There’s a heat wave in New York City. Temperatures exceeded 88 degrees every day for a week, topping out at 95 degrees last Sunday.
On that evening, the Trinity Choir sang in a special River to River Festival concert at St. Paul’s Chapel. The Chapel, built in 1766, lacks air conditioning, and the fans that typically circulate air were turned off for the candlelight concert. The music was magical, and the hot crowds sat entranced, but it set The Archivist’s Mailbag wondering just how parishioners of the past dealt with extreme heat in the city.
A quick perusal of the diary of the Rev. Morgan Dix, Trinity’s rector during the latter half of the nineteenth century, uncovered this descriptive passage:
"Sunday, 10 August 1863
I felt the heat more today than I have any day since Monday: the thermometer must have been up to 90°…
Went to St. John’s in the afternoon, and read the service; but it was so very hot, and people looked so terribly languid and feverish, that I dispensed with the sermon, and in its place, read a short lection, from Denton on the Gospels, which seemed to suit them better than a sermon…
Spent an exceptionally hot evening; the most so that I have felt yet."
Later that week, Dix pasted two newspaper clippings about the heat into his journal. One, titled, “The Mortality in the City” read:
"The fearful number of nine hundred and seventy deaths were reported yesterday, by the City Inspector, as having occurred during the past week. This is an increase over last week of two hundred and forty-eight, and over the same period last year of four hundred and two. The deaths caused by the excessive heat reach the startling number of one hundred and thirty-four. Of the entire number 538 were children under five years of age.”
(Other major causes of death included cholera, consumption, and marasmus—a severe form of malnutrition.)
The second article Dix included was titled “The Unprecedented Heat” and blamed the increase in mortality on fruit stands: “The street fruit stands offer the unthinking a liberal collection of fermented and poisonous stuff.”
Author: Trinity Wall Street Communications
Created: March 18, 2009
Trinity Wall Street has played a pivotal role in the religious and civic life of the city and nation since its founding in 1697. This blog will answer readers’ questions and provide a glimpse into the fascinating and provocative history of the parish.