How city kids used to cool off in the summer

This Life magazine photo captures a long-lost summer moment in Lower Manhattan in 1953. The street looks like Houston, judging from the median and the ad referencing the Bowery.


Do kids in any part of New York open up fire hydrants and cool off in the spray? It’s hard to imagine city kids even being allowed to play on their own, much less mess with hydrants.

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17 Responses to “How city kids used to cool off in the summer”

  1. Boris Suchkov Says:

    Sure they do. When I lived in the Bronx in the mid-90’s, I’d see at least one incident of an open fire hydrant every summer. I don’t see why it would stop happening in the past few years. The adults open them for the kids. It’s illegal, of course, because it causes water pressure to drop significantly in the whole neighborhood and could actually interrupt a fire-fighting operation.

  2. MomVee Says:

    When I was living in the city (20ish years ago) there were public service announcements saying that you could pick up (at the water company, or at fire stations? don’t remember exactly) an attachment for your neighborhood hydrant that would allow the water to spray out but not affect the pressure at other hydrants, so that safety was maintained in case of fire. So at that time at least kids were still doing it.

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Boy, I remember getting thrown in countless times all over the Lower East Side. 7th Street, 9th Street, 12th Street, even at home on 13th Street with my mother screaming as they doused me with floods of spray. What a grand summer back then was! A pity that kids don’t play much with hydrants anymore, an empty can of beer or soda, opened at each end, and you could whhhiiiiissshhhhh!!! the water up wherever you wanted and get everyone wet….ahhhh!!!! What a memory…

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    I love these stories–didn’t know an empty soda can was necessary for a decent spray though!

  5. Robert Distefano Says:

    I grew up in East Harlem and vaguely remember the cans but I do remember some guys would cup their hands in such a way to manipulate the water that it would reach the tenement stoops across the street. Many a passerby was drenched and the cars would hang around to get a free wash. After a while a cop would come with a wrench and close the hydrant.

  6. Laura Simurda Says:

    I was born in the Bronx and lived later in Inwood in Northern Manhattan and moved to NJ in 1985. Hydrants were still in use. As stated in another post, they could be opened illegally or you could pick up a sprayer that would not reduce the water pressure. My niece and nephew had fun as little ones in Norwood, the Bronx. In Inwood, the kids also used them but mostly for mischief so they could spray passing cars. we had plenty of park land in the neighborhood so I would take my son to the kiddie pools. I wonder if kids cool off under hydrants these days at all.

  7. Jess Says:

    I see this every summer…when I lived in Harlem…and now in Brooklyn, where I moved 3 years ago.

  8. JP Says:

    Every summer? Try every other block, every summer. The last four years I’ve been in Washington Heights. Sprinkler caps? Please. The FDNY would have to put them on every other hydrant between 135th and 191st.

    This is definitely not a long-lost summer moment. “Used to cool off”? Try again- this is ongoing. And Boris is totally right; sometimes houses just burn down, as engines are called, show up, but have their legs taken out from under them.

  9. raul Says:

    Still happens every summer when it gets hot in Bed Stuy…

  10. petey Says:

    JP is right about the sprinkler caps – these were put on by the firemen, and the hydrants were opened everywhere, including my neighborhood of yorkville. but i’m baffled by his/her attempt at a snide tone: this is a nice place, JP, let’s keep it that way.

  11. tacony palmyra Says:

    The hydrant in front of my building in Harlem was already open this weekend.

    My building doesn’t have a stoop or stairs, but the steps to the brownstone next door are full of kids playing all the time. They even put a little makeshift basketball hoop on the lightpost.

  12. Rachel Goldstein Says:

    The fire department still has the sprinkler caps. You can get them on a hot day (above 90 degrees?). Last year we had a street party for my daughter’s 6th birthday. It was in the 90’s and we got the fire department to put the sprinkler cap on. After the party was over, the hydrant did stay on for hours before the fire department came to shut it off, which was a bit disconcerting. But otherwise it was a blast.

  13. Jordan Says:

    Of course they do! Have you never been to Hamilton Heights in the summer? Woosh!

  14. Jordan Says:

    For that matter, I’ve also seen it in Williamsburg.

  15. adam Says:

    It happens all over upper Manhattan and the boroughs every hot or even warm day.

  16. Olivia Says:

    This was yesterday afternoon in Williamsburg.

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