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Lawrence residents recall how they beat the heat in the days before air conditioning July 15, 2011

Imagine living in a house hotter than the outside temperature. Simple pleasures, such as sleeping and cooking, would be sweat-breaking labor. Forget lounging on the couch to beat the heat. Today, staying inside is usually the best bet to stay cool during the summer. Heat index of 110? No problem, just crank up the AC. However, many of Lawrence’s older residents remember the days when air-conditioning — and, sometimes, electricity — weren’t available. Ask them how they stayed cool and many will give you a simple answer. They didn’t. This week, we caught up with several people who agree to share how they dealt with summer before the days of air-conditioning. Here are their stories. As you continue reading, resist the urge to lower that thermostat.

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Comments

gphawk89 2 years, 9 months ago

As a kid, we did have A/C at home but not at school. I never remember it really being a problem even though we certainly had some very hot days in late August. We'd just open the classroom windows and turn on a couple of fans and deal with it.

My current car has no A/C. Hasn't for years. Black exterior. Black leather seats. I'm not looking forward to walking out to the parking lot in a few minutes and scorching my a$$.

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Cait McKnelly 2 years, 9 months ago

I grew up in a semi-rural area south of KCK (but north of JC). We never had AC. My parents lived there for over 40 years and the closest they got to it was a window unit in their bedroom when I was in my thirties. They had a huge box style window fan that went up in the dining room in the spring and came down in the fall. It would spin both on intake and exhaust. At night, it would go on exhaust so air could be forced in through bedroom windows. We also had an attic fan that would force air in through the windows at night. When I was a kid, my dad had an old iron bed he set up in the yard. We would sleep outside and every morning we would pull a tarp over it in case it rained at some point during the day. My dad (born in 1921) told me that when he was a kid the entire family would just move outside for the summer. They would cook, sleep, eat and hang out without ever going into the house. Their water was from an outside pump and they didn't have electricity. He used to laugh at us for being dependent on fans.

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Fred Whitehead Jr. 2 years, 9 months ago

I am a little younger than most of these fine folks (67) but I remember living in a small house in El Paso, Texas while my father was stationed at Ft Bliss. We had moved ther from Whitter, Alaska in 1951 and the climate change was a real shock!

We had the very genesis of "air conditioning", what we call today a "swamp cooler", an evaporative cooler on the roof of the house, every house in the neighborhood had one. While this offered a bit of relief, the additional humidity was a problem, although the climate in west Texas is usually pretty dry (but it it did snow on occasion, although not to the tops of the windows like in Alaska!). When we got our first "refrigerated air conditioner" living in southwest Oklahoma we thought we were living with the Rockefellers and the Astors! But it sure was an improvement.

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Clara Westphal 2 years, 9 months ago

I grew up in Kansas City, KS during the dust bowl and terrible hot summers. My brother worked for an ice company and he was allowed to bring home any imperfect blocks. The ice was placed in an wooden ice box and as the ice melted into the pan below we would splash the water on our faces.

I roller skated alot to create my own breeze. We had a porch swing and spent alot of evenings on the front porch.

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number3of5 2 years, 9 months ago

I grew up without ac. Some of my life was spent without electricity. My husband and I put in ac 2 years ago. I wish we did not have it. My daughter and I share a booth at the Perry Lecompton Farmers Market and yesterday everyone was suffering extremely from the heat except me. I just sweated.

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Kelly Johnson 2 years, 9 months ago

I loved reading this. It definitely makes me appreciate the a/c I get to enjoy in my home and at work, and I'd like to give a shout-out to all the hard working people who are having to be out in this current heat wave to earn their livings. Thank you for doing what you do!

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gl0ck0wn3r 2 years, 9 months ago

Back then, you could get five bees for a quarter and you'd tie an onion to your belt as was the style of the time.

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ok 2 years, 9 months ago

Great story!!! More please!!!

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frustratednks 2 years, 9 months ago

WOW! This made my day too. Those photos are wonderful! You should consider writing articles once a week/ or month about our elder residents remembering the days of their youth. Pictures from their youth would be awesome as well. Thanks for a great start to my day!

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cj123 2 years, 9 months ago

I didn't have an A/C until I moved out at 18 and I am only 32. My grandmother had an A/C and I hated going into her house in the summer. It was too cold! My parents decided to get central air after I moved out!

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Alabamastreet 2 years, 9 months ago

I once walked from my freezing cold car to my freezing cold house in 110 degree heat. I was outside at least 37 seconds. I have a photo of myself if you want to post.

Otherwise, what a fantastic story. Thanks Mike, Jonathan et. al. that was a really good read.

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John Yocum 2 years, 9 months ago

My wife and I were discussing the "no a/c" condition as we read this article. Both of us grew up in Kansas and neither of us had a/c. Not even in our cars. We took a trip to Colorado once in a '63 Galaxy 500 which had no a/c. And it had vinyl seats! "Ouch" on the legs when you wore shorts. In the summer we would sleep on the living room floor and my parents would put a box fan against the screen door to pull in some cooler air. Fortunately we lived in a basement house so it was cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter due to being surrounded on three sides by earth. Basically, we just toughed it out. If we had to, we went to my grandparents' house up the road. They had a window a/c unit in their house. Still, I often find it funny that I complain when the a/c is not working well in a store or something. When did I become a hot weather whip?

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Richard Heckler 2 years, 9 months ago

When one is out and about think about a wide brim straw hat AND a umbrella or perhaps just an umbrella will do. Nothing like shade every where one goes.

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yoornotmee 2 years, 9 months ago

You can put a wet sheet in an open window and the breeze will help cool the house.

We have A/C and a crayon still melted on our bathroom floor last week. The melting point for a crayon is 105*F.

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Lene 2 years, 9 months ago

WOW! What wonderful memories!

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JJE007 2 years, 9 months ago

It is good to have perspective.

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Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 9 months ago

I COMPLETELY agree. The photos are wonderful!!!

It is also great to see seniors who are sharing their knowledge from the past with us.

Mike Yoder, these are wonderful photographs.

Who wrote the text?

I'm going to send a copy of this article to friends throughout the country and in Africa (it will be interesting to see how they endure the hot weather), and also to the New York Times.

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rockchalker52 2 years, 9 months ago

Best story of the week! Thank you.

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jmadison 2 years, 9 months ago

Any scientific data on the summertime relative humidity levels in eastern Kansas pre-construction of the reservoirs versus post construction?

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blindrabbit 2 years, 9 months ago

Everyone fled to Minnesota or Colorado!

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Jonathan Kealing 2 years, 9 months ago

Here's a link to the video Mike referenced earlier. Great people:

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mountainair 2 years, 9 months ago

I completely agree with the earlier most. Mike, your photos are gorgeous. I just love the light richness of them.

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ILoveLawrence 2 years, 9 months ago

Some younger residents remember it too ... I'm in early my 40s and grew up in Kansas without AC. The experience sure makes it easier to now save the money and keep the thermostat at 85 degrees.

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roadwarrior 2 years, 9 months ago

agreed, fantastic pictures of these beautiful people and wonderful stories.

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justanotherjoe 2 years, 9 months ago

Fantastic photos!! I didn't need to read the captions, the picture of these beautiful people made my day! Thanks.

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