Solomon Wickey doesn’t remember much about his trial. At least, that’s what he says.
Wickey puts his fingers to his lips and gazes down. His hair, in a traditional bowl cut, is a deep white now and his beard gray. He sits in a small chair in his office wearing a blue shirt and black pants that note his Amish heritage.
Nope, he can’t recall many details of those events of nearly 30 years past, even how it all came about. But in a way, for Wickey, the whole thing really didn’t matter.
Outside, the fog is heavy this morning in rural DeKalb County. Horses graze as the sun burns through the mist. There are few sounds other than birds, crickets and the occasional car or van pulling off a gravel road into the concrete parking lot that serves as Wickey’s office – a clinic, really.
Here in a nondescript white vinyl-sided building between Auburn and Spencerville, Wickey maintains a worldwide following using his faith to heal, he claims, by peering into clients’ eyes, listening to their health concerns and perhaps suggesting an herb to right their ills.
He has done this now, in one Indiana town or another, for more than three decades.
Short in height and measured in his speech, Wickey, a member of the Old Order Amish faith, is adored by many. The New York Times wrote about him in 1981. A book was written about his life. The Internet is full of testimonials.
But his methods have also drawn suspicions.
Three days, Wickey says of the length of his 1983 trial.
Wickey, his wife and family lived in Berne then. The Indiana attorney general had filed a civil complaint of practicing medicine without a license against him. It was not a criminal charge; Wickey was never arrested. But a large part of his livelihood – his religious calling, Wickey calls it – was at stake.
He countered the accusations by saying he offered only nutritional counseling in accordance with biblical teachings and was not a doctor because he did not charge for his services.
A judge issued a temporary restraining order forbidding Wickey from diagnosing ailments or recommending treatments pending a trial. In the interim, more than 400 letters from well-wishers arrived in court, all supporting Wickey and most claiming he had cured them after doctors could not.
Nearly 250 supporters packed the Decatur courtroom the day Wickey testified in his defense.
What we do is teach them to balance the whole universe physically, mentally and spiritually, Wickey said from the stand.
A month passed before the judge approved a consent decree that allowed Wickey to essentially resume what he had been doing. It ended years of scrutiny of his healing practices.
While the years might blur his memory at times, it is the overwhelming support he received that Wickey remembers today.
I had none against me except for the people of the state, he said of his run-in with the attorney general’s office.
But that was years ago, and it seems that a different outcome would not have caused a worry for Wickey.
I left it up to the Lord, he recalls today. I said, If you don’t want me to do it, you should stop me.’
A life lost
Wickey, 74, responds to questions in short sentences. If details escape him, his wife, Anna Mae Wickey, 73, picks up where his thoughts are lost.
One gets the sense Wickey is not being evasive in his brief responses but is rather secure in his life’s work and unsure why the question is being asked in the first place.
But asked about his family, Wickey first mentions a 20-month-old son, a twin, who drowned in a water tank in Berne. The family, with 12 remaining children, moved to Geneva partly to escape that memory.
They later moved to Madison, mostly because of the southern Indiana hills and because his sons wanted to go there, Wickey said. After about 10 years, they moved to DeKalb County to be near his wife’s family and her hometown, Grabill.
Her husband unsure of the passing years, Anna Mae Wickey reminds him that they will have lived near Auburn for 10 years in November.
Mrs. Wickey, wearing a full-length dress and a tight-fitting bonnet, speaks from behind a counter, where she is the face people first see when they arrive. She mostly sells herbs, she said.
A large NO CHARGES sign hangs over the counter, an apparent reference to Wickey’s free counseling services. Other signs urge visitors not to leave children unattended (They Break It, You Buy It) or throw trash in the parking lot.
Plastic chairs with metal legs line the walls of the L-shaped waiting room. A list sits on the counter where clients write their names.
We have appointments, and if they come in without an appointment, then we just have them put their name on a list and they wait their turn and (we) work them in, Anna Mae Wickey said.
There is soap for sale, and eggs go for $3 a dozen. There are cookbooks, and books on holistic medicine and on rearing children.
But a visitor won’t find Solomon’s Touch: The Life and Work of Solomon J. Wickey, a 2005 book by author June Naugle about Wickey’s life since birth and his healing practices.
No I never read it, Wickey said. Well, I went through so much that I didn’t care to repeat it in my mind. I didn’t want to relive that.
Thousands of clients
A small fan sits in a window of the room Wickey uses to meet with his clients. A cord leads from it down the outside of the building to a small solar panel that sits on the parking lot pavement outside. There is no air conditioning.
Wickey works only Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Minutes after opening at 8 a.m. this day, the modest waiting room begins to fill. About a dozen people wait to see Wickey. The chairs are full, but the room is quiet. A few people read magazines.
It takes only about 5 minutes or so for Debbie Browning, 46, to see Wickey and get his advice. A friend had recommended him for her lower back pain and headaches.
Browning, who arrived with her mother from Illinois, said Wickey made some motions with his hand and maybe touched her with some herbs, she wasn’t sure.
He just said, You’re fine. You’re good to go,’ though those weren’t his words, she said.
In the waiting room, Browning’s mother, Donna Lister, 71, waits her turn. Lister said she had lung problems that doctors had diagnosed.
They told me I needed surgery, and I didn’t want to go through that, Lister said.
There are two young women from Poland, now living in Illinois, also waiting to see Wickey. A woman from Adams County, Ohio, who drove a family member to see Wickey, waits in the parking lot but didn’t want to talk.
As many as 150 to 200 people a day come in to get help for all kinds of health issues, Anna Mae Wickey said.
They come from every country that I can think of: Egypt, Africa, Bulgaria, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Germany, all over, Solomon Wickey said.
South America, his wife adds.
They find him by word of mouth, he said. And through missionaries, Mrs. Wickey puts in.
And, of course, they find him through the Internet.
Dr. Mark Souder, DeKalb County health officer, said he has on occasion met people who had Wickey look into their eyes and prescribe something, though he hasn’t heard any complaints.
I think it’s unscientific, but I also don’t have enough knowledge to discredit it, Souder said, adding that it’s all the better if someone believes they’ve been healed. As long as they don’t hurt them, I’m not worried about it so much.
Wickey said he will continue counseling people, as long as God gives me breath and wants me to do this.
The couple have family close by, with a son living next door and a daughter living about two miles away.
But they also have four sons living in Illinois. And despite being part-owner of more than 100 acres in DeKalb County, Wickey said Illinois is a likely retirement spot.
They built me a house and everything, he said. As long as we can make it on our own, we want to stay here. But we’re getting up in age.