Contemplating Starlight from the Comfort of Your Bed

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

For many centuries, people believed that disease came from dangerous, miasmic night air—the word “malaria” literally means “bad air.” But with the discoveries of true disease causes (malarial mosquitoes, tubercular and other bacteria), people began seeing exposure to fresh air as beneficial rather than detrimental. By the late 19th century, doctors recommended that their patients sleep exposed to the outdoors.1,2

The pamphlet The Starnook: A Call to the Open, published by the Starnook Company circa 1910, answers this call for fresh air by supplying a product. The Starnook could be attached to any exterior building wall to create a ventilated sleeping space, big enough for a single or double bed. Its metal shutter walls could open or shut depending on the weather, as could two sections of its wood slat floors. It offered a “balanced removable roof” that could be raised or lowered through a pulley system, allowing customers to experience “the contemplation of starlit space.”3

Left: The inside of the Starnook with shutters and roof closed. Right: The Starnook seen from outside, with roof open. Images on pages 6 and 7 of The Starnok. Click to enlarge.

Left: The inside of the Starnook with shutters and roof closed. Right: The Starnook seen from outside, with roof open. Images on pages 6 and 7 of The Starnook: A Call to the Open. Click to enlarge.

The company wrote:

“He who sleeps out of doors is supplied with an abundance of oxygen-laden air, Nature’s own restorative for tired nerves. This abundance of pure air, which mankind so vitally needs for perfect health, can be secured by the majority of people in no other way with so little exertion as by sleeping in the open.”

The Starnook had applications for both the healthy and the sick. In the early 20th century, exposure to fresh air was seen as key to treating tuberculosis, then a leading cause of death in America.2 The Starnook served as an alternative to traveling to a sanatorium for treatment.

In publications like John Hopkins Hospital Bulletin,4 The New York Medical Journal,5 and the book Tuberculosis as a Disease of the Masses and How to Combat It,6 Dr. S. Adolphus Knopf, a noted and pioneering tuberculosis researcher,7 sang the Starnook’s praises:

“In presenting this new device to the profession and the public, the inventors trust to have been in a measure helpful not only in solving the problem of outdoor sleeping and outdoor resting for the tuberculous in cities, but also to have given opportunity to other sufferers to recuperate, and to the well and strong to enjoy constant fresh air, at least at night, and enable them to be more frequently in touch with nature than is granted to most city dwellers.”4

Dr. Knopf turned himself into the Starnook’s leading spokesperson. He had one installed at his home, presumably in New York City:

“I have slept in my starnook since October, 1910, and never have I had more peaceful nights, more sound and more refreshing sleep. To lie outstretched in the warm bed, breathing constantly the pure, fresh air, to be able to gaze at the beautiful sky, and watch the starry constellations without any effort, is a sensation which must be felt, for it cannot be described. I am inclined to believe that the most restless and nervous person will soon fall asleep in a quiet starnook.”4

Dr. Knopf's open Starnook.

Dr. Knopf’s open Starnook. In: Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin 1911;22(246), page 302. Click to enlarge.

Enjoy the pamphlet in full, below. Perhaps you will become as strong an admirer of the Starnook as Dr. Knopf.

Click an image to view the gallery:

References

1. Hailey C. From Sleeping Porch to Sleeping Machine: Inverting Traditions of Fresh Air in North America. Tradit Settlements Dwellings Rev. 2009;20(9):27–44. Available at: http://iaste.berkeley.edu/pdfs/20.2d-Spr09hailey-sml.pdf. Accessed December 22, 2015.

2. National Library of Medicine. Visual Culture and Public Health Posters – Infectious Disease – Tuberculosis. 2011. Available at: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/visualculture/tuberculosis.html. Accessed December 22, 2015.

3. A call to the open sleep under the stars: a delightful health-giving experience to be gained by the use of the Starnook, an attractive open-air bedroom attachable outside any window for use every night in the year. Syracuse: The Starnook Company; 1910. Note that this is the title page title. For the sake of brevity, the cover title is used throughout the text.

4. Knopf SA. The Starnook – a new device for the rest cure in the open air and for outdoor sleeping. Johns Hopkins Hosp Bull. 1911;22(246):301–303. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=XcwyAQAAMAAJ&pgis=1. Accessed December 17, 2015.

5. Knopf SA. The Starnook and the window tent; two devices for the rest cure in the open air and for outdoor sleeping. New York Med J. 1911;93(16):761–765. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=Z3Y4AQAAMAAJ&pgis=1. Accessed December 22, 2015.

6. Knopf SA. Tuberculosis as a disease of the masses and how to combat it. 7th ed. New York: The Survey; 1911. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=5VE5AQAAMAAJ&pgis=1. Accessed December 22, 2015.

7. Reyes A. Finding Aid to the Sigard Adolphus Knopf Papers, 1879-1940. 2004. Available at: http://oculus.nlm.nih.gov/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=nlmfindaid;idno=knopf;view=reslist;didno=knopf;subview=standard;focusrgn=bioghist;cc=nlmfindaid;byte=19744711. Accessed December 22, 2015.

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