BBC travels to Youngstown to learn about Welsh steelworker turned chiropractor

Local News

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A news crew from BBC Wales was in town Thursday night to research the story of a Youngstown man once known worldwide, whose history has since been forgotten.

His name was John “Bonesetter” Reese. Bonesetter was his nickname because he was a healer of aches and pains — the precursor of the modern-day chiropractor.

“I mean, he was a pretty distinguished-looking chap,” journalist Peter Jackson said.

His story brought Jackson and producer Steve Groves to Youngstown. They met with the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s Bill Lawson on Thursday.

Jackson came upon Bonesetter Reese while researching famous people from the small town of Rhymney in South Wales.

“The more inquiries I made, the more I realized that there was a brilliant story to be told,” Jackson said.

Reese came to Youngstown in 1887 and started working in a steel mill. He helped his co-workers with their bodies’ aches and pains.

“He also brought another skill from Wales, which was called ‘bonesetting,'” Lawson said. “It’s really manipulating and releasing strains on muscles and tendons.”

As word of his healing powers spread, Reese quit the mill and started seeing patients, picking up the nickname “Bonesetter.”

He bought a house among Youngstown’s elite on Park Avenue across from Wick Park and set up shop.

“Then his story went nationwide and he was attracting top athletes in baseball, boxing, jockeys from horseracing, acrobats, dancers and then Hollywood celebrities, heads of state,” Lawson said.

“He also made sure that he had time to treat the mill workers that he used to work alongside,” Jackson said.

Jackson hosts a radio show called “Jacko’s Sporting Almanac.” An angle he thought most appealing was that Reese worked on some of the great baseball players of the time — Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Honus Wagner.

“To think that he has left an indelible mark on America’s greatest national pastime, baseball, is a phenomenal story,” Jackson said.

Bonesetter Reese died a wealthy man in 1931.

“There was a brilliant story to be told about this Welshman who cured hundreds of baseball players, boxers, jockeys by the magic of his hands,” Jackson said. “He had no medical training whatsoever and yet he became, toward the end of his life, internationally famous for what he achieved.”

He was so famous when he died that the story was banner headlines in both Youngstown papers — the Vindicator and the Telegram — and also made the New York Times.

“The story of this Welsh steelworker who came to America ended up making a fortune, but also became an international celebrity in his own right,” Jackson said.

The news crew also stopped by Reese’s house on Park Avenue across from Wick Park, as well as the Welsh Congregational Church on Elm Street, where Reese attended.

From here, they’re headed to Michigan to interview Bonesetter Resse’s great-grandson.

The plan is to air the piece later this summer.

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