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Napoleon Bonaparte WOLFE

Author / Medical Doctor

Born: 24 December 1823, Columbia, Pennsylvania USA

Died: 17 June 1891, Cincinnati, Ohio USA

Napoleon Bonaparte Wolfe. With a name like that, you had to do something special in your life. He realized early that he had to shorten it: N. B. Wolfe, most of the time. His father, Paul Wolfe, was a celebrated architect and designed the capitol building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Paul died there before the building was completed. Rather than structures, N. B. set his sights on building an interesting life.


At fifteen, N. B. left home to work on the Pennsylvania Canal. He returned a year later and began writing for the Columbia Spy, which afforded him ample opportunity for self-education. He even tried the trade of plasterer but realized early that it wouldn't stick. So, like most disgruntled plasterers, he left for medical school somewhere in Canada and became a doctor. He returned to Columbia after his education and followed the general practice of medicine. He quickly became respected in his profession and in local politics.

While finishing up additional medical education in Philadelphia, he became close friends with a man named James Buchanan. Of course, James eventually became President of the United States. James and N. B. remained trusted friends until Buchanan's death in 1868. The trust was such that Napoleon Bonaparte Wolfe became President Buchanan's Personal Secretary and even resided with him at Wheatland for a time. Later, the President made him Commissioner of India where N. B. took full advantage of his passion for the study of botany. Interestingly, politicians in his life weren't uncommon— the Governor of Pennsylvania, George Wolf (from 1829-1835) was a cousin. 






Sometime in his fifties, N. B. moved to Cincinnati. There, he soon came to be considered a specialist in throat and lung maladies. His reputation quickly grew into a large and lucrative practice. By all accounts, he was a genial, whole-souled man who became the friend of every person he met.  


As was the trend of the day, he became infatuated with spiritualism and the paranormal. His 1874 book, Startling Facts in Modern Spiritualism, was a departure, of course, from his purely medical perspective, but he used his analytical chops to write a collection of essays and articles that examined various aspects of the subject, including the history of 'the movement,' the beliefs and practices of spiritualists, and the evidence for the existence of ghosts, spirits, and other supernatural phenomena. He discusses the role of mediums who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead and the methods they used to conduct seances and other similar rituals. Throughout the book, Wolfe presents a wealth of evidence for paranormal phenomena, including ghostly apparitions, telepathy, and clairvoyance. He also examines spiritualism's scientific and philosophical implications, arguing that it offers a new paradigm for understanding the nature of reality and the human experience. Despite its controversial subject matter, Startling Facts in Modern Spiritualism is a well-researched and thought-provoking book that offers a fascinating glimpse into the paranormal world as it was understood at the time. Interestingly, even Harry Houdini kept it in his library (like N. B., even Arthur Conan Doyle was completely immersed in the subject). N. B. was sincere in his pursuit of the values of Spiritualism. He once paid a medium $20 a day for thirty-two weeks (a huge sum then). That experience is in his book. For a man who was bringing in $35,000 a year, he spent $15,000 on his convictions. Indeed, the very last article he wrote before his death was titled, In the Spirit Land, which appeared in the Enquirer, November 4, 1890.

In 1879, Dr. Wolfe found the time to write a very well-respected book he titled "A Common-Sense Book on the New Treatment of Consumption, Asthma, Bronchitis, and All Diseases of the Nose, Throat, and Lungs by Medicated Inhalations." Some might consider such a title more like a page of contents. But, it was widely read and respected by the medical profession at the time. He even invented a new design for the 'inhaler,' which became the basis for his eventual fortune.

A few years before his death, he traveled with Gen. Simon Cameron (later, Governor Cameron, of Pennsylvania) to Cuba and the Bahamas. On another occasion, as he visited Europe, he was entertained by Gen. Arthur Ellis, Equerry to the Prince of Wales. Seems he got along with people of all walks of life.


He was blessed with an astounding memory and his talent for enlightened and entertaining conversation was legendary. He was, indeed, an uncommon man. A man from Columbia, Pennsylvania.

The first monument one sees as they enter the gates of the Mt. Bethel Cemetery in Columbia, Pennsylvania is the obelisk signaling the final resting place of N. B. Wolfe and other loved ones.

President James Buchanan. Wolfe was an intimate friend and his Personal Secretary.

Wolfe's travel companion to Cuba and the Bahamas,

Simon Cameron.

Other Sources

The Semi-Weekly New Era newspaper, Lancaster, 20 July 1891.

Rich and Charlene Bair.

Mount Bethel Cemetery, Columbia, Pennsylvania

The Dayton Evening Herald, Obituary, 22 June 1891.

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