Whiskey, shoes with holes: How North Carolinians stayed cool before A/C is focus of exhibit

Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Whiskey to beat the heat? How North Carolinians stayed cool before A/C
Whiskey to beat the heat? How North Carolinians stayed cool before A/C

Shoes with holes. A 1920s bathing suit. And an old recipe for "switchel."

These are a few things you'll see at an exhibit at UNC-Chapel Hill, which shows how North Carolinians stayed cool before air conditioning.

The exhibit features an 1866 article from the Wilmington Daily Dispatch that says: "If you feel that you are going to be sun struck, swallow some whiskey the first thing."

But now we know that's not what you should do when you get overheated.

ABC11 Meterologist Chris Hohmann said alcohol is a diuretic, promoting dehydration and interferes with your body's ability to regulate its own temperature.

Lead curator Linda Jacobson showed ABC11 an old recipe for a summertime drink called switchel. The popular drink in the 1600s contained apple cider vinegar, water, ginger and molasses.

"Water could be and was believed to be unsafe to drink," she said.

She said the drink was especially used for field workers.

"To help energize them and give them a little bit of hydration while they're working in the fields," she said.

Alison Barnett, who helped organize the exhibit, showed ABC11 shoes with holes that were used in the 1940s and 50s to stay cool. Sounds similar to Crocs, right?

"It definitely helped with ventilation, and was a great way to at least air out the feet when walking around, to try to stay cool," she said.

The exhibit shows some early fans and has information about how the term "air conditioning" was coined in North Carolina in 1906 by Stuart Cramer.

"He introduced some early form of A/C into his textile mill and then began selling it to other textile mills across the South," Jacobson said.

The free exhibit called "Beating the Heat Surviving NC Summers Before Air Conditioning" will be at Wilson Special Collections Library until Sept. 29.

More information here.