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When Curtis Howe Springer first discovered the mosquito-ridden swamp land that would become the centre of his real estate empire, the people who knew him likely thought he had finally gone insane. Situated on a dry lake near the Mohave desert, the land was 200 miles away from Los Angeles and pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Still, after six previous failures with other resort schemes, Springer had few other options available to him and he knew it. Realizing that he could get the land he wanted on the edge of the Mohave desert at an amazingly low price, he promptly filed a spurious mining claim for 12,000 acres of federal property and began building his dream.
Often calling himself "the last of the old-time medicine men," Curtis Springer was one of a long line of hucksters trying to get rich with the promise of miracle cures and healthy living. Often claiming to be a medical doctor and a Methodist minister (despite having no academic qualifications whatsoever), his long history of peddling quack cures had already led to frequent investigations by the American Medical Association but this hardly put a dent in his moneymaking schemes. And, beginning in 1944, he soon broke ground on what would become his biggest project yet.
Over the next few months, Springer supported himself and his family by making Christian radio broadcasts and shuttling back and forth between Los Angeles and the new resort he was building. Operating on a shoestring budget, he recruited workers from Los Angeles' Skid Row. After buying a large bus, he rounded up vagrants and offered them meals and shelter in exchange for their labour. While some of them balked at the "no-alcohol" policy, there was still no shortage of men willing to work. Many even stayed on afterward to work and live on the new resort.
Say what you will about Springer, he had big dreams. Naming his new settlement Zzyzx (pronounced zye-zix), he chose the name to show that his new resort was "the last word in health." While the land he had claimed already had an old army post and an abandoned railway station, Springer went on to build a two-story hotel which he called "the Castle," a series of cottages to be rented out to guests, a private airstrip he named "Zyport", a church, and a radio station for his broadcasts. He also constructed a health spa, complete with imitation hot springs (which he tried to pass of as real even though the needed to set up a boiler to heat the various pools).
By 1945, Zzyzx was ready for business and the ads began running in newspapers across the country. Complete with Curtis Springer's picture, the ads announced that buses were available to take any and all customers to and from the Zzyzx Warm Mineral Springs report (naturally, Springer also arranged for signs to be posted on highways to point the way). The ads also stated that "while you're there, you'll have the finest natural foods, sun, mud, and mineral baths." Of course, he also promised that "a definite Christian atmosphere prevails." To top it off, Springer was also careful to point out that "we make no fixed charge for your stay at Zzyx. We accept whatever amount God has made available to you to pay." He even arranged for a regular shuttle bus leaving from Los Angeles' Figueroa Hotal each Wednesday. While many indigents and elderly people took advantage of the free bus ride to get a free meal, Springer got enough paying guests to make his resort a success.
But Springer's resort was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the media empire he would eventually build. Along with the regular visitors to Zzyx, Springer also had a syndicated radio program that could be heard across the country. At the peak of his popularity, Springer's program was carried by hundreds of radio stations in the U.S. and abroad. Along with popular music, his broadcasts had regular sermons and appeals for money as well as selling a wide range of health cures for everything from cancer to infertility. Boasting "all-natural" ingredients, Springer's quack remedies usually consisted of various juices and herbs with a few spices thrown in. Among the products he offered were "Mo-hair" for curing baldness and "Antediluvian tea" for treating the diseases of old age. Patrons could purchase them at the resort or via mail order.
And it worked. Springer's products were sold nationally and internationally. The fact that Springer wasn't really a medical doctor and the American Medical Association had long since branded him as a quack hardly mattered. He continued to give "free" health lectures across the country which he also used to flog his various products. Aside from assorted battles with federal and state government over back taxes, his real legal troubles didn't begin until 1967 when federal officials started taking a closer look at his money-making schemes.
Despite his success building the Zxyx resort, Springer really pushed his luck when he began offering parcels of his land to well-off investors who wanted to build homes there. Though he had been living and working on the land that was part of his original mining claim, it was still public property and. Under federal law, his claim only applied if he could prove that the land contained valuable minerals (it didn't). This was enough for the federal government to accuse him of being a "squatter" and take Springer to court. His long history of bogus health claims also caught up with him at last and he was charged with false advertising as well. As one doctor who testified against him in his trial later related, "After I testified against Springer on his baldness cure, he reached into his pocket and paid the $2500 fine like it was a $2 traffic ticket. He was on the radio again that night conning and charming his listeners."
After a long, drawn-out legal battle consisting of various appeals and deferrals, Curtis Springer was finally convicted and sentenced to sixty days in jail in 1974. Though he offered to pay the government over $30000 in back taxes, they refused and, the Zzyzx resort was closed and basically became a ghost town. Two years later, what remained of the resort was taken over by the California State University and converted into a research station known as the Desert Studies Center. Operated by different branches of the University, the Center remains a popular spot for researchers and volunteers seeking to learn more about the Mohave desert and the unique flora and fauna of the region. The land surrounding the Center is still part of the unincorporated community of Zxyx, California though it's mainly known for its history and being just 100 miles away from Las Vegas, Nevada. The road signs are still there pointing the way to Zzyzx which is enough to ensure that Springer's legacy isn't completely forgotten.
As for Curtis Springer himself, he and his wife relocated to Las Vegas where he spent the rest of his life before dying in 1986 at the age of 90. No word on whether he credited his Antediluvian tea for his long life.
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