr Clarence Gonstead, already deceased by the time I learned of him. But the stories of this Chiropractor and his accomplishments seemed larger than life.
I was told he had to build both a hotel and airport next to his clinic to accommodate patients who came from far and wide, and that he himself had an airplane and when time permitted, would fly it to house calls. Some said he owned a huge silver Cadillac limousine, reportedly rejected by Elvis, and used to pick up patients at the airport.
Rumors circulated that patients were referred to him by the Mayo Clinic, that he helped many patients thought hopeless by other doctors such as paraplegics, those with infertility, and even some who were labeled terminally ill. Members of the Green Bay Packers football team were reportedly seen seeking care from him, among other celebrities including Billy Graham who offered to introduce Chiropractic and the Gonstead Method to his large audiences world-wide. Clarence declined stating “We’re not ready for that yet.”
And then there were some zany stories circulating such as his diet consisting mainly of Summer Sausage, cheese and doughnuts eaten in the clinic’s darkroom between patients, adjusting patients until 11 PM, then making local house calls, and even barn calls on animals until 2 AM, and starting all over again at 6 AM, this done 6 days weekly! His Norwegian descent enabled some strange expressions like “Hoopensocker!” when he felt he made an excellent adjustment.
Some of my fellow students would laugh about all this, but I was mesmerized and enamored by it and wanted to know more.
Seeking out Chiropractors who had worked and learned from him, I was told that although his ultra-success levels were real, Clarence Gonstead was surprisingly a very humble and simple man, with an incredible ability to focus his attention on each patient, diligently finding the specific cause of their impaired healing, and then specifically and accurately adjusting that source in their spine. One doctor quoted his response to the question “How is it that you have so many patients?” Clarence said “I only have one patient at a time and it’s the one directly in front of me.” This to me was inspiration to learn more about what sounded like a rare and incredible healer.
I’ll never forget this story -a DC from Canada told of having a young boy patient with undecended testes. A quick call to Dr Gonstead for advice revealed that undescended testes are often the consequence of an EX ilium subluxation (twisted pelvic bone for you non DCs). Adjusting the boy that way resulted in a quick recovery and years later that patient returned to introduce his wife and several children!
I was thrilled to learn that his wife Elvira was still living in Mount Horeb. Soon I made my way there with my colleague Frank, looking up her phone number and nervously calling to introduce myself. “Come right over to my home immediately!” she demanded. Elvira and Clarence had built a unique home in the Frank Lloyd Wright style of architecture close to the clinic. Walking up to that impressive door and anxiously knocking, we were greeted by a delightful and warmly welcoming lady who led us through a narrow labyrinth between piles of papers, boxes, and other relics of her long life with Clarence. Entering the living room, the furniture there was also loaded and covered with her memorabilia, but she guided us to sit next to her on the only available space – chiropractic adjusting equipment! I found her sharp minded and willing to answer our many questions.
Her stories of Clarence, the clinic, his practice, and his life were extremely interesting, and revealed that yes, Clarence Gonstead was indeed a rare and unique healer of many, and that most of the legends are true regarding not only his extreme success as a Chiropractor, but his simple yet odd-at-times lifestyle.
She shared a rarely heard story about the time she and Clarence traveled to Africa. Apparently they visited a small remote village and encountered a local Chief ailing with digestive issues. Clarence applied his skills and the Chief was grateful. A few hours later, when their tour bus arrived at the next remote village, Elvira claims that the natives were kneeling, bowing, and exclaiming Clarence as “Great White Healer!”
Now as my 34th year as a Chiropractor approaches, I’m still excited to both share and hear Gonstead stories. And I’ve come to be certain that the Gonstead Clinic was once the “Mayo Clinic” equivalent in Chiropractic and still is the “Rock of Gibraltar” for specific full-spine hands-on spinal adjusting.
The Gonstead Clinic is still open, with 3 DCs on staff, and Gonstead’s silver Cadillac limousine still in the garage, but sadly the structure is crumbling. Built in 1964 and designed by an associate of Frank Lloyd Wright, 50 plus years and hundreds of thousands of patient visits have taken their toll.
I am currently the President of the C.S. Gonstead Clinic Foundation, a non-profit entity now owning and operating the clinic. Myself and several others volunteer to restore, maintain, and preserve this important and unique Chiropractic landmark.
Can you help us please? A fundraising campaign is currently underway called “Gonstead Guardians”. Let’s restore and preserve this place as an example of ultra-success all Chiropractors can aspire to.
You will find more details and pictures at www.gofundme.com/gonsteadguardians. Donations are 100% tax deductible.
Dr Tom Potisk
President, C.S. Gonstead Clinic Foundation
P.S. Add to your goals a visit to the Gonstead Clinic in Mount Horeb, WI. The staff would be happy to give you a tour.