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 at a tuberculosis sanatorium
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

Tuberculosis tents at a sanatorium
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.

Advertisement for Gardiner Sanitary Tent
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.”

The 10 Best Memorial Day 2020 Sales

iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth
iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth

The Memorial Day sales have started early this year, and it's easy to find yourself drowning in offers for cheap mattresses, appliances, shoes, and grills. To help you cut through the noise and focus on the best deals around, we threw together some of our favorite Memorial Day sales going on right now. Take a look below.

1. Leesa

A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
Leesa

Through May 31, you can save up to $400 on every mattress model Leesa has to offer, from the value-minded Studio by Leesa design to the premium Leesa Legend, which touts a combination of memory foam and micro-coil springs to keep you comfortable in any position you sleep in.

Find it: Leesa

2. Sur La Table

This one is labeled as simply a “summer sale,” but the deals are good only through Memorial Day, so you should get to it quickly. This sale takes up to 20 percent off outdoor grilling and dining essentials, like cast-iron shrimp pans ($32), a stainless steel burger-grilling basket ($16), and, of course, your choice of barbeque sauce to go along with it.

Find it: Sur la Table

3. Wayfair

KitchenAid Stand Mixer on Sale on Wayfair.
Wayfair/KitchenAid

Wayfair is cutting prices on all manner of appliances until May 28. Though you can pretty much find any home appliance imaginable at a low price, the sale is highlighted by $130 off a KitchenAid stand mixer and 62 percent off this eight-in-one GoWise air fryer.

And that’s only part of the brand’s multiple Memorial Day sales, which you can browse here. They’re also taking up to 40 percent off Samsung refrigerators and washing machines, up to 65 percent off living room furniture, and up to 60 percent off mattresses.

Find it: Wayfair

4. Blue Apron

If you sign up for a Blue Apron subscription before May 26, you’ll save $20 on each of your first three box deliveries, totaling $60 in savings. 

Find it: Blue Apron

5. The PBS Store

Score 20 percent off sitewide at Shop.PBS.org when you use the promo code TAKE20. This slashes prices on everything from documentaries like Ken Burns’s The Roosevelt: An Intimate History ($48) and The Civil War ($64) to a Pride & Prejudice tote bag ($27) and this precious heat-changing King Henry VIII mug ($11) that reveals the fates of his many wives when you pour your morning coffee.

Find it: The PBS Store

6. Amazon

eufy robot vacuum.
Amazon/eufy

While Amazon doesn’t have an official Memorial Day sale, the ecommerce giant still has plenty of ever-changing deals to pick from. Right now, you can take $100 off this outdoor grill from Weber, $70 off a eufy robot vacuum, and 22 percent off the ASUS gaming laptop. For more deals, just go to Amazon and have a look around.

7. Backcountry

You can save up to 50 percent on tents, hiking packs, outdoor wear, and more from brands like Patagonia, Marmot, and others during Backcountry's Memorial Day sale.

Find it: Backcountry

8. Entertainment Earth

Funko Pops on Sale on Entertainment Earth.
Entertainment Earth/Funko

From now until June 2, Entertainment Earth is having a buy one, get one half off sale on select Funko Pops. This includes stalwarts like the Star Wars and Batman lines, and more recent additions like the Schitt's Creek Funkos and the pre-orders for the upcoming X-Men movie line.

Find it: Entertainment Earth

9. Moosejaw

With the promo code SUNSCREEN, you can take 20 percent off one full-price item at Moosejaw, along with finding up to 30 percent off select items during the outdoor brand's summer sale. These deals include casual clothing, outdoor wear, trail sneakers, and more. 

Find it: Moosejaw

10. Osprey

Through May 25, you can save 25 percent on select summer items, and 40 percent off products from last season. This can include anything from hiking packs and luggage to outdoorsy socks and hats. So if you're planning on getting acquainted with the great outdoors this summer, now you can do it on the cheap.

Find it: Osprey

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

The Tallest Cemetery Monument in New Orleans Was Built Out of Spite

baldeaglebluff, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
baldeaglebluff, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Spite has motivated many construction projects, from a 40-foot-tall fence in California to an 8-foot-wide home in Massachusetts. But when it comes to pettiness, few structures can beat Moriarty Monument in New Orleans's Metairie Cemetery. Reaching 80 feet high, the memorial to Mary Moriarty was an excuse for her widower to show off his wealth to everyone who rejected him.

New Orleans is famous for its cemeteries, which feature above-ground mausoleums. The soil in the region is too wet and swampy to dig traditional 6-foot graves, so instead, bodies are interred at the same level as the living. The most impressive of these graveyards may be Metairie Cemetery on Metairie Road and Pontchartrain Boulevard. Built in 1872, it lays claim to the most above-ground monuments and mausoleums in the city, the tallest of which is the Moriarty Monument.

The granite tomb was commissioned by Daniel A. Moriarty, an Irish immigrant who moved to New Orleans with little money in the mid-1800s. It was there he met his wife, Mary Farrell, and together they started a successful business and invested their new income into real estate. The couple was able to build a significant fortune this way, but Moriarty struggled to shake off his reputation as a poor foreigner. The city's upper class refused to accept him into their ranks—something Moriarty never got over. After his wife died in 1887, he came up with an idea that would honor her memory and hopefully tick off the pretentious aristocrats at the same time.

By 1905, he had constructed her the grandest memorial he could afford. In addition to the towering steeple, which is a topped with a cross, the site is adorned with four statues at the base. These figures represent faith, hope, charity, and memory, while the monument itself is meant to be a not-so-virtuous middle finger to all those who insulted its builder.

Gerard Schoen, community outreach director for Metairie Cemetery, told WGNO ABC, “The reason Daniel wanted his property to be the tallest was so his wife could look down and snub every 'blue blood' in the cemetery for all eternity." More than a century later, it still holds that distinction.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]