You could use a sauna right now

The Star Tribune’s Jenna Ross recently profiled the Ely Steam Sauna, a century-old public sauna in this Vermilion Iron Range city.

It might seem counterintuitive for Minnesotans to go into a public steam room au natural. Or, for that matter, in the presence of those who most certainly are. We are known as a prudish lot. But saunas — particularly in the Finnish-American communities of Northern Minnesota — stand as a time-honored tradition.

Ross’s Dec. 6 story deserves a read, if only for this authentic sauna paragraph:

Since 1915, the Ely Steam Sauna has offered folks a hot room and a cold shower. For $7, a visitor gets a pair of towels — big enough to cover your top or bottom, but not both — a small bar of soap and an old-fashioned experience: a steam among friends.

I got thinking about saunas. In what has been a disturbing year of political and cultural discord, about the only time I *instantly* relaxed was during the sauna I took at hunting camp. Just once. Every other relaxed moment took days of anxious malaise to achieve.

That’s why the sauna is much more than a steam bath. Originally, the sauna served as one-stop sterile sick room, pain reliever and spiritual center. Of course, saunas represented a suitable replacement for a bathtub and shower. Thrifty Finns could stave off indoor plumbing for decades due to the serviceability and comforts of the sauna. Some still do.

Get yourself into a sauna. If not today, then as soon as possible. You don’t have to be a Finn, you just need to be dirty — in mind, body or soul. And we’re all dirty.

On a side note, you can’t talk about saunas without talking about Finnish-American history. I really enjoyed this quick primer on Finnish history from the German public broadcaster Deutsch Welle. Finland celebrated its 100th year of independence this year, something observed here at MinnesotaBrown last June.

The Finns helped celebrate their 100th year with a free traveling sauna that toured the United States. That’s a model of diplomacy we should all strive for.


  1. Where is the thumbs up button on this entry? So true…..

  2. Combining a couple key elements of Finnish tradition, the 612 Sauna Society in Minneapolis has been created as a consumer-owned cooperative to own a mobile sauna, deployed in various neighborhoods through sponsorships. Check them out on Facebook or their website if you’re down in the Cities and feeling the need for cleansing.

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