CLOAK & DAGGER
Spy, Diplomat, Podiatrist and Quack: The Strange Tale of Lincoln’s ‘Toenail Trimmer’
Issachar Zacharie was Civil War Washington’s foot doctor to the stars who wheedled his way into Lincoln’s confidence and was actually sent to negotiate with the South.
Americans have had little choice but to accept that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and daughter serve as his chief advisors and that his longstanding business partners head up federal departments. But would we rebel finally if he dispatched the man who trimmed his toenails to spy on ISIS or the one who tends to his corns and bunions to negotiate an end to a major war? During the Civil War, that’s just what President Abraham Lincoln did.
Exceptionally tall, thin and long-limbed, Lincoln often found his feet were a tough fit for the period’s hard-sole boots. According to Johnston & Murphy, the shoe company which has shod Presidents since 1850, Lincoln had a size 14 shoe, the biggest in Presidential history. (Trump reportedly wears size 12 shoes.) Lincoln’s big, boney feet ached. So did his back. He knew just the man to call upon. Eventually, he turned to the same hands that soothed his aching dogs to calm the dogs of war.
Issachar Zacharie was Civil War Washington’s foot doctor to the stars, despite the fact that he was something of a quack. Born a Jew in Chatham, England, in 1826, he came to the United States in the mid-1840s. Grocery businesses he opened in various cities failed, but he found better success promoting his skills as a “surgeon” and “chiropodist,” the 19th century’s title for a podiatrist. He settled in wartime Washington, D.C., in 1862, where he turned solely to treating foot and other bone and joint ailments. To establish his medical credentials, he fabricated a wall of diplomas for nonexistent college and medical degrees and persisted in calling himself “doctor” and inscribing “M.D.” after his name. He also plagiarized a textbook on surgery and diseases of the foot, just slapping his name on it.