Museum Mysteries: Glass Rake?

What is that rake-looking thing, and why would anyone make it out of glass? Go into the room behind the information desk on the first floor of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, and you’ll find a display of all sorts of weird things like this glass apparatus. But what was it used for? Hint: it’s not a garden tool, but it may have been used by a Gardiner.

People flocked to Colorado Springs by the thousands in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to seek a cure for tuberculosis, a highly contagious and pernicious disease that affected the lungs and eventually caused the body to waste away as the disease progressed (hence the nickname “consumption”). Colorado Springs’ claim to fame in the late 1900’s was its dry air, high altitude, mostly warm climate and healthy water from the Manitou Springs spas and fountains, which were thought by many to be the magic cure.

Although “heliotherapy,” or lots and lots of sunshine, was marketed as the only way to kill the tuberculosis “bugs,” recovery was more likely due to the regimented schedule of rest, sun, fresh air, and healthy food in the local sanitoriums than anything else. Rest was supposed to heal diseased lungs, and a robust diet of three large meals a day supplemented by at least a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs was supposed to rebuild the bodies of those who were wasting away from the disease. “Lungers,” or “chasers,” as tuberculars were known, were guaranteed to at least feel better, if not recover completely. Many people, as high as 60 percent, did feel completely cured, even though the real cure only came with the introduction of penicillin in the 1940’s.

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(Credit: john.adcock.blogspot.com)

Quack medicine of all kinds, available over-the-counter at local drugstores, was touted in advertisements as the cure for consumption. Quartz or violet rays, or even low levels of electric shock, were also popular courses of treatment. Many sufferers believed that high doses of mercury could cure them. Doctors came from all over the country, and each had his or her own special treatment method.

Dr. Charles Fox Gardiner, the premier authority in the treatment of tuberculosis during the late 1890’s, said, “If there is such a favored country, let it be known to all. The existence of a natural sanitarium such as this, miles and miles of country bathed in sunshine and pure air, without mankind’s worst enemy (tuberculosis) lurking in every corner…is a fact that should be shouted from the housetops in every city, town or village over our great country, in which one life in every 333 is lost every year from a contagious and preventable disease.” Gardiner is credited with inventing the Gardiner Sanitary Tent, an eight-sided isolation tent modeled after the Ute tepees Gardiner had visited in the nearby back country.

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Left: A tent colony. Center: Charles Fox Gardiner. Right: The interior of a Gardiner tent. (Credit: Penrose Library Digital Collection)

This rake-shaped Tuberculin syringe was used to administer Tuberculin, a substance discovered by Dr. Robert Koch. Originally thought to be a cure for tuberculosis, Tuberculin was later determined only to be valuable for diagnosis. Tests were administered in an injection under the skin of the inner arm of the patient (These tests are still used today; as a matter of fact, I couldn’t get my teacher’s license without first having a clean TB test using this method).

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A Tuberculin Syringe. (Credit: DeLyn Martineau)

These nineteenth-century medical supplies are only one display of the impressive “Chasing the Cure” collection displayed at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Since the admission is free, there’s no reason not to visit the museum today.

Other articles in the Museum Mysteries series:

Museum Mysteries: Rag Doll

Museum Mysteries: Intertwined Hands

Museum Mysteries: Hair Wreaths

Museum Mysteries: Parfleche

Museum Mysteries: Death Masks

Photo By: DeLyn Martineau