Legendary Sycamore football coach Pete Johnson recently
told me about the Switch and Bucket Club formed in
the late 1940s by a few coaches and their friends who gathered
Saturdays in the winter at the Finnish Steam Bath, 1105 E. Pleasant
It seems Leland Strombom started the informal group. Lee
Mathes and Leroy Swanson were a couple of the other members,
Pete remembered. He said the switch in the clubs
name came from the boughs (some said said willows, spruce, birch
or eucalyptus) that bathers could use to beat on their skin to
aid blood circulation.
The steam bath was opened in the building in 1924 by a
Finnish immigrant, Jack Makela, and remained in the same family
until it was closed in 1985.
The second-generation owner was Genevieve Davis. The building
fell into disrepair and was abandoned after she said she no longer
could afford the high gas bills. So in 1989, the city condemned
the building, and it was torn down.
This photo of the Finnish Steam Bath on East Pleasant
Street in DeKalb was probably taken not long before the buildings
demolition in 1989.
I had gone there once in the late 1960s with an old DeKalb friend,
Fred Dickey, and I remember it was a suffocating heat that I
only could stand for a few minutes while profusely perspiring.
The late Carl Lindeberg and I talked about the steam bath
just before his passing in 2018. As a youth, Carl lived on 11th
Street, and he and his friends used to hang out at the bathhouse
and help the owner sometimes. He said some of the Finnish men
used to really turn on the steam by tossing a bucket
of water on the hot coals.
There were three parts to the steam bath: one section for
men, one for women and a family section, in addition to the dressing
Back in Finland, many families had their own saunas in
their homes, but over here, it was more likely people would go
to a commercial bathhouse similar to the one on Pleasant Street.
It became a social gathering place for many families in Finntown,
as the neighborhood was called, over the years.
The temperature in a typical steam bath is about 112 degrees.
Too much heat or prolonged exposure can cause dizziness, a rapid
heartbeat or dehydration. Pete joked that sometimes the Sycamore
coaches would have a hard time staying awake at their Saturday
night games after spending part of the day at the steam bath.
The buildings demolition came after a group called
the Third Ward Coalition, headed by Marshall Hayes Sr., asked
that the city step in and clean up eyesores in its neighborhood.
It had the support of 3rd Ward Alderman (the late) Bill Hanna.
At the time, Hayes was quoted in the Daily Chronicle saying
that the group helped the owner obtain a $2,000 grant to assist
her with the cost of having the building torn down.
The demolition cost of $4,000 was split between the city
and the owner. City official Bill Nicklas told the Chronicle
back then that there were plans to tear down unsightly or abandoned
buildings on Fisk, Oak and Market streets, as well.
Maybe a historical marker at the bathhouse site would be
appropriate, but there probably first should be one at the Finnish
Temperance Societys Majakka Hall, at 1021 State St., now
occupied by Anna Marie Covenys DeKalb Area Womens