Museum Feature: City of Sunshine
Imagine eating a diet that consisted solely of rare red meat, raw eggs, and all the milk and mineral water you could drink for every meal, every day for months as you spent your nights sleeping outside and your days basking in the sun. Your only respite from these activities would be occasional exercise and regular monitoring of your pulse and temperature. Every day you would be asked to document the color and consistency of your own spit, and your main job would be rest—and lots of it.
Such is the daily life of a lunger. Lungers, chasers, consumptives, all were nicknames for those “chasing the cure” for tuberculosis, and although many, like Robert Louis Stevenson, sought cures in balmy climes, thousands of afflicted people searched for, and found, a cure in Colorado Springs in the years before antibiotics. Sixty percent of lungers treated here near the turn of the century reported that they were completely cured, but whether it was due to a regimented lifestyle, heliotherapy (lots of sunshine), or the combination of these things with the high altitude and dry climate, it’s hard to say. My great, great grandfather came to Colorado with tuberculosis and lived until old age, so something must have worked.
Colorado Springs still holds the title of City of Sunshine because it is sunny here 300 days of the year. Winters are mild most of the time, and there are many outdoor activities for all seasons. One of my favorite indoor activities is to wander around the exhibits in the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, which features everything from the weird to the wonderful. The latest exhibit features nineteenth-century treatments for tuberculosis. Aptly, it is named “City of Sunshine.”
The interactive display opens with a greeting from the local train conductor who welcomes visitors to the city and indicates some cards to choose from. Each card documents a different person who had an impact on, or was representative of, tubercular life in early Colorado Springs. Guests can choose a card and follow the person through checkpoints in the exhibit, learning more about the person with each stop.
One of the walls is covered with an overview map of the sanatoriums in the area that shows which hospitals specialized in different types of care, and which touted different approaches to the cure. Each sanatorium had its own rules, and patients were made to abide by them, although they were assured that they were not “inmates.” Patients were encouraged to fight for their health so they could be reunited with their families. The “fight” was rather an oxymoron, because patients were encouraged to relax as much as possible during the day, to eat as much as they could, and sleep as often as the need arose.
Other displays feature a wide variety of bottles, treatments, vials, devices, and exercise equipment used in the treatment of tuberculosis in the sanatoriums in Colorado Springs. The exhibit is dominated by a tuberculosis tent, set up exactly as it was when in popular use. Reading about the displays gives an insight into an era of Springs history that explains a large part of how our city grew to become the City of Sunshine.
Marketed as one of the premier health resorts, people came to our city from all over the world to experience the mild climate, fresh air, and spectacular views, even if they didn’t suffer from tuberculosis. Water from the fourteen Manitou springs was also a great selling point, touted as the magic tonic to lift one’s mood and invigorate one’s soul. Even today, depending on the spring one chooses to drink from, lithium levels vary, which may have something to do with leveling out or lifting of the moods of its drinkers. Plus, the Twin Spring’s water makes excellent sparkling lemonade.
The City of Sunshine exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum is well worth the visit because it’s an informative, interactive look at one of the reasons our region became so popular. A destination for many, it’s no wonder why “Pikes Peak or Bust” was painted on many a wagon heading west. Why go to Oregon or California? We have the perfect home right here.