Western Springs residents recall long, hot summers
Mary Schulman of Western Springs (left to right), Joyce Schmitz of LaGrange Park, and Lynn Druckman, the mah jong instructor at the Western Springs Community Center, recall how people coped before air conditioning. | Kimberly Fornek~Sun-Times Media
- Did cooler air bring less neighborhood interaction?
- LaGrange Park seniors got creative in keeping cool before air conditioning
- Hinsdale residents recall heat waves before air conditioning
- Clarendon Hills residents recall life before air conditioning
- Oak Brook residents recall life before air-conditioning
- Burr Ridge residents recall life before air-conditioning
- POLL: Where would you miss air conditioning the most?
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:41AM
WESTERN SPRINGS — 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.
“My parents and I pulled our mattresses out on the roof,” said Shirley Beal, a former Western Springs resident who grew up on a farm just north of Streator, Ill. “It was a flat roof with tar. We tried that for two or three nights in a row.
“Then we moved the mattresses out in the front yard,” Beal, in her 80s, said. “At the time, we had 13 cats, and they all came and slept with us, which made it a lot hotter.”
Former Western Springs resident Betty Stephens, 91, remembers her family camped out together on the living room floor with fans to sleep during heat waves in Elgin.
“The thing I remember the most is using paper fans from the funeral parlor. They were everywhere, including in church right next to the hymn books,” Stephens said.
Taking the streetcar for 5 cents to see a movie or go to the swimming pool also were popular ways to beat the heat, Stephens said.
A few years after moving to Western Springs in 1952, Stephens remembered installing a window air conditioner in her bedroom.
“Then we got one for the kids’ rooms and for the downstairs, but we’d blow a fuse,” she said. “Then we had to have the house rewired.”
Stephens also remembers contributing to help build the Field Club pool in Western Springs and buying a family membership for years.
With the help of his sister, Griffeth made his own swimming hole by damming up a creek running through his family’s farm. He didn’t escape soaring temperatures by heading to a movie, because films were shown outside on Saturday nights.
Lynn Druckman, 76, who was teaching mah jong at the Western Springs Community Center Friday, believes she lived in an air-conditioned home for the first time in the late 1950s.
“I had to have been married,” Druckman said. “I think it was in that apartment we had when I had my first child.”
“You’d think when you get air-conditioning all of a sudden, it would be a big ‘aha,’” but Druckman, who was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., doesn’t remember it that way.
She remembers going to the beach at Coney Island and swimming in the ocean.
“We would spend a lot of time down there at the beach,” she said.
And Druckman said her cousin who had a car would pick up her sister and her and take them for a drive to cool off in the evening.
“Being in Brooklyn, we could drive along the shore,” she said.
Some senior citizens have pleasant memories of the years before air conditioning became commonplace.
“We would just open all the windows and sleep on the sun porch,” said Kathy Hinton of La Grange.
“We did, too. We had a big porch with lots of windows,” said Dolly Schiavitti, who lives in Western Springs, but grew up in Chicago.
“When it was extremely hot, we’d eat in the basement. We had a table down there that we set up,” said Hinton, who spent her childhood in Toronto.
In the evening, “we’d sit out on the porch. That was fun, because you always got to have ice cream and visit.”
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.”
Chris Novak, who was with Schiavitti and Hinton at the Western Springs Community Center Friday, remembers playing with her paper dolls under a shady tree to stay cool.
All three remember trips to the Great Lakes.
I spent a lot of time at Lake Michigan,” said Novak, who grew up in Sheboygan, Wis. “It was always cooler at the lake.”
“My mother would drive us to Lake Ontario on the weekend,” Hinton said.
And, of course, the children could play with the garden hose to cool off.
“That hasn’t changed,” Novak said.