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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Sweat It

Air Date: Week of

This week, we have facts about the first Turkish bathhouse in Brooklyn. In 1863, patrons warmed to the idea of soapy baths and massage.


CURWOOD: Long before power yoga masters made you sweat it out in their steamy studios, Dr. Charles Shepard brought cleansing heat to the mean streets of Brooklyn. Dr. Shepard’s first in the nation Turkish bathhouse opened on October 6, 1863. Patrons could step through successfully hotter rooms reaching 200 degrees Farenheit to find a soapy bath and massage. And as Mikkel Aaland, sauna enthusiast and author of the book “Sweat” explains, head-to-toe cleanliness was certainly not the norm back in those days.

AALAND: Four out of six city dwellers in New York didn’t have any bathing facilities except for a pail and a sponge. And warm baths - if you had warm actually – that was only for the sick. Otherwise, you just used a small basin of cold water and a washcloth.

CURWOOD: Only a single patron walked through the bathhouse doors that October day, but word spread and soon Dr. Shepard could boast 15,000 customers a year. Copycats sprung up all over the city. But around World War I, Dr. Shepard’s bath and its clones would go the way of the buffalo, as showers started marching into every American household, a symbol of a more affluent lifestyle. But Mr. Aaland says sweat is making a comeback.

AALAND: There’s a lot of new interest in, not only the Russian baths, the Turkish baths or hammams, but the American Indian sweat lodge right is quite popular all over this country. Americans have always had a strange relationship with bathing, mostly because of our lifestyles and attitudes, but I think that’s coming around now.

CURWOOD: And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC: Parlour “The Living Beginning” OCTOPUS OFF-BROADWAY ( Temporary Resistance, Ltd. - 2002)]



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