The Evanston, Ill., apartment Maggie Carttar grew up in was a heat trap; it had a black tar roof and no air-conditioning. However, all it took was a 10-cent ticket to the movie theater to escape the heat.
Nearby Lake Michigan was also a sanctuary from the summer temperatures. At night, Carttar said hundreds of people would camp out at the lakefront park.
Carttar said that despite her best efforts, there was little she could do to avoid the heat without air-conditioning.
“We were young, so I wouldn’t say it was impossible,” she said. “Nowadays, I don’t know if I could go through it because we’re so used to air-conditioning,” she said.
Dick Schiefelbusch kept cool during hot Kansas days by opening adjacent windows in a building to create an airflow. He also had a back up plan.
“When all else failed, go to Colorado Springs,” he said.
He grew up on a farm outside Osawatomie and said there was always a place to swim. He said the deep wells provided cool water, and blocks of ice were always a drive a way. They would keep the windows open during the day, although dust then became become the problem. It was the small pleasures that made the heat bearable, he said, such as homemade ice cream in the evening.
“Heaven was a swimming pool,” he added.
Although she grew up without air-conditioning, Mildred Luckan’s western Kansas hometown had plenty of wind. Luckan said there weren’t many places to swim, so the wind was all they had.
She and her friends spent most of the day under porches or in the shade, enjoying the outdoors and playing games. At night, she said they would play baseball in her neighborhood.
“I guess you don’t stay cool that way, but we went out, and we just absorbed it,” she said.
Carol Floersch remembers escaping the Kansas City heat at Quivira Lake.
At home, they’d draw the shades. On the really hot days, her family would keep cool by placing a bucket of ice in front of a fan.
“When I went outside, I used to fry eggs on the cement, and then my little dog Biff would come eat them,” she said.
Effie Simmons’ family farm in Coffey County didn’t have electricity. No fans, and definitely no air-conditioning.
“We didn’t really keep cool,” she said.
Her family slept outside, hoping to catch a breeze. Sometimes they’d find it; other times, the mosquitos and chiggers would find them.
She said she tried staying out of the sun as much as possible, but her daily chores made that a tough task. In fact, she said it was more important to make sure the animals stayed cool.
“You just didn’t think about it; you were just used to it,” she said. “That’s just the way things were.”
Mary Domyon’s brother was her only sibling who wore shorts. During Pennsylvania’s hottest months, Domyon and her sisters borrowed them to stay cool.
“But we made my mother sew up the fly so it would look like a pleat,” she said.
That wasn’t the only clothing they shared. Domyon said there was a big cave in the small town she grew up in where people could swim. Her brother had the only swimsuit, so they all took turns wearing it.
She said she and other neighborhood children would lie in tubs full of cold water. At night, her mother did her best to keep the children cool, covering them in cold water as they laid in a hallway with a slight draught.
“Don’t move around because you won’t cool off,” her mother would say.
Martha Harper grew up on a farm north of Lawrence in Leavenworth County. Her farm didn’t have electricity, but it did have lots of ponds to escape the heat in.
Many times it was more comfortable to sleep outside. She said she would ride horses and camp with her friends in the surrounding hills.
“It was a completely different life than it is today,” she said.
Harper said her house, poorly insulated and made of stone, was never cool until the fall, so windows were always open during the summer. The breeze wasn’t the only thing that would come in.
“My sister had a bedroom upstairs, and the bees would get into the house,” she said. “They would get in her bed, and I can remember her fighting those bees.”
Sylvia Hacker’s father was one of the first people in their Brooklyn neighborhood to own a car. Apart from the car’s transportation advantages, it had another benefit.
“The way we kept cool was our father took us for rides all the time,” she said.
Hacker would go to the beach at Coney Island, which at the time cost a nickel. She said she slept on a spacious ledge outside her apartment to catch the cool wind. And like DeSandro, Hacker said she always had a fan to cope with the heat.
“We had our ways but we never really dwelled on it that much because we never experienced air-conditioning,” she said.
Loretta DeSandro recalls several ways she stayed cool growing up in Kansas without air-conditioning.
During the day, her family pulled the blinds down to keep out the sun. She used hand-held fans to keep cool, and when her father bought a small electric fan, her entire family would crowd around it. At night, she slept next to the window with the best breeze.
“And the rest of the time, you just sweat,” she said.
She remembers driving to Colorado during the summers in a car without air-conditioning. Despite the heat and her brother’s arguing, she insisted on keeping the windows up to prevent the wind from messing up her hair.
“As kids, I don’t think it bothered us; we didn’t know any better,” she said. “But now we wonder how we ever did it.”