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.
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