History in our Midst

Imagine living in this octagonal hut for months, if not years at a time, with only a bed, a nightstand, a closet, a washbasin, and a desk. If you were lucky, you might have had electricity and a small stove, but this was not guaranteed. If you had been among those seeking a cure for tuberculosis in the Pikes Peak region in the late 19th or early 20th century, this type of domicile might have been your home away from home.

Stell Dir vor, in dieser achteckigen Hütte, die nur mit einem Bett, einem Nachttisch, einem Kleiderschrank, einem Waschlavoir sowie einem Schreibtisch ausgestattet war, monate-, wenn nicht jahrelang leben zu müssen. Vielleicht gab es Elektrizität und einen kleinen Ofen, doch das war nicht garantiert. Wenn Du eine(r) derjenigen gewesen wärst, die Ende des 19. oder Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts in der Pikes Peak Region nach Heilung für ihre Tuberkulose suchten, wäre diese Art Domizil Deine zweite Heimat gewesen.

Entrance to Rock Ledge Ranch (adjacent to Garden of the Gods)/Eingang zur Rock Ledge Ranch

These structures were frequent sights in our region when it served as a major destination for sufferers of what was historically referred to as consumption, phthisis, or “White Plague,” named in contrast to the Black Death. Tuberculosis, this old scourge of humanity, had no known cause until 1882, when German bacteriologist Robert Koch proved that it was caused by an infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Even after the disease could be attributed to a specific germ, no targeted treatment existed until antibiotics became commercially available in the 1940s. This dilemma spawned multiple popular therapies, among them the climate cure. Travel or a move to a healthier climate was deemed beneficial for the afflicted, especially in combination with good nutrition and plenty of rest. After the founding of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs in the early 1870s, local boosters were quick in advertising our climate as therapeutic to invalids “chasing the cure,” in the jargon of the time. Our dry air, high altitude, and more than three hundred days of sunshine were major selling points and attracted countless number of tuberculars, consumptives, lungers or chasers, as they were known.

Diese Gebäude waren oft in unserer Region anzutreffen, als sie ein Hauptreisziel derer war, die unter der Krankheit litten, die lange als Schwindsucht, Phthisis oder weiße Pest bekannt war (im Unterschied zum schwarzen Tod). Die Ursache dieser alten Geißel der Menschheit war unbekannt, bis der deutsche Bakteriologe Robert Koch 1882 bewieß, daß eine Infektion mit „Mycobacterium tuberculosis” für Tuberkulose verantwortlich war.

Doch selbst, nachdem die Krankheit einem spezifischen Erreger zugewiesen werden konnte, existierte keine gezielte Behandlung, bis Antibiotika in den 1940er Jahren kommerziell auf den Markt kamen. Dieses Dilemma resultierte in allerlei volkstümlichen Therapien, unter anderem der Klimakur. Man ging davon aus, daß eine Reise oder ein Umzug in ein gesünderes Klima für die Betroffenen nutzbringend war, besonders in Kombination mit reichhaltiger Nahrung und körperlicher Schonung. Nach der Gründung von Colorado Springs und Manitou Springs Anfang der 1870er Jahre machten beide Orte Reklame, und priesen unser Klima als therapeutisch für alle diejenigen an, die nach Heilung strebten. Unsere trockene Luft, hohe Lage und mehr als 300 Sonnentage pro Jahr waren wichtige Werbeargumente, und lockten zahllose Tuberkulöse, Schwindsüchtige oder sonstige Lungenkranke an.

Twin TB Huts along Manitou Avenue in Manitou Springs/Zwillingshütten in Manitou Springs

Tuberculosis sanatoria became widespread in the shadow of Pikes Peak and most of them had free-standing tuberculosis huts on their property. These huts’ architecture was conceived by one of the local pioneer physicians, Dr. Charles Fox Gardiner, and was inspired by the form and function of American Indian teepees. Originally built of canvas, they were called Gardiner sanatory tents, until more permanent wooden models became en vogue. Their design exposed the sick to as much air as possible by circulating it constantly. It entered through open spaces around the floor and escaped through a vent in the roof.

Tuberkulosesanatorien waren im Schatten von Pikes Peak weitverbreitet und die meisten hatten freistehende Tuberkulose Hütten. Deren Architektur wurde von einem der frühen Ärzte entworfen. Dr. Charles Fox Gardiner war von der Form und Funktion der indianischen Tipis inspiriert worden. Die ursprünglichen Konstruktionen bestanden aus Segeltuch und hießen Gardiner-Zelte, bis stabilere Holzmodelle in Mode kamen. Ihr Design setzte die Kranken so viel frischer Luft wie möglich aus, indem sie sie zirkulierte. Sie drang durch Öffnungen oberhalb des Bodens ein, und entwich durch einen Schlot im Dach.

Interior of TB hut at the former Woodmen of America Sanatorium/Inneres einer ehemaligen TB-Hütte

Several surviving specimens stand scattered throughout the region and if you live in, or have visited Colorado Springs, chances are that you, too, have come across one of them—perhaps at the Pioneers Museum, at Penrose Hospital, in some Old North End Neighborhood backyard, in Manitou Springs, or at Mount St. Francis on West Woodmen Avenue (the former Woodmen of America Sanatorium, where I took the uppermost photo). A few cabins display the interior décor as it might have appeared during their heyday, but many more have been repurposed into garden sheds, gift shops, museums, or entrance booths. Others are simply fading away, being gnawed on by the tooth of time. But all serve as reminders of an important chapter in the annals of Colorado Springs which defined the first seven decades of the city’s life.

Einige erhaltene Exemplare sind noch in der Gegend verstreut, und wenn Du in Colorado Springs lebst oder die Stadt schon mal besucht hast, ist es gut möglich, daß Du auf eins gestoßen bist—vielleicht im Pioneers Museum, am Penrose Krankenhaus, in einem der älteren Stadtviertel, in Manitou Springs oder auf dem Gelände von St. Francis (einem ehemaligen Sanatorium, wo das oberste Photo herstammt). Einige der Hütten demonstrieren die ursprüngliche Innenausstattung, doch die meisten wurden umfunktioniert, und dienen heute als Gartenhäuschen, Geschenkeläden, Museen oder Eintrittskabinen. Andere schwinden dahin, angenagt vom Zahn der Zeit. Aber alle dienen der Erinnerung an ein wichtiges Kapitel in den Annalen von Colorado Springs, das die ersten sieben Jahrzehnte der Stadt bestimmte.

66 thoughts on “History in our Midst

  1. Fascinating … both the architecture and the fact that the early development of Colorado Springs was so intertwined with TB. Incidentally, I love your phrase “being gnawed on by the tooth of time” … wish I’d thought of that! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      • That’s brilliant, well done you! 🙂🙂🙂 Looking forward to further posts revealing more of your local history. Incidentally, “docent” isn’t a word I’ve ever come across here – had to look it up!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting question. In the context of your role at the museum I would probably say “guide”, as in “guide to the collection [or exhibits].” But my understanding of docent suggests more expertise than is implied by that one word, so maybe we would say “expert guide” or “interpreter guide,” prefacing both with “volunteer” to add clarity. Or maybe “volunteer museum [or “collections” or “exhibits”] learning assistant?” It’s all a bit clumsy, isn’t it?
        Wrestling with this puts me in mind of the linguistic minefield that one is obliged to cross when looking for a one or two word explanation in English of “schadenfreude.” I trust you are not experiencing the merest hint of schadenfreude at my desperate attempt to offer a sensible and succinct response to your question about my own language, a language in which I’m meant to be proficient 🙂

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      • No schadenfreude whatsoever! I appreciate your explanation. I find it intriguing to learn about the differences between British and American English, both with regard to spelling, pronunciation, and meaning. In my next life I will study linguistics!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Two great nations, separated by a common language 🙂. Some of the words used by Americans but not used here make good sense to me. “Sidewalk,” for example, is logical (we’d say “pavement,” which is a word you guys reserve for the road surface).
        But why do Americans refer to “mobile phones” as “cell phones?” To me, mobile phone is entirely logical on the basis that it refers to something that makes phone calls and is mobile! I just don’t understand the “cell” bit of cell phone, although I’m probably just missing the point.
        You’re right, language is fascinating!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Another thought: pronunciation. What fascinates me here is not just the differences between nations but those within them. The USA hasn’t a long history, yet strong regional accents have developed. For example, why and how did the New Jersey accent emerge and how come it’s so different from, say, the way they speak in Alabama or Mississippi?
        New Zealand has a much shorter history than the USA, and we couldn’t detect regional differences when we visited. In many ways their country feels very British, yet New Zealanders’ pronunciation is baffling. There were times when we thought the whole lot of them should be put on trial and convicted for murder of the English language. What they do to our wonderful English vowel sounds is beyond comprehension!
        When touring the USA our accents often cause interest, lots of folk telling us how much they love the way we speak. But every now and then someone spoils it by asking what it’s like living in Australia. Ouch, that really hurts! 🙂
        Funny old world, isn’t it?

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  2. Was the vey top photo at Rock Ledge too? I’ve seen these buildings but never realized. I remember learning a bit of the Springs history with TB while I attended UCCS and having classes in the Cragmor building(Cragmor Sanitorium). Thanks so much😊

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    • Hi Dwight,
      The photo on top was taken at the former Modern Woodmen of America Sanatorium on West Woodmen Avenue. If you ever get the chance to visit, it’s a beautiful place. Today it is home to a Catholic parish and a nursing home, but the grounds are lovely.
      I think it’s special to have attended college at a former sanatorium. Main Hall is a very distinctive building, and if its walls could speak, it would be fascinating to listen to its stories!
      Best wishes,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I wonder if we saw any of these without realizing what they were when we visited Colorado Springs three years ago. In contrast, we couldn’t help but pay attention to the red earth in your area, like what’s behind the huts in your third photo.

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  4. They are very charming. I’ve read about people being sent there for the cure, but had no idea they had their own little homes.

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  5. Charming and restful looking. I wonder if they helped. At the very least, it kept infected people away from the general population. Also, kudos to Robert Koch and other scientists who work hard to understand the world and then help the rest of us. Onward, onward!

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    • I think the combination of rest, sunshine, and a nutritious diet was beneficial for many sufferers, and some recovered. What is not known is if they would have done so anyhow, as not every case of Tb is lethal.
      And while much progress has been made, the emergence of resistant bacteria is a grave concern for this disease which was once declared “vanquished.” Human hubris!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Eine solche Hütte würde meinen Ansprüchen voll genügen, auch im Heute – lediglich die Winter könnten hart werden … 😉 – hierzulande könnte man sich jedoch mit einer Jurte behelfen, die hat ein vergleichbar großes Platzangebot und den Vorteil, daß recht flotte Ortsveränderungen möglich sind. Leider besitze ich keine und auch kein passendes Grundstück dafür, um sie aufzustellen 😉 …
    Und leider stehen die giebeligen Oktagons in einem Teil der Welt, in welchem ich nichtmal begraben sein möchte – obwohl ein demokratischer Senator ein wenig tröstet… Beinahe unglaublich ist für mich, daß offenbar die hohe Lage von Colorado insgesamt eine positive Wirkung auf die Lunge hat. Feine Gegend eigentlich…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dankeschön für den Kommentar. Ich wünsche mir auch öfter, unseren Lebensraum zu verkleinern, doch ob auf die Dauer dieser nun noch ziemlich winzige Raum ausreichen würde, weiß ich nicht. Es gibt ja inzwischen die “Tiny House” Bewegung, und viele Menschen scheinen sich dafür zu entscheiden.
      Jurten sind hier auch beliebt, aber meistens sind sie fest an einem Ort verankert. Ist das in Deutschland anders?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Naja, es gibt zwar das Sprichwort “Raum ist in der kleinsten Hütte für ein liebend’ Paar…”; ich vermute jedoch, daß jenes ein Mensch gestaltete, welcher alleine lebte … ich selbst lebe mit 3 Katzen und dies zwar in Österreich, doch in A wie D fiele man vermutlich gleichsam unter den Begriff “mad as a hatter”, zöge man eine Jurte oder ein in Ösiland so genanntes ‘Schrebergartenhaus’ (eine Gartenhütte aus Holz) einem aus Stein vor – als Hauptwohnsitz… In diesem Punkt sind die Einwohner der USA weit offener … Blockhütte ginge hierzulande eben noch … 😉

        Liked by 1 person

    • It is hard to tell what exactly improved some patients’ condition, but the combination of rest, sunshine, and a high-calorie diet improved the immune systems, and enough tubercular recovered to keep perpetuating the treatment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So sehen sie ja niedlich aus die Hütten, aber wenn man dort leben mußte….ich weiß nicht, wie das wohl gewesen ist. Wobei Krankenhäuser vielleicht auch nicht kuscheliger waren. Interessant auf jeden Fall. Mir war nicht bewußt, daß Colorado ein Kurort für Lungenkranke war. Guter Beitrag! LG Almuth

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  8. So interesting…I had never heard of these huts. In this area, those with tuberculosis went to large sanitoriums where they might stay for months or years. This seems so much more humane.

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  9. I haven’t read anywhere that the move to Colorado or other environments actually did cure people but I imagine a more beneficial natural setting eased symptoms and maybe some did recover whether from the locale or their genes. But that’s a fascinating history, I did a little additional reading, and your neighborhood is more a thriving center of population than it might have been otherwise. Thanks for the nice informative post and a look at some of the living conditions. It’s interesting to see some of the huts re-purposed for business.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Steve.
      I think some people were cured, but whether that was due to the local climate and treatment, the patients’ immune system, or both, isn’t clear. Rest sunshine, and calories are a good combination to treat a number of diseases.
      It’s fun to discover some of these huts in different settings, and I have found about twenty of them (I showed only a few). The one that sells nuts etc. is the fanciest.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Groß genug wäre die Hütte zum Wohnen allemal, nur der Grund dort zu wohnen wäre sehr unschön.
    Und wieder gibt es eine Lungenkrankheit. Hoffen wir, dass sie eingedämmt werden kann.
    Im Moment scheint es gar nicht gut auszusehen.
    Liebe Grüße sende ich dir und gute Gesundheit wünsche ich dir.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I think the current pandemic is a poignant reminder of our continued vulnerability and susceptibility to any number of infectious diseases. When entire countries or parts of countries are isolated or quarantined, that point is driven home very powerfully.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. In these days it’s almost strange to think about how serious it was to catch tuberculosis not that many decades ago (and still is in many developing countries). Interesting to visit the sanatorium at Pikes Peak. The infamous Doc Holiday went to the area hoping to take advantage of the reputed curative power of the waters at Glenwood springs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Otto. Tuberculosis is not limited to developing countries, and has experienced a resurgence in many so-called developed nations (I question that division of our world), because of the development of antibiotic resistance.
      Doc Holiday was one of many health seekers who came to Colorado, and one of those unfortunates, who didn’t make it. But from all accounts, he didn’t lead the healthiest of lifestyles.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a fascinating post, Tanja. I first became aware of tuberculosis when I was about twelve, and read The Nun’s Story as a Reader’s Digest condensed book. Later, Audrey Hepburn starred in the film adaptation, and her contracting tuberculosis is an integral part of the plot.

    Many years later, I worked in the nuclear medicine department of a Houston hospital, and was involved with lung perfusion studies of patients with TB. It was eye opening to realize that the disease still was around — as it is today, even in Houston. Despite all that, I had no idea that Colorado was a center for recovery, and never had heard of these huts. I was interested in the way they were constructed, since several physicians I’ve read recently have commented that one of the best ways to avoid COVID-19 is to seek fresh air. Although it’s not a cure, it probably does help with prevention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have seen that movie, but it was a looong time ago. Tb informed countless movies and novels, and the heroes and heroines were forever holding bloody handkerchiefs in front of their wasted mouths.
      After a very premature proclamation of having “vanquished” tuberculosis, it became rapidly clear that the bacilli’s ability to outwit antibiotics made that goal nearly impossible. And as we are so forcefully reminded at present, microbes have a way to remind us of their ongoing presence and power.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. So interesting, and beautifully written. I wonder if anyone actually did get cured by their extended stays in such locations? The huts look rather pretty and cozy, I wouldn’t mind at all staying in such a cabin!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. A truly fascinating slice of history. Can you imagine the emotions of each person who moved into one of these huts? More than anything, I suppose, would have been an overwhelming feeling of hope that this place, this treatment, would finally cure them. If those walls could talk….

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Fascinating post! The isolation you describe does sound eerily familiar. It is frightening to think there are people who refuse to be vaccinated against TB and thereby put themselves and their communities at risk

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for stopping by and for commenting.
      You are right-history has a tendency to repeat itself.
      Tb vaccinations are only performed in high-risk countries, to which North America and Europe don’t count, so most of us have not been immunized.

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    Like

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