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by Frank Erdman
Frank Erdman with portrait of his father, Frederick Erdman.
My father, Frederick Erdman, was a man of strong character — a man who constantly sought to overcome life's trials and setbacks. In this foreword I offer a brief account of my father's life and the obstacles and challenges he met. Here is the story of a man who, by the age of twenty- one, had suffered years of serious health problems and was confined to bed. Yet his father encouraged him to "look beyond the loss of years," and believe that the Lord would use these difficulties for His good.
Indeed, those words of hope would prove prophetic as my father eventually learned to heal himself, and in turn, became the source of healing for many others. It is his own story of this journey of discovery that he recounts in this book.
Frederick Erdman was born on March 1, 1874, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his father was a pastor. Frederick's father, Reverend William J. Erdman, D.D., had held several pastorates, and as he neared retirement age, was in great demand as a Bible teacher and conference speaker. Among his distinctions were having followed Dwight L. Moody as pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago and having served as a consulting editor of the Scoffield Bible. My grandfather and D. L. Moody were close personal friends. In fact, when Grandfather left the Moody Church , he was given the church's old reed organ, which remains in our family to this day.
The Erdman family moved from Jamestown, New York, to Asheville , North Carolina , in 1888. As a young man Frederick greatly enjoyed the mountains of western North Carolina and took long hiking trips into the mountains with his older brother, Charles, and his younger brothers, Walter and George. On many of these hikes, Frederick carried a large, heavy camera and tripod in order to take photographs—a number of which still remain in the family. He lived a healthy, normal life until the day in 1890 when he strained his back at age sixteen.
From the vantage point of his later life, it can be observed that Father had a tendency toward dilation of the arteries. The straining of his back, however, shifted him to a fully dilated condition. His health declined steadily and everything his parents did to correct the matter was to no avail. They took him to well-known specialists and clinics around the country, and even surgery was undertaken. The doctors commonly recommended heat and drug treatments, but for ten years the results were all the same. He continued to become weaker. There were days when he could only sit up for a few minutes at a time, and otherwise he was confined to bed. His eyes were affected and reading was difficult. Though he was unaware of it at the time, Father had all the classic symptoms of severe dilation.
Among the specialists the Erdmans consulted was Dr. J. P. Arnold, M.D., who became very interested in the situation and spent much effort in trying to help. He was willing to let Father ask questions and discuss his condition.
Though it was Dr. Arnold who helped enable Father to understand the physiology of his condition, it was the Lord who answered the prayers of countless friends and enabled Father to reason through his very desperate situation. Father was a keen observer and very logical, and the Lord helped him to conclude that if the various treatments only made him worse, perhaps treatments of an opposite nature would make him better. Accordingly, he experimented on himself using a variety of means to stimulate the spinal muscles.
In about 1909, after a period of concentrated prayer of several days, Father tried applying cold to his back. Almost immediately he started to feel stronger. After much experimenting he developed the methods used throughout his life to treat dilated patients.
Friends and family members were astonished at his progress. After Father resumed a normal life, they urged him to try the same techniques on other family members and friends. Thus, he was led into what was to become his life's work—both avocation and vocation.
Driven to Learn
As a young man Father had wanted to go to the mission field, but his health blocked that course of action. As a matter of fact, his health had forced him to drop out of school in the ninth grade, and he was never able to finish his formal education. This, of course, was a great disappointment because his brothers Charles and Walter went on to Princeton University and Princeton Seminary, following in the footsteps of earlier Erdman generations. Frederick, therefore, was a self-educated man, but there never was a better educated man. He had considerable reading skill in French, German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He was fond of reading the latter two in his personal Bible study.
Becoming a doctor—or even being engaged in the healing arts in any fashion—was farthest from Father's desire or goal in life. He had experienced the complete inability of the experts to be of help in his life, and being part of that profession offered no interest whatsoever. Nevertheless, as he started applying what he had learned to himself, friends, and family members, he saw that helping others in this way represented a great challenge and responsibility.
Father's academic ability and curiosity led him to continue consulting with others. In the process, he acquired quite a fine medical library of his own. Evidently, he had the ability to devour the material, and he was blessed with a remarkable memory.
Father taught himself History, English, Science, and many subjects which he would have studied had he finished his formal education. It was, therefore, no surprise that he achieved a remarkably solid, academic medical training—something that may not have been done prior to that time and, certainly, would be impossible to do in more recent years.
The bottom line was that as friends continued to improve through the use of cold applications on the spinal muscles, and as Father's understanding of physiology increased, it became clearer and clearer that this was what the Lord had in store for him.
The Start of Frederick's Practice
Around 1910, Father applied for a license in the state of Pennsylvania as a drugless therapist. Such a license was then issued by the State and was continued, in his case, throughout his lifetime. Equipped with this license, Father was able to expand his practice and continued seeing patients in the greater Philadelphia area. As word spread of his remarkable success, patients came from out of town, and he housed them in a small hotel, the Del Mar Morris, which was just half a block from his home. Home was the house that Father and Mother purchased as newlyweds in 1914 at 417 West Chelten Avenue in Germantown .
Mother (Mary Hickok) and Father first met in Asheville, North Carolina, where Mother was principal of a girls' boarding school run by the Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church. They had an enrollment of 450 students. Mother joined the school at age 18 in order to teach Mathematics, and two years later she was appointed principal. This was a great tribute to her executive abilities, which were conspicuous throughout her life.
Father's health had continued to deteriorate in Asheville, and finally (about 1902), his parents brought him to Philadelphia. (In hindsight, this was clearly the Lord's doing because it enabled them to meet Dr. Arnold, which lead to Father's discoveries several years later.) As noted above, Father and his family met Mother just before leaving Asheville. However, it wasn't until about 1910 that Mother and her parents also moved to Philadelphia. Through some chain of events, the Erdmans and Hickoks met again in Philadelphia. This was about one year after Father had discovered the cold treatment, and by then he was well. Somehow he was asked to test Mother, and he found that she also needed cold therapy. They were married about four years later.
When Father and Mother were seriously considering marriage, Father's health had not been tried and proven following his years of illness. Because of Father's poor health, Mother's two brothers, understandably, were concerned about her marrying him. It is significant to observe that Mother's health, as well as Father's, was maintained by the therapy, and both were enabled to live until their 96th year.
Mother was a remarkably unselfish and hard working person. She did all of the correspondence and bookkeeping, and in every sense of the word, was an incredibly wonderful helpmeet. She was as responsible for getting Father's practice going and sustaining it as he was himself. Two people could never have worked together more faithfully for the common goal of helping others than did Mother and Father.
It was in the Chelten Avenue house that I was born on December 18, 1918. Mother had a very difficult delivery. Because of that, my brother Bill—born two-and-a-half years later—was delivered in the Germantown Hospital.
Bill and I were "patients" almost from birth. This was not because we were in exceptional need, but simply because it was natural for Father to apply what he had learned to his own sons. For example, one of my earliest childhood memories is of suffering from painful earaches. I was always grateful when they cleared up quickly because cold was applied to the spinal muscles. Father very faithfully tested us regularly and learned from us as he did from all patients and experiences.
One of my earliest memories is that of two of our first-floor rooms and two of our second-floor bedrooms being divided by sliding curtains supported by horizontal pipes extending from wall to wall. Father had a local plumber build treatment tables out of pipe fittings which supported metal cots on which there were mattresses. In break ing up the rooms in this fashion, Father was able to see several patients simultaneously in his own home and thus make his practice much more efficient. By that time, Father's parents, both in their nineties, also were living in the Chelten Avenue house. With so much of the house committed to office space, it was necessary for mother to have her desk in the basement, along with the coal and furnace ashes!
About 1923, two adjoining houses were purchased directly across the street from our home. This purchase was made possible by Mr. Henry P. Crowell—one of the founders of the Frederick Erdman Association. My parents then were able to move the office directly across the street, thereby restoring our home to a more normal condition. The two houses were connected, and this is where Father established and enlarged his practice. The combined houses also contained 12 bedrooms with baths, which provided rooms for out-of-town patients. Several staff members also lived in the house, and three meals were served daily to all house patients. This facility was in continuous operation until 1976.
Carrying a Very Heavy Schedule
It seems appropriate to describe a typical day in Father's life. Family worship was always first in the day and always before breakfast. After breakfast, six days a week, Father saw patients—including the house patients—all morning. He felt strongly that the major meal, dinner, should be in the middle of the day. This was followed by a short rest and then more patient hours.
Often in the afternoon, there was time set aside for dictation to Ellen Crosley. Ellen joined Father's staff in 1924 and remained active for the next sixty years. She celebrated her 90th birthday in 1991.
After supper was "family time," when Father was with the family and available for help as needed. He then returned once more "across the street" and saw each house patient before bedtime. He felt very strongly that if each patient could go to sleep with an optimal circulation, then that patient would not only have a good night's sleep but would be restored to good health more quickly. His evenings lasted until 10:00 or 11:00 at night—including Sundays—in order that house patients could improve as rapidly as possible. It is regrettable that in recent years it has not been practical to continue this procedure.
In my entire life I have never known anyone so willing as my father to sacrifice everything in order to make others well. His was a life of supreme commitment to learning and establishing the therapy. Countless times I recall Father saying that if a patient did not do well, it was not the patient's fault; it was his fault. As a result, he was constantly learning.
In view of Father's extremely heavy work schedule, it is remarkable that he was able to do so much writing. In addition to carrying on a heavy correspondence load with patients, he completed two textbooks and more than thirty booklets, articles, and pamphlets. He also took time to correspond with his two sons. His letters were always worth keeping. The great majority were about the exposition of difficult Bible passages or some new discovery dealing with the treatment. However, Father's sense of humor was often conspicuous with the inclusion of a joke. On occasion, he was apt to comment on political or international news, but he rarely resorted to "small talk."
All of this, of course, was before word processors and dictating machines (at least he did not own one), and therefore, is a great tribute to Ellen Crosley who typed every word and to Kathleen Cowan who helped edit the revision to Control of the Circulation.
Father not only carried the schedule reported above, but also spent one day each week in either Pittsburgh or Princeton seeing a large group of patients in each city. This illustrates the very heavy workload which he maintained. In hindsight I am amazed that a man who had been so sick for nineteen years was able to accomplish so much.
It is not surprising that winter vacations in Augusta, Georgia, and long summer vacations were essential. However, these vacations were made possible only by Father moving the whole operation to our summer home, where a steady stream of patients always accompanied him. For many years my parents had an old farm house and barns on 120 acres along the coast of Rhode Island. The farm house was one of those historic structures put together with handmade nails and wooden pins. It was large enough to house patients, and there were usually fifteen or more family, patients, and staff around the table at mealtime.
As the years passed, Father observed that dilated people did not do as well at sea level as they did at a higher altitude. Always one to act on his convictions, Father sold the beautiful old farm in 1929 and moved the summer operation to a hilltop overlooking the Delaware River Valley in Pennsylvania. The elevation was about 1,000 feet, which he always believed was optimum. The combined summer rest and working vacations were expanded in Pennsylvania as more cottages were built.
Father never changed his daily routine in the summer. However, family worship was expanded to include all patients and staff members. Therefore, it worked out best to have family worship after breakfast, not before. Father always took a nap after the dinner meal in the middle of the day. Bill and I took turns in treating Father on each of these occasions. In my earliest memory of Father, he needed only warm therapy. As a matter of fact, to my knowledge, he only re-dilated once (at age 80) during the last thirty years of his Life. I report this to encourage those who are going through the process of putting cold on and looking forward to the time that they will become constricted. Surely no one needed cold more than my father at the time he made his original discoveries.
The opportunity that Bill and I had in giving Father a warm treatment on a daily basis was that we were privileged to be instructed by the expert. Obviously, it is for this reason that those who were able to compare my technique with Bill's technique reported that they were very similar.
Mother did not constrict as rapidly as Father had, but in later years, she also required only warm treatments. She received these daily, often by one of the "boys." This enabled us to broaden our experience.
Probably, it is no surprise that both Bill and I required cold therapy from tune to time. I was not blessed to be a member of the group who constricted once and for all. On the contrary, I have spent most of my adult years yo-yoing back and forth, sometimes between extreme dilation and extreme constriction. The Lord does all things well, and I am certain He made me the way He did so that I would be sensitive to the frustration and discouragement some people experience when they go back and forth constantly. Had I shifted over relatively quickly, I would never have been able to relate as I can to those who find the process of becoming constricted a very slow and potentially discouraging one.
In spite of this handicap, I have been able to stay on top of my circulatory condition and apply whichever therapy was needed. As a result, I have been able to maintain an exceedingly heavy work schedule throughout my entire life. Furthermore, I am 100 percent confident that if I had not had this knowledge and this ability, I would never have been able to achieve anything in the business world, or possibly I might not have even been able to hold a job. As a result, I can relate better to a struggling patient than almost anyone else can. I simply keep telling such patients, "There is light at the end of the tunnel."
We are working hard toward the goal—and I trust will soon achieve it—whereby we will be able to get a patient through the transition stage from complete dilation to normal vascular tension quickly and easily. All we can say now is that it is well worth the struggle, heartache, and sacrifice.
Henry Crowell: A Generous Benefactor
Mother and Father were invited out to Winnetka, Illinois, for the summer when I was three years old (1922) in order to give Father a much-needed vacation and to enable him to treat Mrs. Henry Crowell. That summer was the start of a close family relationship between the Crowells and my parents.
Henry Crowell was a successful businessman. Among other business accomplishments, he founded the Quaker Oats Company. As a result, he was able to generously support evangelical Christian enterprises around the world. He was active in starting Moody Bible Institute and was one of its major benefactors. Only the Lord knows how many missionaries Mr. Crowell fully supported. He even planned life incomes for many, which continued even after he went to be with the Lord.
As already noted, Mr. Crowell was a very generous supporter of The Frederick Erdman Association. In his will, he also provided a fund to enable "full-time, evangelical Christian workers" to receive the Erdman Therapy, when they were otherwise unable to receive it for financial reasons.
Other than my parents, Mr. Crowell was probably the most influential role model I had in my entire life. He was truly an outstanding Christian gentleman. As a result of this close family friendship, I spent fourteen Christmases in Augusta, Georgia, with Mr. Crowell in his winter home (which formerly had been the governor's mansion). Needless to say, these Christmas vacations form wonderfully happy memories.
In 1942, while I was working as an engineer in the research department of Wright Aeronautical, I was asked to give a paper to the Society of Automotive Engineers in Los Angeles. While traveling west, I arranged to spend a weekend with Mr. Crowell in Winnetka. As it happened, he had one other house guest at the time: Gypsy Smith. What an opportunity to get to know that remarkable preacher! I mention this because one week to the day following that memorable weekend, Mr. Crowell went to be with the Lord. Of course, after delivering my paper in Los Angeles, I once more was in Chicago for Mr. Crowell's memorial service in the Moody Church. What a privilege to be there.
My Brother, William J. Erdman, M.D.
Bill went into medicine—giving up his first love, which was business—because he felt called to carry on our father's work. This was brought about partly by a tragic experience, which he suffered in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. As a result of all of the bloodshed plus his narrow escape from death, he felt a life of helping others was what the Lord wanted of him. It is equally important to record that he selected his specialty, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, because it was the most compatible with the methods and goals of the Erdman therapy.
After leaving the army, Bill had to go back and take additional undergraduate courses before entering the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania . As time permitted, even during medical school, he worked with Father in the old Chelten Avenue facility. Bill continued working with Father without interruption by carefully choosing his internship and residency and, finally, his faculty assignment at the University of Pennsylvania. From time to time, he turned down higher paying positions in other cities in order to continue working with Father and to carry on the work of the FEA.
The Frederick Erdman Association Is Formed
During the latter half of the 1920s, there was continuing concern on the part of a number of appreciative patients that all that had been accomplished might be lost if something suddenly were to happen to Father. This concern finally culminated in the formation of the Frederick Erdman Association in December 1930. Largely due to the initiative of Dr. DuMont Clark (founder of the Lord's Acre movement) and Father's older brother, Charles, a group of former patients, who were also prominent in their respective fields, was brought together to form the first board of directors of the Frederick Erdman Association.
The FEA was formed as a nonprofit corporation under the laws of Pennsylvania . It provided a means of promulgating the work that Frederick and Mary had established, and it became an entity to which gifts could be given and treated as deductions under Federal Income Tax Law.
Listed among the first board of directors are Robert J. Maclellan, co-founder with Mrs. Dora Brown, his sister, of the Provident Life and Accident Insurance Company of Chattanooga; Mrs. Francis Grover Cleveland Preston, wife of the former president; the above-mentioned Henry P. Crowell; and Ralph Harbison, founder of the Harbison-Walker Steel Company.
There has always been at least one member of the Maclellan family on the Board of The Frederick Erdman Association since it was founded. Mr. Robert J. Maclellan served from 1930 to 1957 when he was followed by his two sons, Robert L. and Hugh O. Both men spent their entire business careers with the Provident Life and Accident Insurance Co., and sequentially, each was president of the company following the death of their father. Hugh Maclellan, Sr., is still serving on the FEA Board, and since 1976, his son, Hugh O. Maclellan, Jr., has been a Board member.
Actually, the friendship and association between the Maclellan family and the Erdman family go back many years before there was an FEA. It all started when Robert L. Maclellan's oldest son, Bob, was very sick, and at age 10, was brought from Chattanooga to see my father by both his parents and his aunt, the above-mentioned Dora Brown. They were among the patients mentioned earlier who stayed at the Del Mar Morris Hotel. My father tested Bob and found that he responded well to the cold therapy indicating that he had low arterial tone.
All this happened about the time that I was born, but I understand that Mrs. Brown was the one who insisted that the cold therapy program prescribed by my father be given a chance even though Bob's parents, quite understandably, felt that something more drastic should be done. Bob responded well to the cold therapy, and his symptoms started to abate. Several weeks were required to restore Bob's health, but the recovery was so remarkable that a very close friendship was formed which has continued for three generations.
The Maclellans have not only been wonderful friends over the years, but, through personal gifts and gifts through the Maclellan Foundation, have been the largest supporters of the Frederick Erdman Association. In addition, their wise counsel on countless business decisions has proved to be invaluable.
The Board of the FEA has been unique in one very essential aspect. For sixty-one years, without the benefit of a doctrinal statement, it has remained solidly evangelical and is comprised of individuals firmly holding to the inerrancy of the Bible and each one possessing a strong, personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In addition, each member has been a patient and is deeply committed to the goals and program of the FEA.
One of Frederick's greatest joys was to help restore the physical health of a missionary, thus permitting that missionary to return to the field of his or her calling. This same joy is clearly shared by the members of the board to this day.
A Man of Character, Learning, and Laughter
As mentioned earlier, my father was a man of strong character, who continued to learn and teach with good humor throughout his life.
While confined to bed, for example, he did as much reading as his eyes would permit. During this time he prepared a pamphlet in which he assigned a brief title to every chapter in the Bible. Though such titles appear in most Bibles, Father's list was unique. The title for the first chapter in each book started with "A"; chapter two's title began with "B" and so on. He hoped this alphabetical association would help one recall the subject matter of a particular chapter by memory. This illustrates the creativity which Father exhibited throughout his life. Writing this pamphlet helped to strengthen Father's extraordinary knowledge of the Bible, which was unequaled by anyone I have known.
Father was a great believer in wall displays as a means of learning and teaching. He possessed fine printing and drawing skills and used them to print Bible verses and "pithy sayings" (such as Chinese proverbs) on poster boards which he hung in our bedrooms and patient treatment rooms. During the summer he extended this practice by preparing big charts of historical events or persons, for example, the kings of England and U.S. presidents. He even attached charts to a pulley system, pulling them out from the wall in the middle of a meal and dangling them over the dining room table.
This record would be far from complete if I did not emphasize Father's sense of humor. He loved to read books of jokes and made a written record of the best ones. He had an excellent memory which was keen right up until his death. This enabled him to be ready with the right joke for each patient, helping to create a bond of shared laughter.
As a final thought, I include a poem which Frederick's father, W. J. Erdman, wrote on the occasion of Father's twenty-first birthday. It should be recalled this was five years after Frederick had strained his back, and by that time he was an invalid. The years of suffering that lay ahead were known only to the Lord. Yet I am certain that Father's great strength of character and adherence to right principles were formed in those difficult years following his twenty-first birthday.
When I was a boy, an impressive map of the world was prominent on a wall in the Chelten Avenue facility. On this map, strings ran from Philadelphia to places around the world where missionaries served the Lord. Each string represented one missionary whose health had failed, who had seen Father and, as a result of the Erdman therapy, was able to return to the mission field. Even then, the map resembled a starburst with Philadelphia as the hub.
That map illustrated how Father's dreams of being a foreign missionary—dreams that were dashed by his health problems—were ultimately fulfilled. The Lord worked in a marvelous way and allowed Father to multiply himself thousands of times over as a result of his own years of suffering and his ability to overcome it all.
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