Edward Kohn

  • Aired:  08/18/10
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Edward Kohn discusses Theodore Roosevelt's bold move to save the lives of poor people on the Lower East Side during a 10-day heat wave. (5:34)

>> Jon: WELCOME BACK.

MY GUEST TONIGHT AN HISTORIAN

WHOSE NEW BOOK IS CALLED HOT

TIME IN THE OLD TOWN, THE GREAT

HEAT WAVE OF 18896 -- 186996 AND

THE MAKING OF THEODORE

ROOSEVELT.

PLEASE WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM

EDWARD KOHN.

[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]

"HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN: THE

GREAT HEAT WAVE OF 1896 AND THE

MAKING OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT."

YOU MAKE IT SOUND LIKE HE IS AN

ICE SCULPTURE.

>> ICE DOES PLAY A ROLE IN THIS.

IT WAS A LIFE SAVING LUXURY AT

THE TIME AND HE CHAMPIONED THE

IDEA OF GIVING AWAY FREE ICE TO

THE POOR ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE.

>> Jon: THAT'S HOW HE MADE HIS

BONES.

THIS HEAT WAVE RELATED TO THE

HEAT WAVE WE HAD THIS SUMMER IN

TERMS OF TEMPERATURE.

LRN 103, 104 HIGH HUMIDITY.

IS THAT ABOUT RIGHT?

>> THAT IS ABOUT RIGHT.

THE PAST SUMMER WE'VE HAD IT

PRETTY BAD.

THREE DAY HEAT WAVES, THIS WAS

TEN DAYS, A WEEK AND A HALF OF

TEMPERATURES WELL INTO THE 90s

AT STREET LEAVE -- LEVEL AND

INSIDE THE TENMENTS ON THE LOWER

EAST SIDE THE TEMPERATURE COULD

EASILY REACH 120 DEGREES.

>> Jon: IT'S CRAZY.

THE WEATHERMAN, THE GUY WHO KEPT

CALLING IN, WOULD SAY IT WAS

LIKE 90 DEGREES AND LEFT HALF

WAY THROUGH IT AND WENT TO

MONTAUK.

>> THE OFFICIAL WEATHER GUYS WAS

TAKING THE READINGS ABOVE STREET

LEVEL.

WHENEVER THE NEW YORKERS READ

THEM THEY WERE LAUGH.

THEY WERE COMPLETELY

UNREALISTIC.

>> Jon: PEOPLE BY THE

THOUSANDS DIED DURING THIS.

>> THAT'S RIGHT.

1300 PEOPLE DIED DURING THIS

TEN-DAY HEAT WAVE, MOST OF THEM

THE WORKING POOR LIVING IN

TENMENTS ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE.

THEY WORKED THEMSELVES TO DEATH.

>> Jon: WEREN'T THERE

COMPLAINTS THAT THEY CONTRIBUTED

TO THEIR OWN DEATH BY BEING ON

THE ROOF.

THE ROOFS BAKED THEM AND MADE SO

IT THEY COULDN'T WORK AS WELL.

>> ONE PART OF THIS IS THAT THE

CITY DOES VIRTUALLY NOTHING

DURING THE HEAT WAVE.

ONE OF THE SIMPLEST THINGS THEY

COULD HAVE DONE WAS TO LIFT THE

BAN BY SLEEPING IN PARKS.

THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WENT TO

CENTRAL PARK, GOTTEN A BREATH OF

FRESH AIR.

NEW YORKERS SLEPT IN THE

STREETS, SIDEWALKS, GARBAGE

PWEUPBZ AND ON THE ROOFTOPS,

MADE OF BLACK TAR PAPER THAT

CONTINUED TO RADIATE HEAT DURING

THE NIGHT.

LOTS OF PEOPLE FELL TO THEIR

DEATHS.

>> Jon: ROSE VOLT AT THAT TIME

MADE A BOLD MOVE.

HE SAID WHAT IF WE TRIED TO SAVE

POOR PEOPLE'S LIVES.

[LAUGHTER]

>> SHOCKING IDEA.

>> Jon: WHAT IF THE GOVERNMENT

MAYBE WENT TO THESE -- AT THAT

TIME THERE WAS A BIG PROBLEM

WITH ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS,

OBVIOUSLY, THE IRISH.

[LAUGHTER]

THEY APPARENTLY NOW FIT IN.

>> MORE OR LESS.

>> Jon: BUT BACK THEN WERE

AGITATED AGAINST.

THEY COULDN'T BUILD IRISH

CHURCHES OR I GUESS PUBS AS THEY

WOULD CALL THEM.

[LAUGHTER]

THERE WAS ANTI-IRISH SENTIMENT.

IT HAS NO BEARING ON TODAY.

WE'VE MOVED PAST THAT SORT OF

THING.

[LAUGHTER]

DID HE TAKE ANY -- WAS IT

DIFFICULT FOR HIM POLITCALLY TO

GET THIS TYPE OF PROGRESSIVE

MOVE MOVEMENT GOING?

>> ABSOLUTELY.

THIS WAS A TIME WHERE GOVERNMENT

AT ALL LEVELS ABSOLUTELY REJECTS

ANY RESPONSIBILITY FOR

INTERVENING INTO THE ECONOMY,

FOR ALLEVIATING THE PHRAOEULGT

OF THE POOR.

WHAT IMPRESSED ME WAS AT THE END

OF THE DAY IT WASN'T IMMIGRANT

WORKERS ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE

GOING TO VOTE FOR BROWNSTONE

BORN REPUBLICAN ROOSEVELT BUT

THIS WAS REAL AT TOURISM BY

ROOSEVELT.

HE TOURED THE WORST TENEMENT

DISTRICTS IN ON THE EAST SIDE TO

SEE WHAT THEY DID WITH THE ICE.

HE WATCHED AS MOTHERS WRAPPED

ICE AROUND THE FOREHEADS OF THE

BABIES.

HOW MANY PRESIDENTS BESIDES

BARACK OBAMA HAVE HAD SUCH

INTERMENT CONTACT WITH THE URBAN

POOR.

>> Jon: NIXON HAD A PARTICLON

GAME WHERE HE WOULD WRAP BABIES

HEADS IN ICE.

I BELIEVE IT WAS CONSIDERED

THANKSGIVING ENTERTAINMENT.

>> DIDN'T KNOW THAT.

>> Jon: I'M AN HISTORIAN.

WILLIAMS JENNINGS BRYANT

INTERSECTS AT THIS TIME.

HE COMES TO NEW YORK AT THE SAME

TIME.

THIS UNFORTUNATELY THIS IS THE

RUINATION OF HIS CAREER.

>> THAT'S RIGHT.

HE HAS WON THE DEMOCRATIC

NOMINATION JUST A MONTH BEFORE.

UNFORTUNATELY FOR HIM -- HE IS A

WESTERN POPULOUS.

HE REPRESENTS FARMERS AND AGRI

INTERESTS.

PEOPLE IN THE EAST AND NEW YORK

WERE SKEPTICAL OF HIS

NOMINATION.

HE TAKES THE BOLD MOVE DECIDING

TO COME TO NEW YORK, A PLACE HE

REFERS TO AS THE ENEMY'S

COUNTRY.

HE DOES THIS AT THE HEIGHT OF

HEAT WAVE TO GIVE A RALLY IN

MADISON SQUARE GARDEN.

>> Jon: THEY THINK THEY ARE

GOING TO GET ANOTHER CROSS OF

GOLD SPEECH.

THEY DON'T GET IT.

TWO MINUTES INTO THE SPEECH WHAT

HAPPENS?

>> THOUSANDS OF NEW YORKERS

BEGIN TO LEAVE AND EVEN THE

SYMPATHETIC DEMOCRATIC PAPERS

SAY THE SPEECH WAS AN ABSOLUTE

FAILURE.

>> Jon: AND THAT WAS THE END

OF THAT.

>> THAT WAS THE END OF THAT.

>> Jon: IT'S A FASCINATING

CONFLEWENCE OF ALL DIFFERENT

THINGS AND AL GORE'S CRUSADE

AGAINST TKPWORPLG AT THE TIME

STILL NOT SUCCESSFUL.

[LAUGHTER]

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