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Beating the Heat in 1906

In the days before air conditioning, getting a good night's sleep during the heat of summer was sometimes a problem. One obvious solution was to sleep outdoors. The Norfolk Weekly News-Journal on August 3, 1906, reported that many residents of that city pitched tents in their yards and spent sweltering summer nights under canvas. The News-Journal said:

"Sleeping in tents has become more popular with Norfolk people this summer than ever before, and the habit, if it keeps on increasing at the rate that has characterized it of late, will before long become a chronic one with people of this city. In many of the lawns of the city today there are pitched good-sized white canvas tents, within which are cots that hold in slumber every night tired human frames that enjoy the coolness of out-of-doors, tired brains that find absolute rest in the stimulating night air and hungry lungs that fairly eat up the ozone that is to be had in larger quantities than are possible within doors.

"It is impossible to drive from one end to the other of any street or avenue in the city today without locating tents in yards along the way. The idea is not an old one in Norfolk. General sleeping in tents has only been in vogue here for two or three years, but those who have tried the scheme are so delighted with the results that they are making many converts to the system each month.

"'How do you feel since sleeping out of doors?' was asked of a man who has been at it for some weeks. 'Much better,' he said. 'I sleep more soundly, get more rest and wake up in the morning feeling like a prizefighter. Indoors I had a hard time getting to sleep before midnight and I was awake at 5 in the morning. In the tent I drop to sleep the minute I strike the cot and never wake up until I am called.'

"'To what do you attribute the change?'

"'Better air and more of it. In a room you get only what air can creep in through two or three windows at the most, and that comes largely in draughts so that you don't dare get it directly. In the tent it is all fresh air, there are no such things as draughts and you inhale good, fresh, life giving ozone all night long. I am going to keep at it until the snow flies, and I know I shall feel much hardier and much better in every way for it.'

"In Norfolk those who sleep in the tents generally dress and undress in the houses, passing to and from their tents in bathrobes."

John Nelson's photograph of two couples seated in front of their tents was taken sometime between 1907 and 1917.
NSHS RG542:098-04

(August 2010)



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