It was hot yesterday.
But as awful as it was -- a very humid 98 degrees -- it was not nearly so not nearly so hot as it was 50 years ago. On July 20, 1930, the record for the all-time high temperature in Washington was set at 106 degrees.
"Driven by a merciless sun, blazing in a nearly cloudless sky by a hot wind which eddied up from the burning pavements, the official thermometer in Washington rampaged upward yesterday to a new all-time high," the lead story in The Washington Post read.
Washington's temperature that day was the highest east of the Rock Mountains, according to the Weather Bureau. Several heat-related deaths were reported in the District, and dozens more around the country.
Air conditioning had been invented in the early 1920s, but air conditioners were still another 20 years away from popular use. So, the paper noted "Electric fans, ice water and cooling beverages did their part in apartments and homes in the general effort to keep cool, but none of these things proved magnificent successes."
The surgeon general -- still decades away from taking on cigarettes -- offered these tips for keeping cool: Dress as lightly as possible. Imbibe long, cool drinks. Keep your temper. Keep your windows closed. Use discretion in getting out of the heat.
Keep the spinal cord protected; wear hats outdoors. Use discretion about work and exercise in the heat. Eat what you please, but don't overeat. Guard against infected food. Be discreet, physically, mentally, emotionally.
But Wshingtonians tried their own approaches to beat the heat.
"Mobs of urchins," the paper noted "stormed the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool in hope of a cooling plunge." They kept the park police busy, "bathing being prohibited."
Thousands of families left their homes and apartments to sleep out in the parks, "guarded against molestation while they slept by details of park police especially assigned for that duty."
At the National Zoo, the lowest temperatures -- 96 degrees -- was recorded in the "animal house." An old Alaskan reindeer was "driven in desperation to lie down in his drinking trough" while Jim Beano, one of the elephants, surprised a crowd at his bathing pool by dousing them with a stream of water.
The superintendent of police issued an order allowing the traffic policemen to shed their coats for the day, but the "pavement pounders" walking their police beats could not. Their uniforms, the paper noted, "literally were dripping with prespiration."
Water restrictions were in effect in some parts of the metropolitan area, but that didn't stop firefighters at a fire station on New Jersey Avenue from turning a hose on their station and the police precint station next door "in an attempt to cool the building and the surrounding atmosphere." The police and firemen, the article noted, "say a pronounced cooling effect resulted."
The late afternoon vesper service at the Washington Cathedral was moved from the Peace Cross outdoors inside of the Bethlehem Chapel, where it was 78 degrees. During the services, Canon G. Freeland Peter read a prayer for rain from the "new" Episcopal prayer book -- the first time, the paper said the prayer had been invoked.
Since the hottest day was a Sunday, many fled to beaches and pools for relief. But the heat continued on into Monday, and practically all government workers went home in the afternoon. There were a few exceptions: the Government Printing Office, the Treasury Department and the staff of the director of the Prohibition Bureau, which would still be in business for a couple of years more.
At the White House, it was a different story: employes "worked all day and were glad of it," The Post noted. It was back in the days before image conscious presidents started ordering thermostats turned up and hot water turned off. And the White House's "new cooling plant, similar to those in movie palaces, kept the temperature of the Executive Mansion '20 degrees cooler than the street' all day," the paper said.
But, as another article during the 1930 heat wave noted, "It was hot and no set of statistics from previous years or comparative figures with other cities could prove otherwise to the persons who were sweltering."