In January 2014, a Redditor with the somewhat unusual online name of “ASexualWalrus” shook up the online community with images of some truly rare items. He’d discovered a mysterious chest and inside it there was some real treasure. The chest itself looked like something from a video game, and its contents were sketchy enough that several commenters even wondered if they were absolutely legal. Unfortunately, however, ASexualWalrus had no way of finding out exactly what they were…
He posted his intriguing photos on the image-sharing website Imgur, with the caption, “Medical chest I found in my grandfather’s attic. Some type of writing on top.” In fact, the eye-catching Asian script he was referring to was Japanese. And strangely, one commenter claimed that the words translated as “Damage Control Gas Aid Kit.”
The post began to attract a lot of interest from Redditors who were keen to put forward a theory as to what on earth the chest could contain. “WWII reenactor here,” posted another commenter. “And one who specializes in field medicine. That there’s a one hell of a find. Japanese squad-level field medical kit, I’d say from 1939. These cases were designed to be air-and-water tight when sealed, hence why everything shows very little signs of aging.”
And eventually, thanks to a note stuck to a folder inside, one redditor called shigeyasu was able to date the chest more precisely. “S7.3月means ‘Shōwa, 7, 3rd month’,” he wrote. “i.e. March, 1932.” As it turns out, the Shōwa era actually referred to the rule of Emperor Hirohito, who reigned over Japan from 1926 until 1989.
Sealed from the elements, the medicine inside the chest was indeed in excellent condition. Neatly stacked in several layers, it included a plethora of little boxes and pill bottles, all of them labeled in inscrutable Japanese script. “Take one of everything,” beseeched more than one foolish commenter. “Post results.”
Of course, it is highly dangerous to consume unknown chemical compounds, especially if they’ve been sitting in a box for more than 80 years. There might well be cyanide in there… or worse, crystal meth. Because rather disturbingly, meth was administered to Kamikaze pilots during the Second World War, just before their suicide runs. Not a good trip.
“Can you taste colors yet?” joked Fishbone95 on Reddit. “It tasted purple,” replied ASexualWalrus. “Ingredients: Sugar, purple, water,” wrote TomSelleckPI. As it turned out, however, TomSelleckPI wasn’t far wrong. Because according to a helpful translation by redditor kevwillia, the massive ampule contained “Gum Glucose Liquid” – in other words, sugar solution.
But some of the pills in the chest, though perhaps having the appearance of illegal contraband, turned out to be nothing more than sodium salicylate and caffeine. Sometimes taken as an alternative to aspirin, sodium salicylate is a relatively innocuous non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, typically used to treat pain and fevers.
However, these pills, according to Kevwillia, might well be bromisoval. Commonly known as bromovalerylurea, Bromisoval is an over-the-counter Japanese medication that affects the nervous system and sensory organs. The drug, which produces sedative and hypnotic effects, is used to treat anxiety. And so it would undoubtedly have come in handy during a kamikaze mission.
Fortunately for us non-Japanese speakers, this particular packet was labeled in Latin: “Liquor Novocaini sterilisatus.” And it was, in fact, novocaine. Novocaine is a well-known local anesthetic developed by a German chemist called Alfred Einhorn in 1905. He had hoped his compound would be used surgical amputations, but it ultimately found more use in dentistry.
Also among the medicine was a torch – an essential piece of kit during war-time blackouts. The batteries have clearly seen better days, however, and the marks on the towel suggest they may have leaked acid everywhere. Fortunately, ASexualWalrus was wearing rubber gloves – a very wise move when handling anything historical or potentially corrosive.
Disposable plastic syringes did not exist in the 1930s and this object looks like part of an intravenous kit. Curiously, however, it doesn’t look very clean. Those rust-colored stains, though, may simply be the result of oxidation on the metal plunger. With this object, ASexualWalrus had finished unpacking the first layer of the chest.
Fortunately, the second layer contained an even greater assortment of intriguing little bottles, jars and packages. One by one, ASexualWalrus removed the items and laid them out for the scrutiny and admiration of his audience. Who could guess what they contained?
Sadly, no one could really know if they held exotic potions or mind-bending chemicals, as Kevwillia, the resident translator, could not read half of the labels. The only items he could positively identify were on the bottom row: two bottles of kerosene, a mask, medicinal carbon and a loofa.
There was also a box labelled “Digitaminum,” which contained digitalis, a medicine extracted from foxglove flowers. Digitalis has been known for its therapeutic actions since the late 18th century. It’s typically used to treat heart conditions, including abnormal heartbeats. The kind of heart rate one might experience in the field of war.
However, nothing says intrigue quite like a little black box etched with mysterious characters. Indeed, this box within a box proved to be a mystery in itself, which both puzzled and delighted Redditors. Had ASexualWalrus finally located a hidden stash of kamikaze crystal meth?
Opening the lid, ASexualWalrus found a note. And according to kevwillia, it said: “Adrenaline, novocaine, atropine.” The last of these medicines, atropine, was used to treat poisoning by nerve gas. The compound also occurs naturally in jimson weed, which has a reputation for inducing rather horrifying, life-changing hallucinations.
Inside the box, however, ASexualWalrus discovered some interesting glass vessels which no one on reddit was able to identify for sure. Several users suggested they might have been glass bulbs once used for cupping therapy. Practitioners of Chinese medicine, for example, believe that the suction created by the bulbs promotes blood flow and healing.
Meanwhile, there was one last layer inside the box, and inside was a stash of suspicious-looking packets. Unfortunately, however, they contained nothing more than a few medical masks. Still, the unpacking of this antique medical kit was an absolute win.
In the words of one redditor: “I’m not sure why, but I love everything about this. The quality of the chest, The iconography, the lettering, the idea of a treasure chest, how orderly it is, that its historic, that it was his grandfathers, wondering about its worth, the fact not only did OP open it but it contained something interesting… I love everything about it.”