Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Posh Room of Requirement

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

There is one room at Fenimore Art Museum whose entrance is limited to only some of our visitors. It’s large, by most standards. In fact, larger than some Manhattan apartments I have lived in. It houses the most innovative early 20th century technology seen in the entire museum and one of its features is a constant delight to those who experience it. Yes, the magical place I am describing is the ladies’ lounge on the second floor.

Before Stephen C. Clark offered the property as a museum for the New York State Historical Association, the 1930s neo-Georgian house served as a home. The bathroom on the second floor had all the most modern conveniences, reflecting the sanitation movement of the early 20th century. The shower, which became popular for its healthful effects, is a great example of that trend. Rather than sit in a bath using stagnant water to cleanse oneself, people were urged to engage in showering for its “stimulating action on the skin and internal organs.” Multi-head showers, like the one in our ladies’ room, were very much in fashion for their health promoting benefits. Multiple showerheads could provide a therapeutic needle spray or shower spray directed at the back, legs or kidneys.

The shower stall is a source of great interest to our female visitors, but it does not provide the same level of delight as does the scale. Is it the historic nature of the apparatus that draws praise and attention? Could it be the tasteful way it is nestled into the floor of the room, between massage table and shower stall? No, it is the pleasure visitors derive from stepping on the scale and finding they have magically shed 15 lbs. simply by walking into the ladies’ room! Our miss-adjusted scale is a great morale booster and I strongly urge you give it a go while visiting.

I feel a little guilty flaunting all this glory in front of our gentlemen visitors. I have quietly taken an after-hours look into the second floor men’s room and can find little to recommend it. Our posh room of requirement is available to ladies only and gents will have to make do with this virtual peek at the inner sanctum.

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