The Tiny Tuberculosis Huts of Colorado Springs

A 1910 postcard depicts the Modern Woodmen of America sanatorium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
A 1910 postcard depicts the Modern Woodmen of America sanatorium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

Amid the busy streets and rugged landscape of Colorado Springs, Colorado, a number of strange huts stands out from the indie boutiques and red rocks. The structures look quaint and elfin—octagonal with pointy shingled roofs and small windows—and these days, they're used as storage sheds or art studios. Some have been converted into bus stops, and one is a café. But as quirky as they are, the huts are also curious relics of medical history: They once housed recovering tuberculosis patients.

A City Built on Disease

Patients pose for a photo at a Colorado Springs tuberculosis sanatorium. Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

The history of Colorado Springs is tied firmly to tuberculosis. One of the deadliest diseases in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, tuberculosis is a bacterial condition that targets the lungs and causes a prolonged cough, along with fever and chills. It was called consumption due to patients' severe weight loss and physical deterioration—the disease seemed to literally consume them. There was no cure before antibiotics were developed in the 1940s. Because fresh, dry air was thought to dry out the moisture in patients' lungs and make breathing less labored, many sufferers sought treatment in high, arid climates like Colorado Springs.

The city was founded in 1871 by General William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad tycoon who had hopes of enticing residents with the region’s scenic beauty. Colorado Springs, nicknamed the City of Sunshine, was also marketed as a health resort due to its high altitude, mineral water springs, and abundant sunlight. Advertisements from the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce helped spread the word, claiming the air to be “100 percent aseptic” and free of the germs that might otherwise lurk in stuffy cities.

People seeking treatment for tuberculosis started arriving in Colorado Springs in the 1870s to rest and recover—or, unfortunately, die. In the 1890s, new tuberculosis sanatoriums brought tens of thousands of people to the region. Leah Davis Witherow, curator of history at the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum, writes that “by 1900, approximately 20,000 health-seekers emigrated to the southwest each year,” with one-third of Colorado residents coming to the state “in search of a cure for themselves or a close family member” [PDF].

Many who recovered stayed and started a new life in Colorado Springs, so the town’s population boom is largely attributed to tuberculosis. “A lot of people would just show up in Colorado Springs hoping to get treatment or to recover on their own,” Matt Mayberry, director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, tells Mental Floss. “Tuberculosis was our first major industry in Colorado Springs. We were really just a resort town but tuberculosis became the major driving force of our economy from about the 1880s until after World War II.”

Tiny Tents and Sun Baths

Patients lived in Gardiner Sanitary Tents at the Modern Woodmen of America sanatorium.Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

At the height of tuberculosis treatment efforts in 1917, over a dozen sanatoriums dotted the region, each accompanied by a number of TB huts. Major sanatoriums like the Modern Woodmen of America's, which treated members of the fraternal benefit society for free, had over 200 patients.

Each invalid lived in his or her own hut (officially called the Gardiner Sanitary Tent) designed by Charles Fox Gardiner and inspired by the teepee, which is built to boost airflow. Made of wood or canvas, the huts were open at the top and had several openings around the base for fresh air. Each hut was steam-heated and included a bed, closet, chairs, washstand, and electric lights.

“Tuberculosis huts were what we might think of today as tiny houses. They each hosted one patient. The purpose of the hut was to keep patients isolated and help them learn how to keep from spreading the disease,” Mayberry says.

Besides self-isolation, part of the open-air treatment required patients to sit outside in steamer chairs for six to eight hours a day—even during winter. Ventilation was seen as necessary for recovery, since it prevented germs from hanging in the air. Some facilities even prohibited talking during rest periods. The dry air was thought to help dry the moisture from the lungs. Heliotherapy was also popular; patients were instructed to lounge in the sun for extended periods of time. While there’s little evidence today that sunbathing did much to help sufferers, it was believed that prolonged sun exposure would help kill the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.

Gardiner Sanitary Tents are advertised in The Garden of the Gods magazine in 1902.Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

Fresh mountain air and almost year-round sunshine was also a clever marketing tool to lure cure-chasers to the region. A 1915 advertisement from the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce assured visitors:

“The climate of Colorado contains more of the essential elements which effectively promote health than that of any other country. These requisites are found in the chemical composition of the atmosphere; in the dry, pure, clean, soft, yet stimulating breezes which quicken circulation and multiply the corpuscles of the blood; in the tonic effect and exhilarating influence of the ozone; in the flood of its life-giving germ-destroying sunshine …”

But rest, fresh air, and sunshine would only do so much. Three times a day, patients were prescribed hearty doses of rare meat, raw eggs, milk, and rye bread to boost their immune systems. This diet was meant to fatten them up if they had suffered significant weight loss. The schedule patients followed was rigid but mandatory if they wanted to continue receiving treatment at the sanatoriums. Witherow reveals a typical daily schedule recorded in patient Emeline Hilton's journal:

"Six a.m.: Sister brought a glass of milk
Seven a.m.: Took temperature and pulse before rising; cold sponge bath
Breakfast: Rare beef, two raw eggs, 'heels' of rye bread and one pint of milk
8:30-12: Out-door inactivity in the sun; temperature and pulse; glass of milk at eleven; rest in room till dinner
Dinner: Rare beef, one raw egg, rye bread and a pint of milk
1-5:30 p.m.: Porch, with 4 o’clock interruption of record (charting of temperature and pulse) and milk and room till supper
Supper: Rare beef, one raw egg, rye bread and pint of milk
7:30: Bed and lights out
9 p.m.: Record (charting of temperature and pulse) and milk, if awake"

According to Witherow, the “forced-feeding” method seemed to work for Hilton, a patient at the Glockner Tuberculosis Sanatorium, who referred to her days spent there as “Rare, Raw, and Rye, and a gallon of milk each day.” Hilton's weight increased from 108 to 147.5 pounds after a year of treatment. (One might ask why patients were served rye bread as opposed to any other kind of bread. “The prevailing belief was that the darker the bread, the more nutritious. The goal was to add as much weight onto the patient as possible, and rye bread in particular was thought to be healthier, filled with nutrients, and denser,” Witherow says.)

Tuberculosis Huts Today

While tuberculosis sanatoriums helped some patients beat their symptoms, the development of effective antibiotics in the 1940s finally provided a cure for the disease and made the facilities obsolete. When the sanatoriums closed, the tuberculosis huts were sold off rather than demolished, which is why several still stand today.

While some were put to public use, like the hut that was converted into a visitor center at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, others serve solely as historical landmarks. One hut still stands by Glockner Tuberculosis Sanatorium, which is now Penrose Hospital. Another renovated hut from Woodmen sanatorium resides at Mount St. Francis and serves as a monument, furnished like it would have been when patients lived there. In addition, the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum has a year-round exhibit called City of Sunshine, which not only includes a hut adorned in period style, but also displays experimental medical instruments, 19th-century exercise equipment, and a pharmacy exhibit filled with patent medicines.

Whether used as a storage shed or a museum exhibit, tuberculosis huts are a significant part of the city’s history. “I keep my eyes on them because I want to make sure they’re cared for,” Mayberry says. “They’re an artifact of our architecture in Colorado Springs and it’s an important reminder of who we used to be.”

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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'Jingle Bells' Was Originally Written as a Thanksgiving Song

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Thanksgiving has got nothing on Christmas when it comes to songs that are specific to the holiday. Beyond Adam Sandler’s “The Thanksgiving Song” and ... "The Thanksgiving Song" remix, there aren't a ton of songs you associate with Turkey Day. Unless you count "Jingle Bells."

Back in 1850 or 1851, James Lord Pierpont was perhaps enjoying a little holiday cheer at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts, when Medford’s famous sleigh races to neighboring Malden Square inspired him to write a tune. The story goes that Pierpont picked out the song on the piano belonging to the owner of the boarding house attached to the tavern because he wanted something to play for Thanksgiving at his Sunday school class in Boston. The resulting song wasn’t just a hit with the kids; adults loved it so much that the lyrics to “One Horse Open Sleigh” were altered slightly and used for Christmas. The song was published in 1857, when Pierpont was working at a Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia.

Another bit of trivia for you: Mr. Pierpont was the uncle of banker John Pierpont Morgan, better known as J.P. Morgan. Despite this, and despite the fact that his famous holiday composition should have made him a millionaire, Pierpont struggled to make ends meet. Even after his son renewed the copyright on "Jingle Bells" in 1880, 13 years before his father’s death, it was never enforced enough to produce any real income.

Though lyrics about turkey and the Pilgrims aren’t as abundant as tunes for certain other holidays, they’re out there. Here are a couple:

“Over the River and Through the Wood”

They might as well crown Medford, Massachusetts, the Thanksgiving Capital of the United States, because the song “Over the River and Through the Woods” was born there, too. Lydia Maria Child wrote the poem “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day” about a trip to her grandfather’s house, which, yes, really does sit near the Mystic River in Medford, Massachusetts. It’s still there today, owned by Tufts University and used as a home for Tufts dignitaries. The poem was later set to music and became the classic we know today.

"Alice’s Restaurant Massacre"

It doesn’t have much to do with Thanksgiving, except that the real-life events that inspired the song took place on Thanksgiving. After dumping some litter illegally on Turkey Day in 1967, Arlo Guthrie was arrested. When he later went to the induction center to find out about his draft status, Guthrie realized that he had been declared ineligible for the draft due to his lack of moral conduct. The song, which is 18+ minutes long, became a huge hit amongst war and draft protesters.

This story has been updated for 2020.