Sure, it's hot out, but at least it's not like 1911

·4 min read

Jun. 29—It's been sizzling lately, no question about it, but Maine has seen worse.

In 1911, in what may have been the worst weather crisis in the region's history, a July heat wave that cooked the entire Eastern seaboard left Lewiston scorched, with factories shutting down and people collapsing.

"Old Sol started in to warm up the first day of July and he's been busy ever since," the Lewiston Evening Journal reported, adding that the days grew ever more scorching.

Everybody "suffered as never before," the Journal said in its July 11 edition.

"Never was there a worse night in the history of Lewiston and Auburn" than the one that began after an exhausting, humid day on Monday, July 10, it said, hitting a steamy overnight low of 75 degrees.

The thermometer at E. N. Hutchins' livery stable on Canal Street reached 110 degrees that Monday. At J.L. Frost's store in New Auburn, a dozen thermometers on display in the window broke when they got too hot — the same thing that happened to a weather observer in Farmington.

Blacktop melted on the streets of Hartford, Connecticut. Horses dropped dead all over Manhattan. Boston Common became, as one observer put it, the "biggest boardinghouse in New England."

One headline proclaimed, "Great Suffering under the Blazing Sun."

"If you don't believe it is hot — but there's no one in his right mind who doubts it — just go onto the street and see the wilted, red-faced, perspiring mass of people gasping for a real, bona fide breath of fresh air," the paper said. "Everyone looks haggard and worn."

The Journal said that hundreds of people were sleeping outside, factories closing down early and mothers were scrounging for milk because of a weather-induced shortage.

As the parched humanity of the Twin Cities sought help, ice cream and soda shops were doing a bang-up business, the paper said.

In those days before air conditioning, the best hope for long-term relief was an electric fan. But they were tough to come by.

Dealers found they couldn't get any from distributors or manufacturers, the paper said, so it proved "impossible to buy an electric fan."

"The condition brought much distress," the Journal noted, "especially in some newspaper offices."

John Hanley, a night watchman in the paper's building, may have died from the heat, the paper said. The good-natured, 50-year-old Irish immigrant was found early one morning lying on the floor of the packing room of the Bates Street Shirt Co., which rented space in the paper's building.

The hot weather claimed the life of a young mother in Auburn, the paper said, along with at least two others alleged to have fallen victim to heat stroke. A baby was said to have died as well.

E.S. Paul & Co., a department store on Lisbon Street, shifted its advertising for an annual summer sale — offering corsets as low as 39 cents — to tell customers, "Don't stay away just because the weather is hot because the prices are so low that the savings you make will allow you to buy a lot of ice."

The hot weather, it insisted, had "melted our prices."

The Journal urged people with symptoms of heat stroke to have ice water sprinkled on their chests and ice rubbed all over them.

The paper mentioned that Lewiston was lucky to have a municipal ice plant so that it wasn't forking over $25 a ton for ice like Pittsburgh did to help cope with the heat wave.

The Lewiston Daily Sun said "the ice man" was reaping profits, anyway, selling a dollar's worth of ice when he would typically only be getting a dime.

The Journal found the heat proved a boon to the parasol trade as residents sought to provide themselves with shade.

The Sun said that people were riding the trolley to cool off as well, forking over a nickel to enjoy the breeze as the trolleys whizzed along.

The Sun said that Lewiston's City Park, since renamed Kennedy Park, was proving "a decided asset to the suffering," with children filling the playgrounds and others occupying the benches day and night.

Even a couple of criminals on the lam complained about conditions.

When thieves William Hughes and Jerry Trepanier escaped from the Auburn jail on July 10, they tried to slip across the Maine Central Railroad Bridge, where officers hidden in the bushes snagged them.

Hughes said it was just as well.

"We have suffered with the heat, mosquitoes and brown tail moths today," he said, "and go back to jail without a murmur. It will be a paradise (compared) to what we have been through."

At least two women at the Cushman-Hollis shoe factory in Auburn collapsed at their posts due to the heat and so did two employees of the Great Department Store, the paper said. One of the department store workers, Mae Cragin, returned the next day only to fall victim once again to the heat. They all recovered.

Eventually, the weather turned, as it always does.

But that July was long remembered.

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