I never know where research will take me, or what I will learn. Recently, I learned about the huge connection between Colorado and tuberculosis in the late 1800s.
It all started innocently enough. I was looking for major events in Colorado in the 1890s to help shape a new historical romance I am writing. Purely by chance, I stumbled across a mention of the number of tuberculosis sanitariums which existed then.
You see, starting in the 1860s, TB was a virulent epidemic in the eastern United States. To combat it, doctors often recommended their affected patients move to an area with a sunny, dry climate. The eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, with its dry climate and clear mountain air, fit the bill perfectly.
As a result, more and more tuberculosis sufferers moved west to places like Denver and Colorado Springs. Cities quickly ran out of places for these people to stay. Some were even jailed for a time because they were homeless. Conditions evened out somewhat after numerous sanitariums and boarding houses were built to provide a comfortable setting and some medical care.
Perhaps the building of the sanitariums helped fuel the influx of ill people, called "lungers." Whatever the cause, the end result was astounding. According to estimates, a full one-third of the people living in Colorado in the 1880s-1890s had tuberculosis. Denver was even nicknamed the “World’s Sanitarium.” Can you imagine that? What was it like to live in a place with such a huge increase in population in a matter of years, and to have most of those new residents be so ill?
I don’t know if I will use this information in my manuscript, but it was still interesting to learn. I have seen references to sanitariums in the past, and this provided much more context about their origins and the need they filled. If nothing else, it makes me wonder what other fascinating historical trivia I will learn in the future. (All in the cause of story research, of course.) I'll be sure to share more fun or unusual history in the future.
(And in case you were wondering, the country eventually got this deadly disease under control. Medicines were developed during WWII to treat TB, and by the end of the 1940s, most of the sanitariums had been converted to other uses.)
I write historical fiction, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.