Mostly it's about dashing from one oasis of cool, air-conditioned air to the next. I commute by train from my suburban home, and most of the time the air-conditioning works. But not always, and when it doesn't, you arrive at work sticky and snarling at the world. Note: SEPTA usually claims it's due to "overhead wires sagging from the heat." One of their list of creative excuses. What about the passengers sagging from the heat?
William Penn tried to do things right by insisting that there be five parks evenly distributed in his "Greene Country towne." Fairmount Park, which came later, is bigger than New York's Central Park (and, by the way, was designed by the same person, Frederick Law Olmstead). It has all sorts of wonderful treasures, including the country's oldest zoo–but you might want to wait until summer's over to visit.
Those of us who work in Center City do not get to enjoy the lovely green grass and trees–instead we schlep our way down concrete canyons, where the asphalt sucks up the sun's heat and throws it back in your face. But at least it makes you appreciate an air-conditioned building when you reach one.
The Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, where I work, is air-conditioned. Sort of. It was built in a day when such things were non-existent or at best new-fangled and unpredictable. Wonder what the "gentlemen" of the city did in the summer? Well, first they brought out their summer seersucker suits, which are definitely cooler than wool. They moved slowly and sipped summer drinks with lots of ice. When that wasn't enough, they took themselves down to "The Shore" (yes, that one, but not quite the same neighborhood that Snooki and pals have made notorious) to their summer places, where they could catch cool breezes on the veranda of their Victorian hulks overlooking the sea.
The hoi polloi had to make do with day trips to suburban parks, and there were trolley lines to get them there. Willow Grove Amusement Park was one of them. That opened in 1890, and John Phillip Sousa was a regular performer there. Now it's a mall.
The Society was built solidly and its wall are thick, so it takes a while for heat to penetrate. It's not quite right for our paper-based collections, which really like steady temperatures, not too damp, not too dry, and our heating and cooling systems aren't quite what we'd like them to be. But we're working on it.
Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself, trudging through the city streets in the midst of a wicked heat wave, I remind myself of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I'm going to assume that you all know that event took place at Independence Hall, only a few blocks from the Society). As the story goes, the men (yes, it was all men) drafting the document were so paranoid about word getting out about what they were doing, that they nailed the windows shut. In Philadelphia, in July. I don't recall any mention of whether any of them passed out. I hope that at least they were permitted to take their coats off. And their vests. And maybe their wigs?
So I figure, if they could tough it out and produce the Declaration, who am I to whine about a little heat? It can't last much longer. Can it? Nell Pratt