Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NYC before AC

Licking blocks of ice on hot day (LOC)
{licking blocks of ice on a hot day, circa 1910-1915}

This absolutely amounts to a first-world problem, but the air conditioning has been broken for two days in the office where I’m currently working. It's hot, to say the least. As we all fanned ourselves, scoured the office for small, silly, USB-powered fans, and complained, it made me think of this fascinating old New Yorker article about life in the city before AC.

Arthur Miller (yes, that Arthur Miller) writes about a particularly warm summer in the late 1920s when his family was living in Harlem. He describes how, to escape the heat of their apartments, people took to sleeping in Central Park.

Battery Park on hot day (LOC)
{battery park on a hot day, circa 1910-1915} 

Even through the nights, the pall of heat never broke. With a couple of other kids, I would go across 110th to the Park and walk among the hundreds of people, singles and families, who slept on the grass, next to their big alarm clocks, which set up a mild cacophony of the seconds passing, one clock’s ticks syncopating with another’s. Babies cried in the darkness, men’s deep voices murmured, and a woman let out an occasional high laugh beside the lake.

It’s completely understandable (especially in my current predicament) but also totally wild to think about from the perspective of a modern New Yorker. If it were safe, sleeping in Central Park sounds pretty magical...

Both photos via the Library of Congress


  1. Love the pictures...such a quirky slice of life from another time. Sorry to hear about the AC! If that happened down here in DC, I might go on strike.

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  3. The idea of sleeping in the Central Park during a summer afternoon sounds nice. It can be difficult not to have thoughts like that, especially when you have to endure the scorching heat of New York with a broken AC at the office. While I think it's not as comfortable as it was before, the idea of taking a nap after lunch does sound appealing. Haha! Anyway, thanks for sharing!

    Harvey Chapman @ Liberty Comfort Systems


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