Hinsdale residents recall heat waves before air conditioning
Nick Rossi, owner of Nick's Hair Parlor in Hinsdale, remembers what hot summers were like before air conditioning existed. "It was horrible," he says. | Kimberly Fornek~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: August 13, 2012 7:06AM
HINSDALE — As temperatures rose to 100 degrees and beyond last week, officials warned people to limit their time outside and stay in an air-conditioned place. A few decades ago, that was not an option.
Some older people clearly remember the misery of living without air-conditioning.
“It was horrible,” said Nick Rossi, a Hinsdale barber, who grew up in Chicago. “The only place that was air conditioned was the movie house. The floor was always wet. I guess they used ice to cool it, and when it melted, it made the floor slimy.”
“But for 25 cents, you saw two movies, a newsreel and a cartoon,” Rossi, 74, said. “You spent all day in the show. You could fall asleep there.”
Eventually, however, he had to go home.
“We had no fans in the apartment. My mother would pull all the shades and keep the windows open this much,” he said, measuring about a half-inch. “It was passable. At night, you fell asleep out of exhaustion.”
Rossi attended St. Mel’s, a Catholic High School at Madison Street and Kildare Avenue.
“Brother Michael was in third year. If the class wasn’t too bright that day, he’d shut the windows. We’d all sit there and sweat. It was plain horrible.”
“Young people today wouldn’t survive,” Rossi said.
Karen Rutz, 58, said her childhood home in Clarendon Hills was not air conditioned.
“I remember going up in my bedroom. It was so hot, I would just lie there and the perspiration would run off,” Rutz said. “We would put the windows up, but there was no air coming in.”
Hinsdale resident Herbert Briick, 87, grew up in Joliet.
“We had a basement, so we ate down there and some of us would be sleeping in the basement, too.”
He and his siblings would frequent the public swimming pool in Nowell Park and go to Lake Renwick, near Plainfield.
When John Beranek, 58, was growing up in Chicago in the 1960s and 70s, his family lived in a two-story building with no air conditioning. He remembers the “gangways,” the narrow walkway between two houses set close together on a city block.
”If you had a bedroom (on the gangway side) there was no air circulation,” said Beranek, who was enjoying comfortable temperatures in the Corner Bakery in Hinsdale Friday.
Some senior citizens have pleasant memories.
“We would just open all the windows and sleep on the sun porch,” said Kathy Hinton of LaGrange.
In the evening, “we’d sit out on the porch. That was fun, because you always got to have ice cream and visit,” Hinton said.
Schiavitti remembers whenever someone brought home a carton of ice cream, “we’d eat it right away because nobody had a freezer. We’d bring home a pint or a quart, depending on how many people there were and divide it up.”
Clarence Nelson, Jr., who has lived 57 years in Hinsdale, recalls his family, too, cooling off on the front porch of their Chicago home during the warm summer nights of his childhood.
“One of the neighbors had a car with air conditioning, so they would go and drive around,” Nelson said.
Years later, when he was married and living in Hinsdale, Nelson had air conditioning installed in his home.
“We had the house for sale about 1967, and the real estate agent told us, ‘turn on the air conditioning and make it as cold as you can.’ We sold the house the second day.”