Three ways New York used to cool off in summer

The city is no stranger to scorching temperatures; there’s the heat wave of 1911, the heat wave of 1899, and the heat wave of 1938, among others.

Imagine how oppressive it must have been a century ago, with no AC, no cool drinks from the fridge, and no skimpy summer attire.

But New Yorkers found ways to deal. One strategy: licking huge blocks of ice on a street corner with your pals, as these boys are doing in a July 1912 photo from the Bain News Service.

You could also find a shady spot in a park and just lie there in your jacket and shirtsleeves. This Bain News Service photo depicts men doing just that in Battery Park (no date).

And if you don’t have access to a swimming pool, why not jump in a fountain? Some boys attracted a crowd in Madison Square Park with that move in another Bain News Service shot (circa 1910-1915).

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13 Responses to “Three ways New York used to cool off in summer”

  1. Shawn Chittle Says:

    I have a page from an 1883 Harper’s with an etching/illustration of the 1883 heatwave. It depicts residents of tenements from the Lower East Side sitting on their roof in the sweltering heat. I’d love to send you a scan of it. I have it framed in my apt to remind me not to bitch about anything!

  2. Shawn Chittle Says:

    What gmail address? I looked all over.

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Ephemeralnewyork -at- Thanks!

      • wildnewyork Says:

        wow, that’s a powerful etching; I love that it depicts Ragpickers Court on Mulberry Street. I’m going to try to find it online and see if I can post it.

  3. Keeping Cool « AARON HILL’S NOTEBOOK Says:

    […] discovered these classic photos on a blog about New York City. Boys lick blocks of ice. Folks sleep in the park. Kids play in a […]

  4. nycedges Says:

    and I just emailed you an etching of NYC tenement dwellers trying to beat the heat in 1882 — something to add to your collection!

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Thanks nycedges, I love it! The etching really puts things in perspective. I’d like to post it in the near future.

  5. petey Says:

    i remember when we got an air conditioner, though i don’t remember before did we survive?

  6. tapd0g Says:

    One thing that stand out in these photos is the lack of female representation – although there may be other photos not published here that show them. However did they survive in corsets and layers of petticoats and skirts? It seems that it was acceptable for men of at least certain level of society to ‘let it all hang out’ under extreme conditions. Were similar allowances made for women, I wonder.

  7. wildnewyork Says:

    Great observation. I wonder if it was considered somehow improper to photograph women sweating it out on the street or park in the summer heat. Which is why so few images of women in their corsets, petticoats, and skirts exist.

  8. Getting evicted in turn of the century New York | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] His photos mostly span the late 19th century through the 00s and teens, and he had a special interest in New York City, chronicling news events as well as day-to-day life among the unheralded and unfamous residents. […]

  9. Four ways New Yorkers kept cool in summer | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] blocks of ice. Taking a daytime nap under a tree in the park. Diving into a public water fountain with your […]

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