Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tenement Talks: Hot Time in the Old Town

Are you sick of the dog days of summer? Are you tired of the number of 90-plus degree days we New Yorkers have suffered through so far? Imagine having to live through this horrendous weather without air-conditioning or even fans! Join us tonight at Tenement Talks for a discussion of Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 with Edward Kohn in conversation with Richard Greenwald. You’ll feel cooler inside the air-conditioned Museum Shop, but the unbelievable, true stories of what happened in August 1896 are sure to make you sweat.

Tenement dwellers seeking refuge from the heat,
1879. Courtesy of the NYPL Digital Gallery
The Great Heat Wave of 1896 lasted from August 4-14 and may have killed as many as 1,500 people in the city, with temperatures reaching an astounding 120 degrees Fahrenheit inside the hot, unventilated tenements on the Lower East Side. Woven into this story are then-police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, who struggled to contain the crisis, and Nebraska populist and Democratic presidential-nominee William Jennings Bryan, whose presidential hopes were arguably defeated by the heat.

Kohn documents in vivid detail the many stories of tenement dwellers who were so terribly affected by this natural disaster. The very young, the elderly, and the ill were most at risk of succumbing to the unbearable heat. The poor in general were also hit hard, given the temperatures inside crowded tenements.

The catastrophe made the front page of the New York Times on August 14, 1896, as the heat wave was beginning to wane. The article listed the high temperature for each of the preceding days and the names and addresses of the deceased. For example, one victim was Augusta Lipman of 98 Essex Street (just a couple of blocks away from 97 Orchard) who passed away at home. She was only six months old. Kohn also discusses fifteen-year-old Lewis Pumper, a recent immigrant from Poland, who hanged himself because he could no longer bear laboring in a bakeshop all day and sleeping in an unventilated basement at night.

Kohn's history will make you wonder how the government should respond in such times of crisis and what we can do to be as prepared as possible when the next natural disaster strikes.

Learn more tonight at 6:30pm at 108 Orchard Street near Delancey.

-posted by Devin

1 comment:

  1. Very entertaining talk and lively discussion; I hear Prof Kohn will be on the Daily Show next week...


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