Posts Tagged ‘sleeping on the fire escape’

How New Yorkers survived hot summer nights

July 23, 2009

The city in July and August is supposed to be insanely hot and sticky. And when an oppressive heat wave strikes, New Yorkers suffer, sweat, and ask the same question: How did city residents handle it years ago without air conditioning or even fans? 

FireescapesleepingWell, there was always the fire escape. It looks like a ridiculously dangerous place to sleep in this 1938 Weegee photo, but it must have been better than baking in a tenement bedroom.

You could also spend the night in a park, on the street, or sprawled out on the beach, as thousands did.

“In Central Park the lawns were crowded before darkness with family groups,” reported the July 10, 1936 New York Times; the temperature had reached an astounding 106 degrees the day before. “On the Lower East Side traffic was seriously impeded as small armies of persons emerged from tenement houses with chairs, boxes and even beds which they set up in the streets.”

And from the Times on August 4, 1938, when the mercury hit 93 degrees:

“More than 3,000 persons slept on the sand at Coney Island and Brighton Beach to escape the heat last night, the police estimated. Ten additional patrolmen were assigned to the area to prevent molestation of the sleepers, many of whom brought blankets and sheets.”