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Remembering 1936 -- the year the sun tried to kill us

If you thought last week was hot, wait until you hear about the summer of 1936.

If you thought last week was hot, wait until you hear about the summer of 1936. The Minneapolis Star, July 15, 1936

Remember last week? Neither do we. Mostly because it was hot as balls and we were too miserable to think straight.

We wouldn’t blame you if you got close to the end of your rope around Wednesday.

We've seen worse. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota's harshest heat wave in recorded history lasted from July 5 to July 18, 1936.

The entire nation was smothered by a blanket of high pressure that covered everything east of the Rockies. The Midwest was blasted by air straight from the Sonoran Desert, and the Twin Cities saw 90-degree weather – or higher – for a mind-numbing 14 days straight. Eight of those days climbed above 100 degrees.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time. The Great Depression was in full swing. Fields were already stricken by drought. Days of hot, dry air only made things worse, and throughout those hellish two weeks, it scarecly rained a drop.

Of course, nobody in 1936 had an air conditioner. Even fans were a limited commodity. The Minnesota Historical Society has photos of St. Paul residents sprawling out on park benches or laying out on picnic blankets overnight to escape the suffocating stillness in their homes.

People tried to have a little fun with their uncontrollable circumstances. Two men employed at a water treatment plant at Pig’s Eye decided to see if they could fry an egg on the concrete. According an article that appeared in the Pioneer Press at the time, they absolutely could.

On Tuesday, July 14, 1936, the Minneapolis Tribune noted that the Minneapolis School Board had adjourned the previous night’s meeting because they couldn’t bear to sit in one sweltering room for hours.

“The city of Minneapolis officially recognized Monday that it is hot,” the paper surmised dryly.

By the time those stories had come out, the heat had already claimed several lives.

“Demand for public and private ambulances throughout the city [of Minneapolis] was terrific,” that same edition of the Tribune read. “On an average of every eight minutes an ambulance rolled up to General hospital Monday with one or more heat victims.” Many were dead upon arrival. By the end of the day, so many had been lost that the paper could only report names, not addresses.

As many as 240 people in the city would die before it was over. Morgues were “packed.” They joined the ranks of 900 dead in the entire state, and 5,000 across the nation.

“By any measure, this is one of Minnesota’s worst weather events on record,” the Department of Natural Resource’s recent post on the 1936 heat wave says.

So, stay cool, and remember to take care of one another. Just because we haven’t seen the likes of the 1936 heat wave since doesn’t mean we never will.