Taking a Turkish Bath in La Crosse

Caroline C. Morris

Many decades ago, a grandson of Alice Green Hixon, owner of the Hixon House at 429 7th St. N, decided to disobey his grandmother. The stately Alice Green Hixon had forbidden her grandchildren to go down into the basement, but – being a child – he made a point of exploring it. Among the antique household accoutrements in the dark basement, he stumbled on this wooden contraption that must have seemed like it fell out of a science fiction novel. More likely, this “Turkish Bath Cabinet” came via a doctor’s recommendation.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was fashionable to take “vapor baths” or “steam baths” in wooden cabinets. To warm yourself up, you put a scoopful of hot coals in the perforated metal “mug” on the floor of the box, next to a shallow dish of water to occasionally splash on the mug to make steam. Then strip down to your skivvies, step inside, make yourself comfortable on the cane-bottomed seat, and have an accomplice shut the door for you. A half-hour in the box could cure “La Grippe, Colds, Liver, Kidney, Blood and Skin Diseases, and Rheumatism,” claimed advertisements of the era.[1]

By the turn of the century, Americans were increasingly health-conscious; partly because the Industrial Revolution had introduced a host of new afflictions (particularly respiratory illnesses), and partly because new scientific discoveries seemed to offer hope. Why not give the latest “treatment” a try if it might increase your quality of life?


[1] Turkish Bath Cabinet,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Nov. 1, 1899): 9.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on May 28 ,2016.