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Hot, Steamy History Returns - Mineral Spas Make Mt. Clemens Comeback

May 23, 2008
MT. CLEMENS - Julie Bogogvski stepped out of the steamy bathtub, into a white terry cloth robe and onto the pages of local mineral bath history.

Bogogvski was the inaugural mineral bath customer at the Tranquil Life Center, the first commercial spa to open in downtown Mt. Clemens in nearly a century,

"Ooh, I love this," bakery owner Bogogvski said after a 25-minute soak in the mineral-laden hot water on Friday. "I'm going to be a regular customer."

The Life Center mineral bath officially opens today, possibly signaling a new era for an old enterprise. Mt. Clemens boosters once called it "Bath City USA" because of its busy spas.

Eleven hotels dating back to the late 1800s once operated mineral baths in the Macomb County seat, attracting millions of visitors each year who sought comfort from arthritis, rheumatism and skin disorders. Notables who came included Babe Ruth, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Mae West, Jack Dempsey and Helena Rubenstein.

By the mid-1970s, modern medicine had taken the life out of the mineral bath business and the last of the hotels closed.

Now there's a minor resurgence. St. Joseph Mercy Hospital renewed the mineral baths last year and expects more than 1,000 customers this year, said Scott Adler, a vice-president. The hospital on North Avenue will add six more mineral bath tubs next year.

Both sites offer massages after 20-minute dips in 103-degree water. Tranquil Life plays soothing music and uses an iridescent, bubbling fountain to enhance the relaxation.

"I'd like to see Mt. Clemens be the health mecca it was at the turn of the century," said Jane Buiting, who owns that center with Ed Meerscheart. The alternative health center also offers yoga, acupuncture and herbal medicine.

"What you're seeing now is people going back to more holistic medicine," she said. "After we opened our business, so many people asked if we had mineral baths."

Buiting said that modern baths don't use black mud, as in the past, or have the "rotten egg" sulfur smell that wafted through Mt. Clemens for decades.

"The old baths were gruesome," Buiting said. "They were tar-looking, gunky and they stunk."

Those drawbacks were eliminated through a refining process, said Susan Gans, owner of Geologix, a local company that makes purified mineral bath crystals under the brand name Ache Away. The product is used by both Mt. Clemens spas.

Gans uses water from the city's only working well, which taps into an aquifer below the city. Officials with the 102-year-old hospital hope to tap a well under its site to draw reputedly therapeutic water.

Gans said mineral bath spas are cropping up in other parts of Michigan, such as Margot's Spa in Birmingham.

Quinnie Cody, a former Mt. Clemens mayor, admits he was skeptical of the baths' value until he got a gift certificate for treatments at St. Joseph.

"I can assure you it has terrific power," Cody said. "It relieves pain. I thought people were under some hypnosis, but I'll tell you it is really good."

Singer Eddie Cantor also endorsed the mineral soakings in a 1949 Daily Monitor Leader newspaper article.

"You've got something here that's without parallel anywhere in the world," Cantor was quoted as saying. "It's your community's obligation to mankind to tell the world about it."

Cody, who came to Mt. Clemens during the 1940s, recalled that streets were crowded each day with thousands of health-seekers. "You couldn't come downtown because of all the people here for the mineral baths," the ex-mayor said.

Julie Bogogvski stepped out of the steamy bathtub, into a white terry cloth robe and onto the pages of local mineral bath history.

"I'd like to see Mt. Clemens be the health mecca it was at the turn of the century."

Jane Butting, co-owner of Tranquil Life Center

'Bath City' heritage

* 1865: George Steffens hits brackish mineral water under Mt. Clemens while drilling for oil.

* 1873: City's first bathhouse, The Original, opens at Jones and Water streets.

* 1880: Avery House is built as the first hotel for mineral bath customers. It could accommodate 400 guests.

* 1897: The Park Hotel and Bath House opens on East Street as the largest and most famous of the city's spas. Celebrities stayed at the hotel, razed in 1940.

* 1899: The St. Joseph Sanitarium and Bathhouse is built on North Avenue. It later became a hospital.

* 1910: The Arethusa, last of the bathhouses, was built on Gratiot (now South Main), south of Cass.

* 1976: The Colonial Hotel closes its mineral baths.

* 1999: St. Joseph Mercy Hospital renews mineral baths at its 100-year-old building on North Avenue as a centennial gimmick.

* 2000: Mineral baths are so popular,
St. Joseph decides to bring them back permanently.

* 2001: St. Joseph plans to expand the business in 2002 to six baths, hoping to draw mineral water from an aquifer beneath the hospital.

* 2001: Tranquil Life Center becomes the first private commercial mineral bath business to open downtown in nearly a century.

* Source: "Mount Clemens Bath City USA," by Marie Ling McDougal, and Detroit News archives.
About the Author
Geologix Inc. manufactures products using a proprietary formula featuring 34 natural minerals contained in the ancient sea water from the famous Michigan Basin -- a concentration of minerals higher than that found in any known body of water in the world. Mineral Essentials focuses on spa, skin care, and massage products to moisturize and provide anti-aging protection for great skin. Mineral Essentials
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