Summer of 2012 Too Hot? Thankfully It’s Not 1936.

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The swimming pool at Indianola Park offered a break from the heat in the early 1900's.(Photo: indianolapark.com)
The swimming pool at Indianola Park offered a break from the heat in the early 1900's.(Photo: indianolapark.com)

I have always marveled at the forbearance of our fathers of our fathers and mothers.

This is the hottest summer in memory. A recent governmental report noted that this past July was the hottest on record since records have been kept. That was in 1878. It beat out the record set in 1936 by two tenths of one degree. Having said that, we will see how the rest of the summer goes.

But 1936 is not 2012.

The people living through the great heat wave of 1936 did not have the luxury of air conditioning that we have today. In those days, one walked into the movie theater or the hotel or the restaurant and was quickly handed a fan. That fan was usually an eight inch by eight inch paddle with a small handle and the name of the sponsor inscribed thereon. One could walk into a church on Sunday morning in 1936 and see 300 people vigorously waving the name of the local funeral home. It was something of a different time.

But it was still quite hot in Columbus in the summer of 1936. So how exactly did people stay cool in those days? One could go to the pool. Olentangy Park and Indianola Park both had large pools where hundreds of people could and did cool off in the summertime.

If one was not aquatic, a trip to the theater might be in order. The Palace Theater advertised that it could provide “cool air” and it did. Under each of the seats in the theater were a series of holes that provided cool air to customers of the theater.  The cool air was produced by passing a stream of air over large blocks of local ice. Since this method did not remove humidity or the water that was in the air, the result was clammy as well as cool. Perhaps this was just the atmosphere required for a midsummer horror film.

By 1936, technology had also come to the rescue with safe, reliable and relatively inexpensive electric fans.  People who had electricity – and many rural people did not – probably spent more than a little time in close proximity to the fan.

Still, we have to admire these people who came before us. In the face of these heat waves – and they have come rather often in the years since 1878 – these people worked hard – often while wearing wool clothing and still managed to avoid sunstroke or heat exhaustion.

How did they do it? They did it in the traditionally human way – they adapted, adjusted their behavior and became acclimated to the heat.

A long time ago when I was quite young, I learned how to tell the difference between heat exhaustion and sunstroke and how to give first aid for either. The trick is to get people cooled off safely. In those years, I sometimes had to give that sort of help to people who needed it. I have not had to provide that sort of help for quite some time.

Is that because we have become a stronger and more heat resistant people? No, it’s because we have more cool places to be when our world becomes a bit too hot and a little creature comfort is quite desirable indeed.

Ed Lentz is a WOSU Commentator and local historian.

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