Can you fan me please?
The sky is a hard blue. Not a cloud in sight. The sun rises and burns and threatens to set New Orleans afire. People all across the city adjust their thermostats but what if it were the 18th and 19th centuries, how would we beat the heat? The truth is, we would have suffered. There were things people attempted but it would have only helped so much. Our architecture is designed to overcome the heat from raised houses that allow air to circulate beneath to the iconic shotguns, designed to draw a breeze straight through the home. Ten to fifteen high foot ceilings and dormer windows strategically placed in attics help vent the heat. Floor to ceiling windows are ever optimistic of a late summer breeze and galleries somewhat shade homes from the blistering sun. Kitchens were kept separate from the main house partly because of fire and partly to keep the open hearth fires of cooking from elevating the temperatures of houses. The cooking of the day’s meals was often completed prior to sunrise, with most food consumed at room temperature as it was considered overly taxing on the digestive system to eat things hot in the heat. Courtyards were planted not just for sweet smells but also for shade in the hopes of creating oases where one might rest at the noon hour.
Surviving a summer in New Orleans was as much about psychology as anything else and to that end, houses went into summer dress. Expensive furniture was draped in white slip covers for protection as well as the overall feeling of coolness afforded by a room shimmering softly in white. Heavy curtains came down with lighter ones made of lace going up in their stead. Woolen carpets were rolled up with tobacco leaves (the tobacco being an attempt to keep bugs from eating holes in the rugs) and stored away. Seagrass mats went down to protect the floor from mud and dirt. They were easier to clean and had a cooling effect on the room. Chandeliers, whether gas or candle lit were not used in the summer. They, along with picture frames, mirrors, and even beds were draped with netting to keep bugs off the surfaces. That was about all one could do to cool down homes. The heat soared. People and animals moved less and when they did, it was at a much slower pace. The misery set in and prayers for rain rose heavenward… and the long, hot summer marched on.
Crescent City Historic Tours