Back in the pre-air-conditioned days, only the true-gritty locals stayed in town. Official Washington--those who came here to run the country--simply upped and left for the duration, or 21/2 months, whichever was longer.
Who was left to simmer for all those years? Congress took a seasonal powder. So did the courts--from the Supreme Court to all but the lowest of the local judiciary's benchwarmers who were stuck with traffic-court-and-drunks duty.
Much of the press corps went, too. Led by Walter Lippmann, who would just drop his column and head north, the pencil press left town annually on cue--usually when reporters' hands started sticking to their writing pads.
In the halls of government--including the infamous "tempos," square wooden boxes put up in a hurry in 1917 for the war effort and taken down slowly over the next three-plus wars-- early dismissals were routine on dog-day afternoons. Even the White House help was said to have been given time off by an understanding Bess Truman.
What to do? Buses were awful, streetcars only a bit better. Summer fashions, still awaiting the perma-press/drip-dry era, were absurd --rumpled, baggy trousers (what else when you sleep in the park overnight?), soggy white shirts, hats with sweatbands full of the real McCoy and dresses and hosiery that hung and felt much like Saran-wrap.
The favored oases included Loew's Capitol Theater on F Street, where the icicles around the ads beckoned the bedraggled to a full- length feature movie, a top-flight stage show and a follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-along with the house organist. Downtown bars took on a new attraction, too, as they were the early homes of air conditioning and television, and more specifically of baseball on TV. (At the time, Washington not only had a team, but it used also to lead the American League--in the number of night games, and for good reason).
I was born here after a day so hot that my father sat on a park bench hoping for a breeze and checked in with the hospital every hour. How hot was it? It was so hot, according to Third Precinct Police and The Post, that a man in his twenties was running along 16th Street NW "in the nude," wearing "nothing more than a bit of tattooing." As he was rounding the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and T Street-- at the end of a nearly half-mile chase, a police officer asked, "What nudist colony do you belong to, buddy?"--to which the gentleman counterqueried, "How about another drink?"
He was sent to Gallinger Hospital, for "mental observation." I don't think he was crazy.