Life Pre-A.C.


This fashion plate is dated July 1857. Long-sleeves in JULY?!

​It's Riverfest Regatta weekend in my hometown of Augusta, Kentucky this weekend, which means a visit from what are affectionately called the "Small Stacks" - several paddlewheel boats reminiscent of the 1800s hey-day. Riverfest Regatta also means a visit from the most unbearable weather ever to grace a planet. It's hot. Miserably hot. Last year, we had blistering hot days followed by evenings of violent storms that upended trees. Naturally, the High Heat of Summer often invokes a stream of queries regarding my attire and how on Earth did the human race survive before the creation of that most blessed of inventions - namely, air-conditioning.

To beat the heat, those clever Romans used aqueducts to circulate cool water through the walls of their home. Another tried and true method was to build dwellings underground or construct really thick walls with high ceilings. In fact, our very own Baker-Bird winery uses this know-how and, as a result, is one of the coolest places to visit on even the hottest of days.

Naturally, living in a river town, we have the means of cooling off literally on our doorstep. However, if there is one unassailable truth about ladies' fashion in the 1800s, it is this: Modesty prevails every time. Certainly, I could sneak down to the river bank in my skivvies but I'd soon be considered no better than those harlots over at the Parkview Saloon. And yes, I could have a bathing smock made up but in addition to being ugly, they are made of heavy flannel and cover everything. Wrist to ankle to neck. I'd expire from the heat before taking two steps from my front door.

My Mama used to hang her wet laundry in the doorway. Not only would the river breeze dry her laundry, but she'd cool down a room or two in the process. And when there was ice in the icehouse, Mama would refrigerate the sheets and our underlinen.

Let me tell you, there are no words to describe the sensation of stepping into chilled pantaloons in the dawn of a summer morning.

So, folks have been coming up with clever ways to keep cool for centuries. However, it won't be until 1902 that Willis Carrier invents the first modern air-conditioning system. Until then, you'll find me sitting on my shaded veranda, wielding a very large fan.


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