Curtis Howe Springer – Zzyzz Road
Curtis Howe Springer – Zzyzz Road
Zzyzx (AKA Camp Soda and Soda Springs) is located at the end of Zzyzx Road, a 4.5-mile-long rural road off Interstate 15, in San Bernadino County, California. The unicorporated community is also located within Mojave National Preserve. In its former life, it was the the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. What makes Zzyzx, California such a weird and wonderful place is that it was founded by a crackpot preacher who stuck his middle finger up at the government when he named the town with the last letters of the alphabet.
So, who the hell came up with that crazy name?!
Well, that's where things get a little weird. Curtis Howe Springer was one of those old-timey radio evangelists, way back in the day. However, he wasn't actually a minister of any kind. He was born in 1896 in Birmingham, Alabama, and spent much of his early life convincing people he was a doctor. But, he was more like those guys you see in the parking lot of TGI Friday's offering free breast exams. He proclaimed himself to be the "last of the old-time medicine men", but the American Medical Association disagreed. They proclaimed him "King of the Quacks" in 1969.
Throughout his life Curtis also claimed to be a boxing teacher in the U.S. Army, the "Dean of Greer College" (a defunct/bankrupt school in Chicago), he was a rabble-rouser during Prohibition (he was in favor of it, and railed against "Demon Rum"). He also loved making up universities. Like "National Academy, The Springer School of Humanism, the American College of Doctors and Surgeons, the Westlake West Virginia College, and two non-existent osteopathy schools in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania and New Jersey." He sounds like a real catch. My favorite though is how he'd write his name on pamphlets for speaking engagements: Curtis Howe Springer, M.D., N.D., D.O., Ph.D.
In 1934 he began his career in radio broadcasting, which included selling his "medicines" (as pictured below, right). His Antediluvian Tea was basically a laxative dressed up in a teabag. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a lengthy article titled "Curtis Howe Springer: A Quack and His Nostrums" in 1936, which details all of Springer's get-rich-quick schemes.
Curtis founded several health spas during the 1930s and 1940s. Including the Haven of Rest in Fort Hill, PA, and one in Wilkes-Barre, another in Cumberland, MD, and one in Davenport, IA. However, Curtis really hated paying taxes, so most of his "spas" were seized by the Feds. Then in 1944, Curtis hooked up with a new lady and she filed a claim to 12,800 acres of Mojave Desert in California. Springer named the land Zzyzx Mineral Springs resort. The purpose was so that it would be known as "the last word in health", and to build his resort he hired a bunch of homeless men from L.A.'s infamous Skid Row.
Springer even faked the hot spring! Seriously! He used a boiler to heat pools around the resort, which ultimately included a 60-room hotel, spa, mineral baths, a radio studio, and a church, of course. So, even though he wasn't a minister or a doctor, over 200 radio stations carried his program. Listeners would send in donations for his "cures", which he claimed could relieve constipation, hemorrhoids, hair loss and, oh yeah, cancer. However, what people were getting was, well, actually a bit better than snake oil. It was mostly celery, carrot and parsley juices.
Unfortunately, this empire of carrot juice and laxatives all came crumbling down in the late 1960s when the Feds started noticing that Springer was making loads of dough off "donations" for his "cures" and Uncle Sam came a-knockin'. The Feds also accused Springer of squatting and invalidated his claim to the settlement of Zzyzx (which he based on an 1872 Mining Law). Springer and his "followers" were evicted and Springer himself was convicted for selling junk "cures". He served only 49 days in jail for milking money out of sick people for decades.
Zzyzx and Soda Springs are both open to the public and offer a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking trails, roadside attractions, toilets (always a plus!), and a cute, scenic picnic area. The actual history of the area goes back all the way to prehistoric times, when nomadic tribes would gravitate to the natural spring, and use the site as a quarry to create arrowheads. When you visit keep a keen eye out for rock art.
Since 1976, California State University has managed the land and have built a great Desert Studies Center on site.
With the exception of Baker, California, which is 7 miles away, the only other nearest city is Las Vegas, and it's about 100 miles away from the town. Today, Zzyzx is home to the Desert Studies Center and Lake Tuendae, which used to be a part of the original spa.