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Love of History Yields Children’s Book

’Saving Emma’ brings to life the Apothecary Museum in the 1700s.

Bebe Willoughby always liked history. Now that she lives in Old Town, Alexandria, she likes it even more.

“You realize how beautiful the old is,” Willoughby said.

Moving here seven years ago from New York City, she left behind a career as a children’s book editor with Simon & Schuster. She continues to do some freelance editing, but has also turned to writing and history.

She became involved with the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum when she moved here and is now on the board of directors. The museum, which is undergoing renovation, became the topic for her fourth book.

“Saving Emma” is set in 1798, and portrays a young boy, named Nathan, whose sister, Emma, is very sick. Living out in the country, he makes the trip to Alexandria in a snowstorm to get herbs and powders from Mr. Stabler, the apothecary. With herb tea and mustard powder poultice in hand, he makes the long trip back home, where he and his mother nurse Emma back to health. “Saving Emma” is historical fiction, but some of the characters, Edward Stabler and Dr. Craik, did exist at that time.

“Those were interesting times, when herbs and ointments were used to heal — a lot of them were not very effective. It’s been called ‘the heroic age of medicine,’” Willoughby said. “I like history, and like making it accessible to kids. History should be fun for kids to read.”

WHEN THE STABLER-LEADBEATER Apothecary Museum reopens in the spring, Willoughby’s book will be available for sale there.

Henry Hart, president of the museum, is supportive of her efforts, and said, “We’re just delighted to have this book for the museum — and for the community. It personalizes the museum and makes it easier for children to step back into time. We’ve always focused on children’s education, so this is a nice extension of it.”

Hart is hoping that it will be a nice boost for the museum that has been closed for a year.

“It will give it a shot in the arm and also give some publicity for the city [of Alexandria], which has been so supportive.”

“Saving Emma" illustrates how much in common today's pharmacists have with the apothecaries of 200 years ago, despite the significant differences in what medicines and treatments were available at that time," said Lucinda Maine, executive vice president of the American Association of College of Pharmacy. "Today's pharmacists are becoming more engaged in consulting with patients and their other health professionals on the appropriate and safest medicines for acute and chronic conditions and taking a lead in guiding key health decisions."

Willoughby said that this trend in pharmacy illustrates how much modern-day pharmacists have in common with the apothecaries of 200 years ago. She continues to be active in the renovation process and looks forward to the reopening of this business that opened in 1792 and operated continuously until 1933. The museum has a large collection of pill rollers, mortars and pestles, drug mills, glassware, journals, letters and day books. Original furnishings with patent medicines, potions and herbs can be seen as well.

“The museum will be gorgeous when it is done,” said Willoughby, who has been writing since she was six years old. She has already written two other children’s books and one adult book.