Salubrious Turkish baths

Baltimore Glimpses

December 10, 1991|By GILBERT SANDLER

CARL SCHOETTLER has written in the news columns about the last resident rabbi's leaving of East Baltimore (for Jerusalem) and of the good rabbi's lament for the days when there were dozens of synagogues in East Baltimore.

Synagogues, of course, aren't the only institutions that have disappeared from East Baltimore. Gone, too, are restaurants (Sussman and Lev, Shulman's) and popular food stores (Smelkinson's Dairy and Wartzman's and Stone's Bakery. But gone, too, and missed by many, are the famous Turkish baths of East Baltimore.

Reminiscences and newspaper accounts of the 1920s through the 1940s suggest that many Baltimoreans visited the baths at least once a week. Among the regulars were Daniel Willard, president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; Moses Rothschild, president of Sun Life Insurance Co.; Jocob Epstein, millionaire owner of the Baltimore Bargain House, later American Wholesalers, and William H. Welch, the famed Johns Hopkins pathologist, one of the "Big Four" who founded the university's medical school. (The others were Howard A. Kelly, William S. Halstead and William Osler.)

The baths consisted, in one arrangement or another, of a rubdown, a session in a hot steam room and then a quick jump into an ice-cold pool. "There is something about those Turkish baths," Welch was heard to remark. "They give you all the benefits of exercising without the nuisance of exercising."

Baltimorean Jerry Schloss recalls that there were baths at High and Baltimore, Caroline and Baltimore and the one he frequented as a young man, Magid's Turkish Baths, at Lombard and Central, where Lenny's (formerly, and for many years, Jack's) Corned Beef is today.

"They'd rub you down," Schloss recalled. "Then you'd sit in the steam. Around the wall there were maybe four tiers of seats, one higher than the next. The higher you got, the hotter it got."

An anecdote making the rounds in those days was that A.H.S. (for Alexander Hamilton Stump) Post, then president of Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Co., met Daniel Willard outside a Turkish bath one day and cautioned him against taking too many baths.

"They are, Dan, too much of an exertion for a man of your age," said Post.

Willard, at that moment fresh out of the bath and feeling exhilarated, responded sternly: "Friends of mine have been telling me that for 15 years. I must tell you most of them are dead."

Willard may have been right about the salubrious effects of the Turkish baths of old East Baltimore. He lived to age 81.

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