While prospecting for gas in Claremore, Oklahoma, in 1903, the drilling company of Gullinger & Hessicks, under a contract solicited by The Claremore Industrial Company, struck a flow of artesian water “so rank in taste and odor and so radical in its effects that people held it in fear; the city council declared it a nuisance, the chemical action generated, caused paint to peel from houses near the well; fish, frogs, and other water animals in the creek into which it ran waste, were killed, as well as the vegetable matter with which it came in contact.” Yet, when a little girl with blood disease was considered healed, and a passing tramp with a plethora of flesh sores was cured after bathing in the liquid for two weeks, claims of the water’s miraculous powers were made public. [Claremore Messenger (CM).5-19-1905]. Was this alien artesian substance just “snake oil,” or would these health restoration testimonies hold water?
When George W. Eaton publicly tested a mangy dog in the water garnering the same aforementioned therapeutic results, it was confirmed to Claremore businesspeople that this extraordinary natural resource could be promoted as “the most wonderful curative agent known to man.” In an era before antibiotics, Radium Water, as it became known, was hailed as a perfect germicide and advertised as a cure-all for blood and skin diseases, stomach ailments, rheumatism, eczema, and more [ibid]. When the water’s content was analyzed by Edw. H. Keiser, Professor of Chemistry, Washington University, Iron, Calcium, and Magnesium carbonate; Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, and Lithium chloride, with Hydrogen Sulfide gas, but no Radium was discovered.
Entrepreneurs such as the Claremore Radium Wells Company, streamed into Claremore to capitalize on this otherworldly phenomenon, intending to brand Claremore as a health-resort mecca. In May of 1904, the Claremore Radium Wells Company purchased from The Claremore Industrial Company Lot 9, Block 163 [located at the northwest corner of present-day 9th Street and Dorothy Avenue] and the artesian well located thereon [CP.5-7-1904]. In doing so, the Claremore Radium Wells Company became the sole legal proprietor, copyright holder, authorized user, and supplier of “Radium Water.”
The Claremore Radium Wells (Sanitarium) Company’s Board of Directors (June 1904) selected William Jasper Perdue, as president and general manager, empowering him to build their commodious bathhouse-sanitarium.
The Claremore Radium Wells Company’s brick and stone bathhouse (a projected cost of $20,000) with large reception office, modern appliances, furniture, fixtures, glass bath tubs, 65-horse power boiler for heating, and capacity for 500 baths per day, opened in September 1905.
With robust local competition in the Radium Water industry, The Claremore Radium Wells Company’s business could not keep afloat as financial complications rose. In 1907, default was made on the mortgage, allowing W.J. Perdue to personally purchased “the real estate and all improvements on and including the brick bathhouse and all furniture and fixtures and all of the personal property of every kind belonging to the Claremore Radium Wells Company, including hacks, stock of jugs and other stock, and fixtures and goods on hand, together with registered labels and trademarks, patents, and copy rights” at public auction for about $27,000 [CM.3-18-1905]. After the purchase, Mr. Perdue adroitly changed the name of his bathhouse to the Perdue.
The Perdue Bath House remained in hot water as ownership of copyrights to the Radium Water trademark was contested in the district court case of Mendenhall vs. Perdue. Judge Poe declared “Radium Water” could be legally used by everyone. Shockingly, in August 1909, news that Mr. Perdue was reported dead at his place of business flooded through Claremore, but this tragedy proved to be untrue. He only slept, and upon waking called attention to the healing powers of Radium Water. One wonders, was this a publicity and marketing stunt to garner attention?
When Mr. Perdue was arrested “on the charge of practicing medicine without a license,” and as competition grew fierce with the development of Radium Water businesses such as George W. Eaton’s Radium Water Well; Edwin Brown’s Radium Water Company; W.J. Mendenhall’s Radium Bath House; E.S. Bessey’s Bungalow and Radium Water Baths; Earle Bayless’s Radium Institute; and Mrs. Nancy Washington’s Radium Bath House, Mr. Perdue threw in the towel selling his bathhouse to St. Louis businessmen for $38,000. These businessmen renamed their new establishment Claremore Health Home.
Hopeful investors again “took a bath” financially as the bathhouse went into foreclosure the following year. W.J. Perdue repurchased the property at public auction for $40,000. W.J. Perdue himself testified, “I had been afflicted by two bad hands and eruptive skin disease on which I had spent a great deal of money, when at last I gave the Claremore water a trial and was promptly cured and stayed cured” [CP.10-27-1911].
Still the business and property and Mr. Perdue’s health declined. All the while, the precious Radium Water leaked from his well in a large stream, wasting the medicinal commodity so essential to Claremore’s health resort industry. W.J. Perdue was arrested for not maintaining the Radium Well, its overflow becoming a public nuisance. The gushing Radium Water made an unsightly odiferous mess within the community; the deteriorating bathhouse became an eyesore. The well smelled bad, looked bad, and caused such problems in the neighborhood that Claremore’s city leaders were forced to take the problem in hand.
In 1913, a resolution by the City of Claremore declared the Perdue Radium Well and its overflow of Radium Water into public spaces, was “deleterious to the citizens of said city, and said gas is injurious to the property of the city.” An emergency was declared and action taken “to protect the health and happiness of the citizens of said city from the injury and results from such ever flow of Radium Water.” That October, the city attorney demanded the owner of the Perdue Bath House stop-up the well [CP.7-25-1913, 10-10-1913].
By 1916, Claremore’s Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (Sheet 6) labeled the Perdue Bath House building on East 9th Street and Oscar Road (aka Dorothy Avenue) vacant and “Closed.”
Death claimed Mr. Perdue in 1918; this time, Radium Water could not save him. In May 1918, the Perdue Bath House in Radium Town caught fire becoming somewhat damaged; its owner, the United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company, of Baltimore, Maryland, carried no insurance on the bathhouse or the outbuilding that also burned. The loss was estimated at $100. It was declared the building was a stench “in the nostrils of the residents, the public in general, a disgrace and a menace to the public health, but is also being used as a loafing place for our boys and others, who have on numerous occasions been seen playing with dice, (shooting “craps”), etc.” [CP.4-13-1922].
The Bayless estate purchased the remains of the old Perdue Bathhouse despite its dilapidated and unsightly condition. July 1922, Daniel M. Hause bought the material of the old building and removed it to his farm where it was repurposed to construct a house [7-13-1922]. For many years, Lot 9, Block 163, the site of William Jasper Perdue’s once magnificent bathhouse stood empty, the memory of Mr. Perdue and his bathhouse’s existence trickling into the ever-flowing stream of Claremore’s historic past.
Christa Rice is a Claremore history buff and writer for the Explore Claremore History website.