That would be February 10, 1899, according to the next day’s New York Times headline—a day when the thermometer went from six degrees below zero at 6 a.m. to a relatively balmy six degrees above by 2 p.m.
Though the Times chronicled stuck ferries, house fires begun by overheated stoves (put out by firemen like the one at left, in an 1899 NYPL illustration), and men with mustaches “festooned with icicles,” much of the piece details the suffering of the poor.
“The really tragic side of all was seen in the charitable institutions and hospitals, which were filled to overflowing with the human derelicts beaten in during the night by the elements or found dying in the streets and taken to shelter by policemen.
“The biting west wind sought out every nook and cranny in the city and drove hundreds of half-starved and homeless wanderers to the shelters and charitable institutions and police stations.
[A line of homeless, hungry men outside the 25th Street Municipal Lodging House in 1917]
“There were 344 men, women, and children cared for during Thursday night at the city lodging house on East 23rd Street. The majority of the men had no overcoats. Some had only ragged undershirts on under their coats.
“The police have had orders for several days to watch closely for intoxicated men and women, or for persons in doorways and areas. . . . almost as many women were found as men, and not all had been drinking. Some will be maimed for life by the cold.”