your family physician scribbling a prescription for you while asking if you’d
like to buy a book of his poetry. For that matter, ponder a doctor who assures
you that soaking in 147-degree mineral-laden water in a bathhouse he owns would
be good for what ailed you. |
That scenario is not very likely today, but
back when Dr. John Walter Torbett practiced medicine in Marlin,
his patients could buy his “Hot Air Verses from the Hot Water Town” from
him for a quarter or at the local Renfro Drug Store. The 88-page softcover booklet
offered a mixture of the good doctor’s doggerel and medical advice that for the
most part rings surprisingly true more than a century after he published it.
Torbett dedicated his book to “The Victims” and while he was at it, offered this
“Here’s to the suff’rers from chronic disease,
Who vainly have
wandered in searching for ease
And have found it at last in this hot water.
their hearts e’er be filled
With sunshine and laughter, in this present life
in the hereafter may they never find anything hotter.”
Judging from that
bit of verse, and other poems in his book, the doctor also understood the health
benefits of a good laugh.
He first published the poetry book in 1907, and
by 1912, it had gone through five revised editions. More books of verse would
follow, the doctor’s last title being an autobiography published only two years
before his death.
When “Hot Air Verses” was hot off the press, Torbett’s
Bethesda Bathhouse had already been in operation for nine years. Fittingly, the
doctor’s own health is what got him to Marlin
in the first place.
hit town in 1896 to “take the waters” for treatment of malaria. Whether as a result
of the water or simple good fortune, he recovered from the mosquito-borne disease
and decided to begin a practice in Falls County. He and Dr. J. W. Cook ran the
bathhouse and in 1908 opened the facility known as the Torbett Sanatorium. Torbett
also owned the Majestic Hotel and Bath House.
The son of a Civil War veteran
and his wife, Torbett was born in the small Cherokee County community of Gum Creek
on July 17, 1871. When he was two, the family moved to Grove in Central Texas.
After finishing high school, he entered Centenary College at Lampasas, graduating
with a bachelor of science degree in 1891.
After teaching for a couple
of years, he decided to transition from writing on chalk boards to writing prescriptions
and went to Georgia to attend Atlanta Medical College. He earned his M.D. in 1894
and returned to Texas, first practicing at Leon Junction in Coryell County.
late 1890s and early decades of the 20th century were the heyday of the hot water
spa industry in Texas and anywhere else mineral-rich,
naturally-heated water flowed up from the earth. The two principle spa resorts
in the state were Mineral Wells
Though a doctor who
touted hot baths as a cure-all, not to mention the use of electro therapy, Torbett
seems to have enjoyed a good reputation. One reason may have been his generosity.
He served on the board of the Methodist Orphans Home in Waco
for nearly three decades. In addition, he was one of the founders of Southern
Methodist University, establishing a $10,000 scholarship both there and at Southwestern
University in Georgetown.
Beyond his philanthropic efforts and civic club activities, Torbett sat on the
board of Marlin National Bank and was active with the city’s chamber of commerce.
At one time Torbett chaired the board of the American Authors and Composers' Association.
Torbett’s poetry falls a little short of Yeats, anyone who read the doctor’s decalogue,
“How to Get Well and Stay Well,” definitely got their two-bits worth.
Here’s an abridged version:
1. Be cheerful.
2. Breath deeply.
skin is the great organ of elimination and must be kept clean and active, hence
4. Eat meat only once daily and chew well.
a lot of “pure, cool liquids” between meals. (Of Irish heritage, the doctor didn’t
specify whether he meant whiskey or water, but let’s assume the latter.)
“Be clean and sanitary in all you eat and drink…”
7. Don’t worry.
seven or eight hours of sleep a night.
9. Think positively.
10. “Come to
Marlin each year and take a scientific
‘boil-out’ and get a new lease on life.”
In 1940 the rhyming doctor’s
sanatorium was renamed the Torbett Clinic and Hospital. By then he had two other
MD partners, Dr. E. P. Hutchings and his cousin, Dr. Howard O. Smith.
died in Marlin on Aug. 9, 1949 at 78.
If taking his own medicine had extended his life, public interest in hot mineral
water baths cooled rapidly in the 1950s. By the early ‘60s, the last of Marlin’s
bath houses had closed, along with Torbett’s clinic.
Mike Cox - January 29, 2014 column
People | Columns
| Texas Town List | Texas
by Mike Cox - Order Here|