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Saturday, December 12, 1998

Let's all retire to the Fainting Room

By Bob Greene

DEADWOOD, S.D. -- We all react with such supercharged and erratic emotions these days to crises both public and personal -- headline news out of Washington, unexpected changes in our own daily lives -- that it can't be healthy for us.

The outrage, the anger, the bursts of accusations and avowals to get even -- whether we're responding to something we've read about public officials, or to upsetting events in our own offices, the way we get ourselves all worked up often makes us feel as if we're about to explode.

Is there a better way? A more effective outlet for high tension and inner seething?

Yep. And you can find it on the second floor of the Franklin Hotel, right here on Main Street in Deadwood, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

It's called the Fainting Room.

That's what it says on the plaque mounted on the room's wall. The Franklin Hotel was built in 1903, and parts of it haven't been updated much since. You can stay in a million hotels and never find a Fainting Room -- until you get to the Franklin.

The plaque reads:

"The Fainting Room. In the 1800s, women wore tight corsets to obtain the ideal 18-inch waistlines fashionable at that time. When the discomfort of the corsets became unbearable, the ladies retired to a private parlor to rest on the fainting couches."

In the Fainting Room of the Franklin is an actual fainting couch -- green in color.

Now, we are well past the days of women wearing corsets designed to place them in such pain that they are likely to keel over -- and well past the days of society demanding that if a woman's waist exceeds 18 inches she must torture herself to the point of passing out. And to suggest to women in 1998 that a reasonable solution in times of female stress is to go into a specially designated room and faint ...

Well, such a suggestion is not likely to be met with an enthusiastic reception.

But why limit it by gender? Why restrict it to women?

In this constant-high-blood-pressure era of ours, played out to a ceaseless soundtrack of loud, arguing pundits on cable television and contentious adversaries and obnoxious colleagues in our personal universes, the reintroduction of Fainting Rooms for both men and women might be just the ticket.

Raise our voices over national politics? Snap at each other over real or imagined slights on the job or at home?

Wasted effort. Instead of working ourselves into a rage and letting our insides churn, we could all just head for the Fainting Rooms every time we became upset. You feel your pulse begin to race, you sense that your face is beginning to flush, you're on the verge of saying something you know you'll regret as soon as it leaves your mouth ...

And at the last second you quietly say, "Excuse me." You walk out the door, head for the nearest Fainting Room, and swoon like a silent-movie actress. Take aim at the fainting couch, and down you go. By the time you come to, the world will seem tranquil and calm again.

This could catch on so fast that the lines outside Fainting Rooms will rival those at ballpark restrooms. As a matter of fact, owners of professional sports teams with losing traditions could build Fainting Rooms in every stadium and arena, so that overwrought fans can go in and crumple onto the fainting couches. Factories, office buildings, restaurants, stores -- any place where people tend to feel their lives reeling out of control, the Fainting Rooms would be a logical addition. "Honey, was it something I said?" "I can't discuss it with you now. I have to go faint."

The Franklin Hotel, by being so far behind the times, is actually way ahead of the times. Its guestrooms are named in honor of notable people who have stayed in them during the hotel's long history (Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Cecil B. DeMille...my room was John Wayne's), and it takes pride in not changing much. In addition to the Fainting Room, the Franklin has another feature you never see anymore:

Front-porch rocking chairs.

There are six of them -- six red rocking chairs on the hotel's front porch. Guests can just sit on them and rock all day long, looking at Main Street.

If you can't rock your troubles away, then you can go upstairs and faint. Why hasn't anyone else thought of this?

Bob Greene's column regularly runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Chicago Tribune

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