By Pat Anson, Editor
The stories seem a little hard to believe. Miraculous cures. Migraines that fade away. Cataracts that disappear. People crippled by arthritis suddenly able to walk again.
“I’ve seen people come in with crutches and throw the crutches way. I’ve seen some stuff that’s just crazy,” says Clint Feehan.
“We’ve seen a lot of miracles,” adds Irene Kohut.
We’re not talking about Lourdes or some other religious shrine, but an abandoned gold and silver mine in southwest Montana that’s been resurrected as a radon health mine.
For over 60 years, tens of thousands of people hobbled by arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia and other chronic conditions have visited the Merry Widow Health Mine. Many heard stories – often passed down by relatives and friends – that low levels of radon gas inside the Merry Widow will cure whatever ails them.
Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that is a natural byproduct of decomposing uranium. At high levels, radon gas can be dangerous and has been linked to cancer, but at low levels advocates say it helps reduce inflammation and has other healing properties.
Located near the hardscrabble mining town of Basin, the Merry Widow doesn’t look like much from the outside. Just a dark tunnel cut into the side of a mountain. Walk inside though and you’ll see people playing cards, reading and cheerfully chatting away in a friendly, social environment.
Many soak their hands and feet in cold spring water that seeps from the mine shaft. Others drink the water, convinced it will restore them.
“I drink it all the time. The water’s good for you. And I take water home with me. I take 20 gallons home,” says Feehan, a 64-year old Wyoming man who started visiting the Merry Widow three years ago to help with his arthritis pain.
“I could hardly get out of bed. My back, hands and ankles all hurt. So we just came up here and tried it, just for the heck of it. I had nothing to lose,” he said.
Like many, Feehan learned that it usually takes multiple trips inside the Merry Widow – for an hour or so at a time -- before he started to benefit from the experience.
“When you first came in, after a day or two, you’ll feel like you’re getting the flu. You’ll feel like you’re getting sick and you don’t understand why. And you think it’s not doing you any good. But it’s the toxins leaving your body is why you don’t feel good. And if you just keep coming, you’ll come out of it.”
That flu-like feeling is what Veronica Kim experienced when she first visited the Merry Widow in 2004. Veronica suffers from an inherited connective tissue disorder that left her unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair.
“At first I didn’t have any result. Three days later my symptoms got worse,” Veronica says. “And my husband came to the office and said someone said this would be good for my wife but my wife’s symptoms got worse than ever. And everyone’s laughing and they said congratulations. That means its working!”
The treatments did eventually work for Veronica and she no longer needs a wheelchair.
“I can walk. I can jump. I can kick you even!” jokes Veronica, who started visiting the mine twice a year from her home in Seattle. “Seven days in spring and seven days in fall. I have to do it regularly. My body tells me I need a treatment.”
Veronica and her husband Chang -- who says the mine helped ease his back pain -- were so impressed they bought the Merry Widow in 2008.
The Kims recommend 32 one-hour visits to the mine spread out over 10 to 11 days – an obvious commitment of time and energy for anyone who wants the “full treatment.” Visitors pay $15 for an all-day pass.
“We have really nutritious water, which is mineral water, spring water. I’ve seen so many people, the water cleanses out their kidney stones,” says Chang Kim. “After two days you will see the changes in the complexions. Your face complexion starts changing. Your face shines. You detoxify.”
Exactly how the radon gas helps people is not clear and Kim is careful not to make scientific claims about radon's benefits. He and others who’ve tried the treatment say a certain amount of faith is necessary to make it work.
“Human bodies are affected by emotional things. They got to be ready to get a treatment. You have to be in a phase believing that this mine will work,” he said.
Is it nothing more than wishful thinking? Does spending an hour or so in a cool damp mine have some kind of restorative effect? Does the social, communal atmosphere of being around other true believers play a role in making people feel better?
Irene Kohut first visited the Merry Widow 18 years ago, after a stroke left her partially paralyzed. All she knows is that the mine worked for her.
“I couldn’t brush my hair and had no feeling on one side,” she said. “I think it helped. It always helps, but you have learn to believe in it. That’s what we come here for. And for the people.”