A dangerous way to sleep during a city heat wave

If you’ve ever lived in a tenement apartment, then you know nothing traps heat like those narrow, airless spaces.

To avoid roasting during a heat wave, tenement dwellers (two-thirds of the city lived in them in 1900, incredibly) sometimes took desperate measures, like sleeping on the roof or bedding down on the beach at Coney Island, on a pier, or in Central Park.

Fireescapesleepbettmancorbis

And of course, you could always lay out a blanket and pillow on the fire escape. None were especially safe options, but for poor people in a pre–air conditioned New York, you took your chances.

[Undated photo: Bettman/Corbis]

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5 Responses to “A dangerous way to sleep during a city heat wave”

  1. wendy Says:

    I remember visiting my grandmother on the upper west side (85 st? between Bdway and Amsterdam) in the 50’s. She’d let me sleep on the fire escape and I remember hearing sirens and street noises all night.

    Bet no mother or grandmother would allow such a thing today. It was an adventure I’ll never forget.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Today your grandmom would be arrested for abuse and shamed all over social media!

  3. Carroll Giocondo Says:

    In the 1970’s elderly friends told me that during heat waves in the 30’s the radio would announce that the city park(s) would be open for sleeping. They said it was safe.

  4. C Baker Says:

    In the 1970’s elderly friends told me that during heat waves in the 30’s the radio would announce that the city park(s) would be open for sleeping. They said it was safe.

    Sounds like fun. Wish they’d do that again. It’s pretty safe nowadays too.

  5. Andrew Porter Says:

    My mother used to sleep on her fire escape when she was a young girl, in the 1920s. People would indeed also sleep in Central Park, before it became dangerous during the Depression.

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