If you stand near the drinking fountains in the Plaza in Ashland, Oregon, I can almost guarantee you'll hear that phrase in a very short period of time. You see, these fountains pipe forth a special water, bubbly and containing minerals. It's called Lithia Water and it contains lithium, as well as sulfur, sodium, calcium, chlorine, and other elements. The water is piped to this fountain and to the downtown plaza fountain from a spring a few miles east of the city. Some of us love Lithia water, but sadly some people just can't seem to appreciate its qualities.

The mineral spring at the base of the Siskiyou Mountains had been a favorite spot of the Indians who lived in the area before the coming of white man. The springs were a place where peoples from bands and tribes from all around the region could meet in peace, as no fighting was permitted in the vicinity. The Indians believed the mineral water to have healing powers. The first known white man to test the curative powers of these baths was James Russell. Suffering from the pain of rheumatism, he burrowed into the sand and allowed the mineral water to flow over his joints, immediately declaring himself cured. Not too much later Abel Helman, on whose land the springs lay, tried the same therapy and found relief. The word spread about the magical waters, and the Helman's found their cow pasture crowded with sufferers. Helman's son Grant decided the visitors might appreciate some privacy as they wallowed in the mud, so he built a small bathhouse with tubs in three separate rooms, thus creating what we know as the Helman Baths.

Lithia water was also popular with the Chautauqua crowd. Chautauqua was a group of people who decided to bring culture, enlightenment and entertainment to Ashland, and erected a dome to house the speakers and performances they sponsored. Chautauqua has it's own wu, so I won't go on more about it here.

In 1911-1914 Ashland businessmen and residents made a big push to promote Ashland as an important mineral springs resort. The town motto in 1914 was: "Ashland grows while Lithia flows". The 1914 election approved $175,000 in bonds to pipe the lithia water to a fountain in the plaza in downtown Ashland. It also resulted in 19 acres landscaped by John McLaren, superintendent of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, that became Lithia Park. Over the years many people traveled to Ashland to drink and bathe in the mineral waters, yet the city never became a became the mineral mecca that was hoped for.

The curative powers of Lithia water are believed by many people. Lithium, element No. 3 on the periodic table, was discovered in a Swedish iron mine in 1817 and quickly became the object of health claims. The British physician Sir A.B. Garrod advocated rubbing lithium and rose water onto gouty joints. Merchants raced to hawk lithium preparations as nostrums for dyspepsia and gallstones. One, C.L. Grigg of St. Louis, came up with a fruity concoction he named "Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda." A doctor's testimonial promised "an abundance of energy, enthusiasm, a clear complexion, lustrous hair, and shining eyes." Mr. Grigg later came up with a punchier slogan--"You Like It, It Likes You"--and a new name: 7Up. (His successors took the lithium out of the soft drink 50 years ago.) Lithium Carbonate was first discovered as treatment for Mania in 1948 by Australian Psychiatrist John F. Cade. After Mr. Cade's initial report , Lithium treatment was principally developed in Denmark by Mogens Schou, beginning in 1954. It has been said that lithium helps people stay calm and balanced. In an epidemiological study of two similar towns in Texas, it was reported that the town where lithium occurred naturally in the drinking water had lower rates of crime and alcoholism. Water containing lithium was recommended by Edgar Cayce for purifying the kidneys. Lithia Water is jokingly blamed for the "excessive mellowness" of many Ashland residents by some of the less-relaxed citizens of Southern Oregon.

Lithia water has a special place in my memory as well. For as long as I can remember, my grandparents made special trips to Ashland to drink and bring home Lithia water. My grandpa, in a series of the most wonderful tales I have ever had shared with me, spoke of traveling from Lakeview to Ashland in buckboard wagons when he was just a child, so the family could attend the annual circus that came to the Rogue Valley, and fill gallon jars with Lithia water. There was a health food store across the street from the fountains that used to sell jars so people could carry home some of the pungent sparkley water. The water lost most of its fizz during the first day, as the natural carbonation left, but the strong mineral taste would remain, although you'd have to shake up the jar to redistribute the settled out minerals. I still love going to the fountain in the Plaza in Ashland and feeling the tickle of Lithia water. I still love hearing the reactions of many of the unsuspecting tourists who bend down for a drink of water.
"This Water Tastes Like Shit!!!"

Ashland, OR is a somewhat unusual town. Although it is located hundreds of miles from a major city and should be nothing more then another depressed rural town, it is famous as a center for culture because of the presence of the Shakespeare festival there. Along with the Shakespeare festival comes a great assortment of tourist shops and restaraunts. And right in the middle of the shopping district lies a wedge containing three drinking fountains.

These drinking fountains provide the other thing Ashland is famous for, the lithia water, water that supposedly has magical health restoring properties. This water is drawn from an underground stream, a stream replete with important, vital, Ital trace elements. However, a careful scientific study of the effects of this water on health can not be done because no one has been able to keep the damn stuff down. This water tastes incredibly metallic. Although not actually "foul", in the way of tasting rotten, it does taste like something people weren't supposed to drink. The years have washed away the memory of the taste, thankfully. Perhaps very sulfuric water would be the best comparison.

However, in any case, tourists to Ashland will make a show of drinking this water, perhaps for the same reasons that people eat peppers that are incredibly hot. There reactions to the water are amusing to watch.

And, of course, if you were to go to Ashland, you would not want to miss out on a chance to drink the water and experience the famed lithia water directly.

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