- Historic Sites
A history of the food reformers and cereal kings who made Battle Creek the center of a revolution in Americans eating habits
June 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 4
Across the street from the San was a shanty restaurant called the Red Onion. It was conducted by a sinner, William Gammanthaler, who specialized in steaks and chops with French fries on the side and steaming cups of strong, hot coffee. The clientele sometimes included fugitive patients who couldn’t take the nut butter and protose regimen any longer. Even the staff members often fell off the peanut wagon. And many a guilty San physician was flushed on a Michigan Central dining car enjoying a pork chop on his way to a medical conclave in Chicago when, by coincidence, Irene Castle was dancing at the Blackstone.
Doctor Kellogg’s efficient intelligence agency reported to him upon such defections. But he took them with philosophic calm.
“They’ll come back,” he insisted, “to biologic living.”
In the expansive igao’s, when the Doctor was pushing eighty, the sanitarium added a four-story diningroom wing and a fifteen-story tower, with marble floors, oriental rugs, crystal chandeliers, and a $3,000,000 debt. The move represented a disastrous error in judgment. A part of the sanitarium’s appeal was the heritage of asceticism. When the doctors went plushy they went broke. Of course there were other factors too—the Depression and the gradual change in the American diet. More people were eating dairy products, fish, poultry, citrus fruits, salad greens, and generally less starchy foods with fewer calories—all in all a better balanced diet. Fewer people needed to go to Battle Creek to be “boiled out,” in the Doctor’s old phrase.
In 1931 Dr. Kellogg shifted some of his own interest to a new sanitarium in Florida. Glenn Curtiss, inventor and aircraft manufacturer, a former patient, interested in spreading the Battle Creek gospel, presented him with a luxurious estate at Miami Springs. The consideration was one dollar.
“That’s too cheap,” the yg-year-old Kellogg remarked, and handed Curtiss a ten-dollar bill.
Still in his eighties the Doctor worked as hard as ever. Once at a Colorado mountain retreat he dictated for twenty hours without a break. On another occasion a telegram arrived stating that two chapters for a book, which Dr. Kellogg had promised in two weeks, must be in the mail the next day because the date of publication had been advanced. He began work at once. At five o’clock the next morning the manuscript was finished, the bibliography checked, the typescript proofread and at the post office.
During the Depression there were vacant rooms and cuts in employment at the San in Battle Creek, and on January 1, 1933, the world’s largest sanitarium went into receivership. A new corporation emerged and the San kept going but patronage dwindled until 1942, when the U.S. Army took over the buildings for a general base hospital. Soon the aroma of roasting Army beef drifted from the vegetarian kitchens. Operation of the sanitarium would not be interrupted, Dr. Kellogg announced. More vigorous than ever, the San would re-establish itself on the other side of the street in John Harvey Kellogg Hall. “They bought a building,” he declared, “not the sanitarium. … We will carry on comfortably here, until, in due course, we will go out to the hills and lakes at the east of town and there we will build it all over again.”
But the Sanhédrin of the Seventh-day Adventists Church had other ideas. The sale of the buildings had left the San corporation with a million dollars in the kitty, and the Adventists wanted to use it. Though the Doctor had always run the San without advice from anyone, actual control resided in the members or constituents, who elected a board of trustees.
The vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference sent out a letter to the members of the denomination saying that the San needed their help, that the time had come to take it back into the work of the church. He urged the members of the old constituency to get their memberships paid up and attend the meeting. An Adventist slate of directors and officers was prepared for their convenience. Then an elder got in touch with W. K. Kellogg.
The Kellogg who once said to a man leaving the employ of his brother, “Your happiness is just beginning,” got the point instantly. He saw that the Doctor could be tossed out if the plan worked.
Abruptly, W. K., the ex-Adventist, who thought of himself as being “about as religious as most people,” meaning not very , began to talk the Advent lingo of his youth. The Doctor, he admitted sadly, had flouted the Message of the Third Angel. It was an accusation to move the devout to revulsion, for it meant that J. H. was indifferent to the Saturday Sabbath. W. K. ponied up a fund to pay the absent brothers and sisters to come to Battle Creek. He covered their railroad tickets, bus or taxi fares, food, lodging, and lost time on their jobs.
Naturally, a sanitarium constituent loyal to Dr. Kellogg, received the official letter, and the cat was out of the bag. The old Doctor worked night and day preparing a counteroffensive. He subpoenaed the Washington records of the Seventh-day Adventists, hailed the implacable W. K. into court and brought the whole plan into the open. What added a special note of bitterness, from the Doctor’s point of view, was that at the depth of the Depression, he had turned in desperation to the Adventist Church to see if it would take over the San. There had been no interest at that time.