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VIRGINIA TOWN DISPENSES ITS OWN STORY ON DR PEPPER

Want to know the real story of how one of the nation's oldest soft drinks got its start?

Stroll into the old Rural Retreat Drug Store, once owned by Dr. Charles Pepper. Drop 50 cents for the namesake soda and you'll get five different versions of the story before you can drink it down."They carried this story down through the years, but everything gets pretty well mixed up," unofficial town historian Sigred Neff said Tuesday.

Waco, Texas, gets the official credit as the first home of Dr Pepper, in 1885. But after a museum opened there last year to honor the invention, some folks in Rural Retreat tried to set things straight.

This much is well documented:

There was a real Dr. Pepper.

Pepper graduated from the University of Virginia medical school in 1855. After patching up Confederates during the Civil War, he bought a drug store in Rural Retreat and became a pharmacist.

A few years later, Pepper hired an assistant pharmacist named Wade Morrison, and this is where things get sticky.

Morrison, who was in love with Dr. Pepper's daughter, invented the secret mix of fruit syrup and seltzer "and tried to get in good with her father by naming it after him. It didn't cut any slack with Dr. Pepper. (Morrison) went away, brokenhearted, to Waco," said Lloyd, the only barber in this southwestern Virginia town of 970 people.

A more popular version - at least around here - came from Dr. Doug Humphrey, the town's mayor and dentist: Dr. Pepper invented the drink, and a lovesick Morrison stole the formula in revenge and sold it in Texas.

Neff has an old ledger in which Dr. Pepper makes vague references to "swamp root," quinine, spices, raisins and soda.

Another version has the doctor's son, Louis, as the inventor.