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Heat Wave

August 1909 brought a severe heat wave to Omaha. Daily life became a struggle to keep cool. "Every shady nook was sought and the parks and resorts at the lakes were deluged with sweltering people," reported the Omaha Daily News of August 16. "Many took to the street cars to get a breeze and quite a number rode back and forth over the lines for hours.

"Sunday evening those who were wont to sit on the porch dragged their chairs down onto the lawns amid the mosquitoes in a fruitless effort to be near-comfortable. Coatless and collarless men walked the streets-when they had to walk-and women remained at home. . . . Lake Manawa and Seymour lake were havens for the oppressed citizens and both resorts report the largest attendance of the season. Hanscom park and the other parks, including the High school grounds, were spotted with people all day and evening. Many men, who were unable to sleep indoors Sunday night, sought the lawns in their yards, while men in the cheap boarding houses and hotels downtown hied themselves to Jefferson park for a snooze on the benches or grass."

Babies, the aged, and the sick were hit especially hard by the heat. Cooks and laundry workers left their jobs. Horses collapsed. The Omaha city veterinarian advised: "If your horse becomes prostrated with the heat, get the animal in the shade as quickly as possible. Turn a hose on the animal. Hold ice to his head and other parts of his body." Many liverymen refused to rent teams until after 5 p.m. so that the animals would not be active during the heat of the day.

The greatest need seemed to be for ice. But the heat that drove up demand also melted the ice rapidly on its way to customers. The coolest spot in the city, reported the Daily News, was the storage room of the People's Ice and Cold Storage Company at Thirteenth and Chicago streets. "Down in the storage room the big lead pipes are covered with half an inch of frost. The mercury stands at 30 degrees above zero and every workman in the building on every possible excuse goes into the room, the proprietors say." Other refuges of heat sufferers included the cooling rooms of Omaha's breweries, where the temperature was kept at thirty-two degrees above zero.

(August 2004)



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