How Arthur Miller Recalled the American Summer Before Air-Conditioning

"Given the heat," said Miller, "people smelled, of course, but some smelled a lot worse than others."

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Before air-conditioning, New York City was an unbearably hot and sweaty place--hotter than Africa according to one of Miller's South African friends--yet the taboo against indecent exposure obligated men to wear suits throughout the day. "Given the heat," said Miller, "people smelled, of course, but some smelled a lot worse than others." As a child, the playwright's method of staying cool was to eat shaved ice sold from the back of horse-drawn wagons (resulting in ice that smelled of manure) and taking rides on the open-air trolleys around Broadway (just to catch a breeze). 

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The bourgeois in Miller's neighborhood would never be found sitting on their fire escapes during the day, but come nightfall everyone would put their mattresses outdoors for sleeping. Many individuals as well as families would escape their apartment building all together and sleep in Central Park, taking alarm clocks with them to wake the next morning before dawn and head to work. Miller's first contact with air-conditioning occurred in Chelsea Hotel, where he was living. It was a cumbersome machine at the time, relying on an operator to fill it with water. Today, it seems cruel to live without the respite of chilled summer air.

Read more at the New Yorker

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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