Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chicago's Magnetic Well

Throughout the 19th century, and into the early 20th century, there were occasional claims of "magnetic wells," wells that dredged up water said to be high in "magnetic" content that contained mysterious medicinal properties.

Around 1869, there was considerable media attention given to some "magnetic wells" in Michigan. Now, from the articles, it seems that people had tried a LOT of experiments throughout the 19th century to add electricity to water and found that, though it could conduct electricity, it couldn't maintain an electrical charge or any magnetic powers, even if they pumped it full of "a powerful current sufficient to magnetize a bar of railroad iron," as a writer for the Chicago Times claimed to have tried once.  But the water in these Michigan wells seemed to have magnetic properties.

In Chicago the next year, one David A. Gage, who seems to have been something of an inventor, discovered a magnetic well of his own in the suburbs, on a farm two miles north of Riverside (right around Forest Park, I'd say).

According to a statement by the farm's manager, they had brought in a man named Mr. Ross who had experience in digging "artisan wells," and he found that the ground he was drilling down was different than any other ground he'd seen - the rock was much harder than most. Water was struck when he reached 613 and a half feet down, and after drilling down 11 more feet they were pumping out 100,000 gallons per day (this may have been a typo; other sources put the figure at 1500). And the farm manager found, quite by accident, that if he put steel tools into the water, they turned into magnets. A chisel dunked in the water and set up on a block of wood floating in water started pointing north, like a compass.

Scientific men were called in, and a cask was sent to the Sherman House hotel. According to papers, scientists were baffled by the stuff. I've been unable to find out much more about magnetic water, though claims of such wells came up now and then over a fifty year period. I can imagine that in this era of "electrolyte water" and vitamin water, magnetic water would go over like gangbusters. Indeed, just googling "magnetic water" shows that a number of people are claiming health benefits for things like this.

In those days, even in such a notable era of fake medicine, it doesn't seem to have done so well, at least in Chicago. In other cities whole resorts were built around magnetic wells and claims were made that the water could cure diseases, but the story of the Chicago one petered out pretty quickly. The New York Herald reported that visitors to Gage's farm reported that the water tasted oddly medicinal, and   Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, always ready with a snarky comment, said that the people of Chicago tested the magnetic water and decided that they preferred whiskey.

I'm assuming this is the same David A. Gage who later served as city treasurer and wound up owing the city half a million bucks, but articles from that big scandal don't seem to mention anything about the well. Looks like another research rabbit hole for me!

2 comments:

jay said...

In Eureka Springs, Arkansas they had 7 springs around the town that were supposed to have healing powers. they built railroad lines in the late 1800's all the way from New York. People came for a very long time, believing these wells had healing waters. As it turned out, the water was FULL of Radon, which initially was like getting radiation and treatment, but eventually, those who came developed various cancers and died because of too MUCH radon exposure! The Springs were soon capped, yet it still had tourism for the bathhouses decades later. They town, which I have been to a few times, is now a haven for the gay/lesbian community as well as fine art shops etc. Its actually a beautiful little town full of bed and breakfast places in homes built 120 yrs ago during the big Springs rush. It is said no area in the hilly town is flat enough to hold a football field.
Point is, everything can be misinterpreted until you get the long term effects of them.

Anonymous said...

In Eureka Springs, Arkansas they had 7 springs around the town that were supposed to have healing powers. they built railroad lines in the late 1800's all the way from New York. People came for a very long time, believing these wells had healing waters. As it turned out, the water was FULL of Radon, which initially was like getting radiation and treatment, but eventually, those who came developed various cancers and died because of too MUCH radon exposure! The Springs were soon capped, yet it still had tourism for the bathhouses decades later. They town, which I have been to a few times, is now a haven for the gay/lesbian community as well as fine art shops etc. Its actually a beautiful little town full of bed and breakfast places in homes built 120 yrs ago during the big Springs rush. It is said no area in the hilly town is flat enough to hold a football field.
Point is, everything can be misinterpreted until you get the long term effects of them.

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