Cranbrook’s Fresh Air Camp

George G. Booth referred to it as the “Fresh Air Camp.” Located on the northwest end of Glassenbury (later Kingswood) Lake, the small camp served a very altruistic purpose.

In the 19th century, romantic poems and novels had people suffering from “consumption” — leading artists of the day like John Keats and Frederic Chopin suffered from it — but this “white plague” was not romantic, it was tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that attacks the lungs. In the 1880s it was established that tuberculosis was contagious and spread through the air like a cold or the flu. In the early 20th century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the United States.

The foremost thinkers of the day believed that the cramped conditions in cities and the lack of access to what was known as “good air” was spreading the disease. Many open-air camps, fresh air camps, open-air schools, sanitoriums, preventoriums, and tuberculosis hospitals began to spring up in the countryside around large cities. By 1900, fresh air camps were commonplace in Britain, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The concept was that fresh air, good ventilation, and rest could cure tuberculosis.

CEC001

Cranbrook Estate, circa 1906, looking north from the future site of Cranbrook House. Fresh air camp circled in red. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

We don’t know much about the Booth’s Fresh Air Camp — when it was started, how long it was on the property, or who the campers (patients) were. All we have are pictures as evidence it existed here at Cranbrook and that George G. Booth’s farm in Bloomfield Township was a perfect location for such a camp.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

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