Four ways New Yorkers kept cool in summer

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

These are just a few of the ways scorched city residents without money or means cooled off when temperatures soared, as documented by photojournalist George Bain more than 100 years ago.


Bain took lots of pictures around the city those days, chronicling other ways New York’s masses handled heat waves—things we don’t resort to anymore, thanks mostly to air conditioning.

Like buying some scraped ice, as these street boys (and some grown men) are doing. How much could a shaving of ice go for back then?


If ice didn’t quench your thirst, you could head to the milk house, a city-sponsored place to get cold, fresh milk rather than the swill milk often sold. This one is at Tompkins Square Park.


Moms with babies could sit on a bench in a local park and stay as still as possible. If that carriage is metal, it must be hot!


Once the kids got a little older, you could ditch them on a shaded corner of the sidewalk, put a towel down, and let them sweat it out—like these city girls are learning to do.

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3 Responses to “Four ways New Yorkers kept cool in summer”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    It’s hotter and humid here but the way they used to dress they’re only making it worse! Damn the stickiness, ugh!

  2. Trixie Says:

    The shaved ice hasn’t changed much at all. We still get it the same way here in the East Village.

  3. When Tompkins Square Park had a Milk House | NYC Real Estate News via Tigho Says:

    […] One reader put the date from July 1911, when a heatwave in the city was blamed for 146 deaths in six days, according to this article (PDF!) in the Times. Ephemeral New York has more on the Milk Houses here. […]

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