Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Getting healthy on summer vacation

If you were a wealthy New Yorker in the Gilded Age, you spent the summer in the resorts of upstate New York to escape the stifling heat of the city. Upstate New York meant mountains, snow-fed streams, clean air, and luxury hotels.

There developed a cadre of physicians and clergy who came to believe that those pristine regions were the perfect place for people suffering from diseases and chronic “delicacy of chest” ailments. Among them was Dr. Joseph W. Stickler, a physician and pathologist at Orange Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. Dr. Stickler was something of an authority on respiratory diseases and he wrote a book, The Adirondacks as a Health Resort, published in 1886. A copy of that book is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Dr. Sticker spent considerable time in the Adirondacks and developed his theories partly based on amazing recoveries he had observed among people who had gone to the resorts for health reasons. Some people, he said, had so fully recovered that he would not have known they had been ill had they not told him. He made a convincing case that sick people ought to be spending more time in the mountains and resorts of northern New York.

The wealthy citizenry had long since figured out that those fair climes were the best place to spend a hot summer and were already frequenting places like Saratoga Springs for the socializing, horse racing -- and the therapeutic waters, in which wealthy invalids found solace.

By 1890, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central and Hudson River Railroad were doing a booming business transporting people to the mountains for the summer. The railroad published a handy guide called Health and Pleasure On “America’s Greatest Railroad.” A copy of this great advertising tool is also in the collection of rare and ususual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

The guide is full of fold-out maps showing all of the areas of the resort region served by the railroad and its affiliates. It is engraved with illustrations favorite resort pastimes — fishing, camping, boating and the like.

If you were going to the Adirondacks, the Lake Region, Niagara Falls, or the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence Seaway, you went to Grand Central Station. There, the guide informs readers, a New York Central train waits to begin travelers' journeys to better health.

Of course, some travelers wished to spend their summers not only improving their bodies, but also their minds. To that end, Chautauqua, a community of enlightenment, was built upon the shores of Lake Chautauqua, a little bit north of Saratoga. There, guests were educated and entertained with lectures by learned men and women, classical music concerts and poetry readings.

The guide fairly waxes poetic about Chautauqua and the editors weren’t above highlighting (without attribution) the words of the Rev. John H. Vincent, one of the founders of Chautauqua Assembly:

“Come to these groves, study, listen, develop your bodies, refresh your minds, be broader, wiser, better; true recreation is found not in idleness but in change of occupation.”

Presumably you were supposed to be productive during your time in the mountains. There is a full page ad in the guide for a Remington Standard Typewriter, claiming to be “for fifteen years the standard.”

One imagines that you were to write or poetry, or a novel. Perhaps it would have been sufficient simply to write an essay “What I did on My Summer Vacation.”

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