King Charles of New York City

The Story of Charles Barnes Towns

Some called him “an undisputed king, or perhaps emperor, so magnificent were his accomplishments.” Another called him a “Solon of Narcotics.” A prominent Boston doctor said he was “one of the most persuasive and dominating personalities in the world.” Towns achieved a national and even international prominence. Towns believed that the nation had the opportunity to solve the tragedy of drug addiction once and for all if only the country would follow his rational recommendations. Towns was no temperance movement crusader. Instead, logic, common sense, and good worldwide government could eliminate illegal drugs from ever reaching the United States. The illegal drug problem could be solved for good. In the meantime, the addicts, most of which were innocent victims, were in desperate need of help.

In 1914, Charles Towns opened a treatment center on Central Park in Manhattan in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States. The likes of W.C. Fields, Lillian Russell, and John Barrymore eventually required the services that Towns Hospital provided. At one time, Charles Towns was reputed to possess the only known opium cure in the world. He had perfected this solution in China after having been sent there as a United States drug treatment ambassador. Upon his return, he gave his secret remedy away and had it published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Many considered Towns an accomplished philanthropist interested only in the betterment of mankind.

Towns believed the world would be a better place if alcohol had never been invented as a beverage. In nature, he described alcohol as being an excretion and the garbage of vegetation. Liquor tended to make man brutal and dull his judgment while beer tended to make man slow-witted and entirely void of judgment. The alcohol drinker only had a choice of what kind of insanity he wished to eventually experience:

he could either become an interesting maniac or a brutal idiot. Sooner or later, the consumer of alcohol would need hospitalization. That is, if the victim was lucky enough to live that long, or was not first killed by patent medicines or by the cruel for-profit sanitarium industry.

In late 1933 a seriously inebriated financial analyst by the name of Bill Wilson began being treated at Towns Hospital for his alcoholism. During his fourth visit a year afterward, Wilson had a white-light experience there, which led to him to become a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and author of the book that shared that name. Wilson carefully avoided writing about controversial figures such as Towns and Frank Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group, until many years later. A.A. also evolved with a singleness of purpose, which remains silent to this day about drugs. Herein one can discover that without Charles Barnes Towns, the struggling fellowship of A.A. in the late thirties may not have been successful without the assistance of this almost entirely forgotten man. A fascinating, previously untold story can now be revealed.