A cold, sick winter in New York City

Think it’s been especially frigid this December and January? Well, 2010 has nothing on the winter of 1881, Gotham’s coldest on record, according to this Daily News article.

That year, the mercury averaged about 27 degrees, with several subzero and single-digit days until spring arrived.

At right, horses cart away the snow from a Manhattan Street after men shovel. (No plows back in the Gilded Age.)

But the winter of 1881 wasn’t just bitterly cold; it was also a season when the number of New Yorkers who contracted deadly, contagious illnesses suddenly spiked.

Smallpox, diphtheria, and scarlet fever were the three big ones. Health officials blamed the frigid temperatures in part:

“The prevalence of diphtheria was due in a great measure to the very cold and severe weather during the Winter,” a February 20, 1881 New York Times article reported.

“Children take cold very easily. They become depressed and very sensitive to disease. Owing to the cold weather, windows are tightly closed and proper ventilation is neglected, and the children breathe the vitiated air of their homes, rendered unwholesome by sewer gas, the exhalations from garbage boxes and barrels left unemptied for days, and other health-destroying emanations.”

Above photo: a brownstone Brooklyn street dusted with the white stuff in the 1880s

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6 Responses to “A cold, sick winter in New York City”

  1. Nabe News: January 13 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] frigid winter of 2010 has nothing on 1881, reportedly the coldest on record.  Temperatures averaged near 27 degrees.  Smallpox, diphtheria, and scarlet fever were also in […]

  2. LoveNY Says:

    Wow! I wonder what Brooklyn neighborhood that is.

  3. Karen Says:

    Is that President Street in Park Slope?

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    I don’t know, the photo didn’t identify the street.

  5. Letty Devey Says:

    Scarlet Fever is quite dangerous too if it is not treated at an earlier time. High fever can really damage the body. ‘*”*

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  6. Van Honse Says:

    Scarlet fever is an age-old childhood scourge that has been rare in the United States since 1970. Caused by group A strep infection, the illness causes fever, sore throat, white spots on the tonsils, swollen lymph nodes, a bright-red “strawberry” tongue, and a tell-tale red rash that starts on the abdomen and spreads throughout the body within two days. Scarlet fever is treated with antibiotics, but the new Hong Kong strain appears to be resistant to at least two commonly used drugs.*

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