Oasis Today, Hoax of Yesteryear
By Robin Jay
A home is one’s sanctuary. More than ever before, especially in upscale real estate in South Florida, a luxurious bathroom, with a glorious spa-like bathtub, provides a must-have oasis in residential interior design.
Elite homeowners rarely think twice nowadays about investing thousands of dollars in a custom bathing basin hand crafted in Europe or South America. The value of lavishly soaking away stresses of a busy day seems practically worth its weight in gold. (Browse the stunning examples South Florida Opulence showcases in this issue.)
Historic fiction about the bathtub
In hindsight, however, those who today view an opulent bathtub as an investment may find it amusing that in 1917, a hoax printed about the history of the bathtub caused political mayhem.
In an article called “A Neglected Anniversary” published in the New York Evening Mail on December 28, 1917, journalist Henry L. Menken wrote about the curious history of the bathtub in the United States. He said the first American tub, installed in a Cincinnati home, was made from mahogany and lead – and that bathtubs were an undemocratic epicurean luxury that posed health hazards. Menken indicated they were highly opposed by the general public until President Millard Fillmore popularized them by having one installed in the White House in 1850. His article caused uproar and numerous national news sources and medical journals recounted the story over and over.
After Menken’s fictitious bathtub story circulated for eight years, he decided it was finally time to “come clean.” On May 23, 1926, in a cover-page article in the Chicago Tribune, he confessed, “I printed…in a paper now extinct…an article purporting to give the history of the bathtub. This article, I may say at once, was a tissue of absurdities, all of them deliberate and most of them obvious.”
The real story about the history of bathtubs is this: Documents dating back to 3300 BC support findings of early plumbing systems used for bathing in a palace in ancient India. As for laymen bathtubs, the earliest surviving five-foot pedestal tub made of pottery was found on the Isle of Crete.
When it comes to residential bathing bathtubs, we’ve come a long way baby!