The burnt-out spa has for a while be something of an enigma to me. I visited Yaddo for a day in 2001, but did not think to seek out the "burnt-out spa" at the time. It has been on my mind for a while to revisit the town, and over the weekend of 20-21 September did just that, as part of a trip that included a rare tour of the buildings and grounds of so venerable a place. In preparation for the visit, I contacted the city's library to inquire if anyone knew anything about the place that inspired this Plath poem. I received fabulous assistance.
Poet Johnnie Roberts and city historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald each provided valuable information in this quest. The most likely location of the burnt-out spa was the former "Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths" at Eureka Park, which opened in 1928 and burnt to the ground on 28 October 1958.
Plath's visit to Yaddo coincided with the first anniversary of the conflagration, so it is possible that the fire might have been mentioned both on the property of Yaddo by its guests and employees, but also by the residents of Saratoga Springs. I also emailed with, and met in person, Teri Blasko, the Local History Librarian of the Saratoga Springs Public Library and her assistant Victoria Garlanda. Together they, along with Johnnie and Mary Ann, provided enough information via emails and attachments to allow for some in the field traipsing through history in this quest.
Arriving in Saratoga Springs, I met with Victoria first in the parking lot of Yaddo and drove the short mile and a half to the end of Eureka Avenue. Here they are building new houses. Makes me wish that in 2001 I had known about the site as it might have looked less spoiled. Victoria pointed out the general vicinity of where the Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths was located. We then drove around to the back-side of the area and parked near a hotel. We walked down a clearing path towards the spring with woods on both sides. Victoria warned me about ticks and Lyme disease and other creatures (snakes, etc.) and left me on my own to decide if I would navigate through the dense late summer growth in search of something.
|A crude outline from satellite image of the spa location.|
|Part of the concrete foundation of the old|
Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths
|Eureka Spring and mud|
|"Iron entrails ... / The coils and pipes that made him run."|
wonderful Old Fulton NY Post cards website, which shows two images of the fire burning.
In the top-most image, you can what was the front, main entrance to the Baths. Clearly visible in front is a balustraded fence-like structure. Some of this remained a year after the fire, and was immortalized by Plath in her poem. Plath's speaker, wandering around the site as she herself undoubtedly did, notices the spring as it "Proceeds clear as it ever did / From the broken throat, the marshy lip" (138). She continues, "It flows off below the green and white / Balustrade of a sag-backed bridge" (138).
Two additional views of the Bath are in this black and white photograph, and a color picture postcard. Whilst undated, you can see clearly in the black and white photo the small bridge Plath would have seen; and though partially blocked by a car in the postcard, the bridge crossing the spring is visible in that as well.
|1945 view of Saratoga Sulphur and Mud Baths|
|Postcard of the same|
Fifty-five years after Plath, I found myself feeling quite small in the dense overgrowth. The unchallenged weeds and trees have grown wild all around the site of the former spa. That spark and that chill which so often makes itself felt when tracking Plath's footsteps and actions as captured in her poetry and prose made itself known to me while I was at this location, as well as at Yaddo. Yes, Plath, "it is good to have the place in mind."
All links accessed 17 September and 14 October 2014.