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November 27, 1987 - Image 44

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-11-27

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

LOOKING BACK

Bath City

Mt. Clemens was in its heyday when
taking the train for a three-week "cure"
was considered the ultimate vacation

ROBYN KLEEREKOPER

Special to The Jewish News

he residents didn't notice
the odor very much, but the
summer visitors — ah, well,
that was a different story.
The sulphur odor was most
noticeable on damp, cloudy days, but
when people were "taking the
waters" they cheerfully put up with
a little discomfort. Besides, the odor
signalled that Mt. Clemens' mineral
springs were in business, and soon the
pampering would begin.
And pampering it was! A visit to
the Mt. Clemens mineral baths before
the Depression was a three-week
break from regular routine. It called
for long, soothing daily baths, rub-
downs, a cool drink afterwards, and
back to the hotel or boarding house
for a long rest. The whole procedure
sapped the strength, so it was con-
sidered quite proper to lie down and
rest. In fact, resting was a major part
of the social life of the era.
In its heyday, Mt. Clemens drew
thousands of people annually to its
famous mineral baths. A series of 21
baths were recommended to help
"rheumatism," as arthritis used to be
called. People with joint pain flocked
to the resort town from Pennsylvania,
New York, New Jersey, Canada and
elsewhere to bathe in its waters and
relax. .
It was a magical time at first.
There were elegant hotels for the
wealthy, concerts in the park for all.
In the early days there was the Opera
House. Boating on Lake St. Clair was
always fun, and there was the fishing,
and even gambling. For the less af-
flicted, scenic day trips could be taken
to surrounding areas. The restaurants
in the hotels vied with each other to
attract customers with their
specialties.
But the bathhouses were the
drawing card. Some were attached to
hotels with connecting steam-heated
passageways and featured rows of
cubicles with bathtubs, separate
areas for men and women, and atten-
tive attandants. The passageways
allowed the larger hotels to extend
the busy summer "season" to year-

li

44 FRIDAY, NOV. 27,,1987

The Park House

round use.
Nelly Longstaff, a Mt. Clemens
resident whose family owned the
Clementine Bathhouse and the Mur-
phy Hotel for many years, describes
a typical day for visitors:
"Taking the waters was a time-
consuming thing. Usually you started
early in the morning. Because of the
volume of people during the summer
season things started at 4 a.m. The
tubs were porcelain and had little
feet. Originally they had been built
of wood. The mineral water was
strong, and was black in color. When
you arrived at the bathhouse, you'd
put your jewelry and watches in lit-
tle lockers."
"About 20 minutes would be spent
in the water. The water was not hot
when it came out of the ground, and
it required heating. There was a cer-
tain amount of fresh water added to
the well water. The attendant would
give a massage in the water if the per-
son wanted it, after which the person
would get out of the tub and go into
another little room that had cots and
towels."
"Each person was given a flannel

sheet to wrap up in. Attendants would
put hot packs on any sore spots, and
then it was time to rest. Each atten-
dant could handle two or three clients
at a time. This was followed by a visit
to the cooling room, where you'd sit
and visit for a while before returning
to your hotel or boarding house."
The whole ritual could take four
or five hours.
"It was a leisurely lifestyle,"
Longstaff recalls. "There were por-
ches, with rocking chairs to sit in.
People would spend time with their
friends. They would return year after
year and arrange to come at the same
time as their friends. It was all very
sociable. A lot of eating was done too."
"Life was different then. It had a
much slower pace. Imagine people
staying for three weeks these days to
take a course of baths!"
The mineral bath era in the
Macomb County seat began almost by
accident. According to the Headlight
of 1897, a periodical devoted to the in-
terests of railroads and railroad
centers, "Perhaps Mt. Clemens might
never have been to any degree promi-
nent in this big world had it not been

for the medicinal virtue of its waters,
but, be that as it may, the city has
taken on a substantial growth and is
now rapidly advancing through the
advertising received by means of the
baths.
"The medicinal quality of the
waters secured from the deep well is
unsurpassed by the wells in any
health resort, and the constant ex-
perimenting by those interested in
the bathing place has resulted in a
knowledge of how to treat many of the
so-called incurable diseases of the
human race in a manner that has
sent many a hitherto invalid
homeward free from the bondage of
pain."
The oil fever of 1865 put Mt.
Clemens on the map when prospec-
tors drilled 1,300 ft. down. Instead of
oil, they found a supply of water that
was strongly impregnated with salts
and minerals. The owner of the
"Original Well" tried to make salt
from the water, but failed because of
the pungent minerals.
For several years the well lay dor-
mant, until the water's therapeutic
powers were discovered by Dorr
Kellogg, who was suffering from
eczema.
Then, says the Headlight, "follow-
ed its adoption as a curative agent by
local physicians, and finally its
recognition by the medical world:'
Over the next several decades, the
water was bottled and made into
salves and ointment. The list of
maladies it could supposedly cure, the
advertisments said, included
rheumatism, all skin and blood
disorders, scrofula (a tuberculous con-
dition most common in childhood),
lead poisoning, liver troubles,
paralysis, St. Vitus dance, alcoholism
and nervous troubles, catarrh, and
"many disorders peculiar to women."
A delightful testimonial to one of
the lesser known benefits of "the
waters" was penned by a patient (and
physician) who had undergone the
Springer Method for the treatment of
alcoholism. Dr. Springer believed a
course of treatments that involved

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