Keeping Cool

July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

The quest to keep cool is universal. Like other well-to-do women of their day, Susan and her mother sought escape from the Springfield summers by traveling to a cooler climate. In August of 1899 Susan and her mother were in Oregon where Susan’s husband Edwin was supervising mining operations for her father Rheuna. Rheuna remained in the Springfield family home (the same house that Frank Lloyd Wright would “remodel” in a few years) with Susan’s grandmother and cousin Flora. He wrote letters almost daily to Susan, and excerpts from two of those letters describe how the Springfield branch of the family coped with the heat using brand new technology–electricity.

August 5, 1899:

Our electric fixtures are all right with slight exceptions in one or two of them. I got a fan. It makes noise, but it makes lots of wind. Mrs. Maxcy [Susan’s maternal grandmother] has it in use much of the time. When it is hot, she lays down on the lounge, and Flora starts the fan, and she sleeps for hours. She is in love with it. Talks fan all the time.

August 11, 1899:

It is one of the damp hot sticky days. It has been hot for several days. I tell you the electric fan is a good thing. Mrs. Maxcy likes it greatly. It makes a great change in the house.

I could challenge Rheuna’s last sentence. I’m old enough to remember living with electric fans throughout the house in a futile search for some relief from the heat. Then new technology evolved. Theaters began to be air conditioned, and we flocked to the movies. The lure of cool air was as attractive as the film that was on the screen. Soon other commercial establishments were attracting customers with air conditioning, and then window units for the home became available. I remember vividly the summer our young family worked, played, ate, and slept in the one room in our house that had a window air conditioner.

Today cool is a life style. Virtually everyplace, including Rheuna’s “remodeled” home and its carriage house, has central air conditioning. Each time I lead tours at the Dana-Thomas House during this prolonged heat wave, I am grateful that the effort to maintain historical accuracy at the House did not extend to electric fans.

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