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Hottest Day in the History of Dayton


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, May 14, 1933

Hottest Day in the History of Dayton

By Howard Burba


     Even if you could eliminate the fact that it was in the year 1881 that the bullet of an assassin plowed its way through the body of a president of the United States, that year still would remain memorable in Dayton history.

     The hottest stage of weather ever known in this city was recorded early in July, 1881, and old-timers who still vividly recall it are justified in saying: “Buddy, it sure was hot!”

     All through June there had been little rain.  Then came July with a sun which seemed to increase its melting tendencies as each day rolled by.  The Fourth of July was celebrated in a sane way that year because it was too hot for the average citizen to muster up enough energy to keep a palm-leaf fan in motion much less to march in a parade.  Fireworks were confined to the ranks of the small boy.   It was so hot older people didn’t want to see anything that resembled fire.

     But Dayton managed to survive that torrid Fourth of July, and to struggle through the scorching hours which continued during the two following days.  Then, on July 7, their daily paper began to make matters worse by reminding them just how hot it was.  And undertakers began to note an increase in business.  On July 7 we find this brief item, a hint as it were of the distressing conditions then prevailing:

     “Pasture fields begin to show the need of a good rain.  The dry weather has been favorable for harvest, which is about completed.  New wheat is already on the market and is bringing $1.10 a bushel.  Tobacco and corn also show the effect of the dry weather.”

     But it was not until the following day that the mercury hit the one-hundred-in-the –shade mark.  From that time on for three days, without a break, Dayton sweltered under the most merciless sun it has ever faced in a like period.  Let’s get a true picture of the actual suffering local citizens experienced on July 10, 11 and 12 of the memorable year of 1881.  Here is that picture as a local paper described it:

     “When the mercury ranged 106 in the shade, as it did yesterday, your reporter stopped in front of Schwind’s brewery in Dayton View (now the site of Riverview park) wiped the streams of perspiration from his brow, wrung out his handkerchief and panted for breath.  It seemed as if his too-solid flesh would melt and resolve itself into the streams of fat.

     “A puff of fresh air came from the doorway of the brewery, and the reporter leaned forward to breathe just as a very fat-faced man who weighs no less than 250 pounds stepped to the door.  Under ordinary circumstances such a bulk of human flesh would have been fatal on such a hot day.  But Mr. Lewis Schwind, who stood there, looked as comfortable as if he had never had an idea of hot weather.

     “How do you keep cool? Asked the reporter.

     Come in and I’ll show you,” was the reply.

     “The reporter followed him down the steps to the cellar where he encountered several immense tanks, and two or three kegs of beer.  Everything was as moist, damp and cool as if it were in the bottom of a well and never heard of the sun.  Half a dozen men ran about with heavy clothing on and not a drop of perspiration.  The thermometer in the room registered 35 degrees.”

     But the reporter could not spend his entire time in the brewery, much as he probably would have liked to do.  He had to get out and take the sun, to take his shade as he found it while tramping pavements so hot an egg could have been fried upon them.  That he found no relief on the following day is apparent from this statement, penned by the self-same hand:

     “Such continued and excessive heat as that of the past few days has never been known in Dayton.  The thermometers have recorded for the past three days 100 degrees and upward.  Yesterday was probably the warmest of those days, though at times a slight breeze cooled the air.  But the report from various localities was from 104 to 106 in places shaded from the sun.  The nights are hardly more endurable.  The mercury sinking only 10 or 12 degrees leaves the temperature still among the 90’s so that sleep is almost an impossibility.  The surrounding country shows very greatly the need of rain.

     “Cincinnati reported nine fatal cases of sunstroke yesterday, and 201 deaths for the week, of which over half were young children.  The intense heat is extremely severe on infants who are unable to make known their troubles.

     “The first sunstroke reported in Dayton was that of Louie Berlin, an employe of the Haas Paper Mills in “Texas” (now North Dayton.)  He was affected by the heat Friday.  He insisted on returning to work yesterday but became very sick, dying a few hours after being removed to his home.

     “Coroner Daugherty was called to hold an inquest on the body of David Doran who was found dead in bed at the boarding house at 1329 E. Third st., kept by John Maddy.  He pronounced death due to the effects of heat.

     “Phil Urbane, member of the Fourth Regiment band, succumbed to the heat yesterday afternoon.  He was sitting in the yard of his residence on Wayne av. when he fell from his chair, and was taken into the house, dying in the course of an hour.

     “The police were notified yesterday afternoon that a colored man was dying in an alley leading into Bainbridge st.  The coroner was summoned but the man was dead when he arrived.

     “Frank Lissigniolia, an Italian who has a confectionery on Fifth st., near Brown, was taken with severe pains in the head and obliged to leave work.  He died three hours later.

     “Oscar Rechter, a young man employed in Frank’s Dye House on St. Clair st. was fatally prostrated by the excessive heat and died last evening.  At the time of the prostration he was at church.  Going home he lived but a few hours.

     “The announcement of the death of Dr. William O. Reim from the effects of the excessive heat occasioned great surprise.  Dr. Reim was a man of peculiar ways; extreme bluntness of speech and eccentric in manner, he was often misunderstood.  But when he was known and to those he had served as family physician he was regarded with reverence and respect.  He stated at 5 o’clock that he would take a bath before driving into the country to see a patient.  When his daughter went to call him at 6 o’clock it was found that he had succumbed to the heat.

     “An elderly lady was prostrated on the corner of Second and Jefferson sts., last evening a 8 o’clock.  A soldier was also found lying on Fifth st.  He died soon after being taken to the Soldiers’ home.

     “At 1 a. m. today two more cases were reported in Miami City.  A Mrs. Rumpf and a Mrs. Swaynie both died suddenly from heat prostration suffered during the night.”

     But that second day of the intense and unprecedented heat wave was not the end.  The following day found even a greater number falling beneath the wilting sun.  The reporter resumed the chronicling of the casualty list, and undertakers continued to work desperately to answer all of their calls.

     Joseph Hirsch, a driver employed by the J. D. Whitmore Coal Co., was overcome when he returned from the funeral of a heat victim, and died during the night.

     Marie Duval, an elderly lady living in “Oregon,” was stricken and lived but an hour.

     Mrs. Kate Dillion, an old resident of W. Second st., was overcome while returning from work at a paper mill.  Taken home, she died before morning.

     James Stumps, a clerk in Galbraith’s feed store in E. Fifth st., was stricken while at work baling hay.  Death followed a few hours later.

     Andrew Smith, employed at the Mitchell tannery on St. Clair st., succumbed to the heat and was taken home in a dying condition.

     Charles Hess, a German, employed at the car works, was forced to quit his labors during the day.  He started home, but fell while on Terry st.  He was dead before medical assistance could be secured.

     Mrs. Titts, an elderly woman, dropped dead at her home on Miami st.

     A soldier at the home, just after eating his dinner, fell to the floor of the dining room.  He was carried to the hospital nearby, but never regained consciousness.

     Alex Haughey, war veteran, was found dead in bed at his boarding house on S. Ludlow.  Coroner Daugherty pronounced death due to the effects of heat.

     Mrs. Catherine Hughes, widow of Major Hughes, widely known Daytonian, was so overcome by the rays of the sun that she succumbed within an hour after being prostrated.

     Mrs. Kate Kenny, residing on E. Second st., near Beckel, was still another victim.  Coroner Daugherty was called and rendered the same verdict which had by this time come to be a familiar one to local citizens—death from heat prostration.

     The coroner was also summoned in the case of a laboring man named Slattery who lived in the eastern part of the city and who had succumbed to sunstroke.

     An unknown man was found lying on a street in the East End.  He was taken to the hospital where he died.  There was nothing on his person to furnish identification.

     Many prostrations were reported, some finally resulting in death.  But to have chronicled all of these would have over taxed the reportorial and mechanical power of the newspaper.  When the editor said a few days later, in reviewing the siege, that “people fell on the streets like flies,” he evidently could not have been far wrong.  Not since the cholera scourge, which swept the city away back in the ’thirties, had such an epidemic of death been recorded in a single period of three days.

     Here, for instance, is the thermometer reading for one day of those record-breaking three:

     8 a. m……………..100                      2 p. m…………....104

     9 a .m …………….102                      3 p. m……………101

    10 a. m…………….104                       4 p. m……………102

    11 a. m…………….105                       5 p. m…………….99

    12 noon……………106                       6 p. m…………….96

     1 p. m……………..105                      7 p. m…………….94


     To that fine sense of humor which characterized the journalist of 1881 may be attributed much of the effect of maintaining public morale in such a trying time.  The editor of one of the local papers insisted on trying to divert attention from the torridity of each succeeding day by supplying a fresh assortment of wisecracks.  Glancing over his column we find such rare examples as these:

     “It would be refreshing to hear of somebody freezing to death!”

     “A mere diaper would be about the best thing to work in nowadays.  Then you could work ‘on the square’.”

     “The coolest building in the city is the old courthouse.  There the temperature is never above 90.  It’s always hotter than that at the courthouse just before a November election.”

     To put the story in plain figures, there was a total of 42 deaths in three days.  Many stricken during the week succumbed later on.  But the casualty list, confined strictly to those who deaths were directly due to excessive heat, was fixed by the newspapers at 42—an average of 14 deaths a day for three consecutive days.

     Then the heat wave was broken by a heavy downpour of rain.  It could not be forgotten.  Seared lawns, wilted vegetation, new-made mounds in local cemeteries would not permit of that.  But there was a spirit of rejoicing as the rain descended and the thermometer settled itself back in the ’nineties and cool breezes following the sunset brought relief.

     With a new high record established one would naturally suppose that the old query, “Is it hot enough for you!” was the only one on the lips of Dayton citizens in July, 1881.  Yet that wasn’t the case at all.  You see the nation had been visited by one of its most tragic events, but a week before the intense heat wave broke over this city.  President James A. Garfield had been shot down on July 2 as he was preparing to board a train at the Baltimore and Potomac depot in Washington City.  That served to detract attention from the extreme heat yet, undoubtedly, contributed much to the mental suffering.  Every hour brought a fresh bulletin from the bedside of the stricken president, and Dayton prayed with each new favorable report that the nation’s chief executive would survive.    Your history will bear out the story of unparalleled temperatures of that summer of 1881, for history records that following the shooting of Garfield it was so intensely oppressive in Washington City that his physicians ordered him removed to Elberton, N. J., where lower temperatures would add to his fighting chances for recovery.

     It was not until Garfield died, on Sept. 19, however, that someone recalled a Dayton slant to his assassination.  Charles Guiteau, the assassin, was remembered as a visitor in Dayton in the year 1878, less than three years previous to the tragic event.  The editor of a local paper received a communication signed by a clerk in the Winters bank, the statements therein having been verified before its dispatch to the newspaper office.  Here is a copy of the note as it appeared in the local paper:

     “Charles G. Guiteau, the assassin of President James A. Garfield, will be remembered by many citizens of Dayton as a man of medium size, light complexion, apparently 35 years of age, who about three years ago wanted to deliver a lecture here in reply to Ingersoll.  He was also selling a pamphlet published by himself, the title of which reads as follows:

     “’A reply to recent attacks on the Bible, together with some valuable ideas of Christ’s second coming and the Hades of resting places of the dead.  By Charles J. Guiteau, a Chicago lawyer.  Syracuse, N. Y., Masters and Stone, Printers; University Block, 1878.’

     “Guiteau called a the bank several times to see Mr. Valentine Winters and represented himself as a lawyer from Chicago.  His story was that from conscientious motives he had abandoned his profession, for the time at least, and was engaged in religious work.  His special mission he said was to counteract the labors of Col. Ingersoll by lecturing through the country and selling his pamphlets.  He had then at the express office in Dayton a large package of these pamphlets, which had been forwarded c.o.d. to him by his publishers.  Being out of money, owing to two or three failures of audiences at his lectures in other cities, he needed some money to take out his pamphlets from the express office.  He asked a loan from Mr. Winters and said he would repay from his first sales.

     “Mr. Winters gave him the money—about $16—and he got his package from the express office and took it to the bank and opened it.  He then took a handful of the pamphlets and started out to sell them.  I saw a number of people buying them and reading them.

     “Nothing more was seen of Guiteau, but in a few days Mr. Winters had a letter from him dated at some town in Indiana.  He enclosed $5 and asked Mr. Winters to send the remaining pamphlets to him by express, which he did.  And that was the last heard of Charles Guiteau by Dayton people until the news came that he had shot the president.  The pamphlet is a curious, incoherent medley of stuff and in reading it one would readily recognize that it originated in an addled brain.  No one can read the pamphlet without seeing that the man was crazy who wrote it.”

     It was a memorable July, that July of 1881, bringing as it did two outstanding events, both tragic in their nature.  We have witnessed the assassination of a president since the passing of the beloved Garfield.  But we have not witnessed a heat wave of three days’ duration to approach the one recounted here.

     There has been one day –and only one—in the history of Dayton when the temperature soared above the old mark.  On July 22, 1901, an all-time high mark of 108 was recorded by the United States weather bureau in Dayton.  But only once in history have there been three successive days when, on each day, it climbed to 106 as it did on July 10,11 and 12 of the year 1881.