Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summertime and the living should be easy!

WOW! Here it is the end of June already. Where did the first six months of this year go? I haven't done half the jobs I had lined up for this year. I did finally get all my flowers planted. And a few peppers and some tomato plants. They are doing well, but a couple of my quilting projects are still here: in my head; piled up on the table; just waiting for me to get to them.

Now that July is almost here I want to share a story with you. One that I have told so many times I think my family thinks I made it all up. But it is honest to goodness true story and I will tell it again.

I was born during the hottest time in recorded history in Detroit Michigan. You can check this all out for yourself by going to the following website> http://apps.detnews.com/apps/history/index.php?id=134
You can see the photos from the Detroit newspaper and see for yourself how horrible this all was.
I have reprinted some of the highlights of the article here from the Detroit News website.

Detroit's killer heat wave of 1936

By George Cantor / The Detroit News

August 4, 1996

There were 10 in all on the first day. No one could have known that it was only the beginning of one of the greatest and deadliest disasters in the history of Detroit.

Sixty years ago, the most terrible heat wave ever recorded fell upon the city. At its end, one week later, hundreds were dead and the daily lists started on the front page and filled an entire column inside the paper.

Healthy men and women would start off for work in the morning and never come home, falling in the streets or at work when they were overcome by the sun and heat. Weeping relatives besieged Receiving Hospital and the morgue, where the dead were lined up in corridors since no space remained on the slabs. Doctors and nurses collapsed at their stations, overcome by heat and fatigue. "It's as if Detroit has been attacked by a plague out of the Middle Ages," one observer wrote.

And yet this disaster of 1936 is almost forgotten. Ask Detroiters who lived through it and they probably could not recall the dates or even the year. Those too young to have firsthand recollection very likely have never heard of the July when the summer turned killer. There was no great destruction of property, no visible aftermath, as is the case with most disasters with a death toll that high. Heat depends upon a cumulative impact to make an impression, not one quick and terrible strike that is seared into the memory. After it has passed, it blends in with all the other hot spells of a lifetime.

This one was different, though, not only in the number it killed but in the very intensity of the heat. Records for high temperatures set during that summer still stand in 15 states, including Michigan. In Kansas and North Dakota, it reached 121 degrees, marks surpassed in this country only in the deserts of the Southwest. In Mio, Mich., the mercury leveled out at 112. In Duluth, Minn., which had never topped 100 degrees before, stifling, incredulous residents camped out on the Lake Superior shore. Detroit had counted only seven days of 100-degree readings in the 63 previous years since the U.S. weather station started official readings here. That mark would be equalled in the space of seven days.

And during all this my poor Mother was giving birth in a small bedroom on the second floor of a two family house. It boggles my mind to think how horrible that must have been for her. She went on to have 4 more daughters, but carefully (?) planned for their births in much cooler early winter and late spring months!

Later in the day my Grandmother decided I should go outside for some air(?) in my bassinet and I am told that the even older lady living next door said I would surely die from being exposed to all the "fresh air"

On Wednesday, July 8, the heat reached Detroit. By 4:50 p.m., the mercury registered 104.4 degrees. And the dying began. The health department published some tips: Add a pinch of salt to each glass of cold water. Avoid over-exertion in direct sunlight. Eat lightly and avoid fats. Don't swim after excessive perspiration.

The old-timers wore a cabbage leaf under their hats, but some golfers, more modern in outlook, used a cold towel under theirs.
Beyond that, what else could you do? Air-conditioning was still a pleasure of the very rich. Hudson's had become one of the first department stores in America to install such a system and Crowley's followed a few years later. But even their crowds were down, because few people wanted to brave the heat to get there. Many movie theaters were air-conditioned and ran ads that showed shavings of ice clinging to a sign that said, "It's cool inside." Some stayed open all night and people slept inside. The sleeping cars on many railroads also featured air. But home units were almost unknown.

"The rest of us," intoned The News editorially, "like Joe Louis from the fourth round on must stay in there and take it." Many homeowners went down to their basements, spending the days in the cooler confines there.

On Thursday, July 9, it was 102. A man was caught stealing an electric fan from Kinsel's downtown and demanded that it accompany him to his jail cell. The judge declined.

On McNichols and Livernois, the pavement buckled and formed a concrete mound, four feet high, stopping traffic in all directions. The wrestling show was canceled at the Naval Armory and 22 were dead in the city.

Friday was the first time in history that three consecutive 100 degree days had been recorded in Detroit. It reached 101. As the weekend began, crowds began to throng to Belle Isle. It was a Detroit tradition to camp out on the island when oppressive heat moved in. But never in such numbers. Police reported that there was not a parking space to be found on the island and traffic was backed up from the bridge along East Grand Boulevard all the way to Kercheval. The island looked like a massive gypsy camp, with hundreds of thousands of families sleeping out in the open, wherever there was an open piece of grass. The scene was duplicated in neighborhoods across the city as people took bedrolls out on their lawns to spend the night.

By now, the heat wave had reached the East. In New York, the Olympic trials were being held and athletes were rushed to nearby hospitals after collapsing. All the bridges over the East and Harlem rivers stuck in the open position when the metal joints expanded, trapping thousands of motorists on Manhattan. Heat records fell in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, in West Virginia, Wisconsin and Indiana.

In Detroit, the death toll took a sudden jump as news came in from Eloise Hospital that 63 previously unreported victims had died during the weekend. Hospitals were not air-conditioned and heat-stroke victims brought in often found no relief. Heroic efforts were made to treat them as all rooms filled up. Doctors and nurses, working 18 hours without a break, administered treatment on cots or on benches in the waiting rooms. Hysterical relatives crowded the lobby, trying to find news of missing loved ones. Newborn infants died in the delivery room. Old people succumbed to heat-induced heart attacks. In a house on Magnolia, a mother and daughter died within 12 hours of each other. The morgue reported 90 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

Still, the heat held on. It was 101 both Saturday and Sunday and 100 on Monday. Rain was expected anytime, moving in from the west. "The city looked like a deserted village," reported the Detroit Times. Nothing moved on the downtown streets as offices closed down. A schedule of sandlot baseball games went on but played to empty stands.

Suddenly, on the seventh day, it ended in Detroit. The temperature reached 104 at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 14, then started to slide. A massive thunderstorm swept across the city. Crowds on Belle Isle were drenched by the sudden deluge as they ran for buses and cars. By midnight it was below 70 for the first time in a week, and at 5:30 a.m. it bottomed out at 61. It was over.

There were 364 dead in Detroit, 570 dead in Michigan. Only Ohio had a higher death toll. Medical experts said the deaths were so numerous because the early summer had been mild and people hadn't had a chance to be gradually acclimated to the heat. Tourist officials used the death toll as an odd verification of Michigan's status as a summer resort. "People can't cope with heat because they're not used to it here."

But here I am 73 years later writing this story because I think it is an important part of my life history. And to this day I still donot like extreme hot weather!


  1. Edwina, what a story! I am so glad you posted it. What a big part of history you came into this world in the middle of - and oh, your poor mother! That was truly fascinating, every bit of it. Thank you.

  2. Very interesting story and nice to see that you recorded it in your blog. All that wonderful family history. Thank goodness they have had record cold during the month of July this year in Detroit, 2009!! Sixty years later. I do not like extreme heat either. Sometimes just can't get my "groove on" and start a project. And that's living with three central air units!! We are so lucky these days.

    Happy Quilting.


    Driving Miss Stacey

    Sew Far Sew Good Quilt Shop