When you visit the National Museum of Dance in the future, the six blog entries about its rich history as the Washington Baths should culminate with a visit to our permanent exhibition Washington Bathhouse. There you will see a lovingly restored, historically accurate depiction of the bath house in its days of notoriety.
A glance inside the tub room will surely instill curiosity. Is that the predecessor to a sauna? A multi burner stove? A shower tower of tortuous pipes and nozzles? The explanations center around the time period’s pursuit of natural methods and equipment to alleviate pain and suffering.
A white box in the corner resembling a sauna was called an electric light cabinet. It was part of a series of treatments called Turkish or Russian baths. Heated lightbulbs, not steam, lined its interior. Its temperature induced sweat, expelling toxins from the patron’s body. Patrons would then be washed over with mineral water to allow the newly opened pores to absorb important minerals even deeper than with a tub bath.
Someone with high blood pressure or heart ailments might emerge from the cabinet to receive a Vichy massage. Using the stove-like table to select specific temperatures and pressures, an attendant would massage afflicted areas and use high-powered sprays of mineral water to stimulate blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and ease circulation.
Patrons with an irritative skin disease might exit the cabinet and receive a salt rub to exfoliate their affected skin. They would then step under the large metal “shower tower,” known as a Vichy shower, to receive high-pressure streams of mineral water from all angles for a comprehensive cleanse.
Over time, these spring water treatments would prove beneficial, offering people with various ailments a natural cure for their mind, body, and spirit.