September 7, 2010

The NYC Heat Wave That Killed 1300 People

It's official now--the summer of 2010 was the hottest summer on record for New York City.  The average temperature for June, July and August was 77.8....the highest since record keeping began.  There has been a lot of bitching and moaning about the heat here in the City.  But comparatively, this summer was nothing compared to a heat wave more than 100 years ago that killed more than a thousand New Yorkers.

In August of 1896, the city baked over a period of 10 days where the temperature registered over 90 degrees with 90% humidity, even at night.  In todays terms, the "Heat Index" during this week and half period often hit 120 degrees.  Of course, this was before the invention of air conditioning so people (and countless horses) were dropping like flies.  One of the odder ways people died was from rolling off the roofs of tenements and fire escapes where they were sleeping.

There's a new book out that details this nearly forgotten chapter in NYC history.  It's called "Hot Time In The Old Town" by historian Ed Kohn.  One interesting fact is that Theodore Roosevelt was the police commissioner at the time and, in lieu of a mayor who did nothing, he took action and distributed ice to the poor.  It was a transformative moment for the young Roosevelt, who got a very close look at conditions the lower class lived in and was inspired by the experience to do what he could as he rose to power, eventually becoming President of the United States.

I haven't read this book but it on my list now.  It would have been good beach reading but maybe it'll be better not to be baking while reading a book about it.