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East Side Story: 1943

East Side Story: 1943

New York, June 1943. "Children escape the heat of the East Side by using fire hydrant as a shower bath." View full size. Photograph by Roger Smith.


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Hydrants of summer

I grew up on Longfellow Avenue in the Bronx during the 50s and invariably some kid would get a board with a hexagon cut out on one edge as a makeshift wrench, then the board was used to direct the water flow. Word of the open hydrant would spread and kids from other blocks came running to get soaked and most did not take time to don a bathing suit unless it was right in front of their building, because of the risk of the fire department coming and shutting it off. Predominant nationalities there at that time i think were Jewish, Black and Puerto Rican. It might be the black kids pictured were not allowed to get their clothes wet, maybe their mother was right there. It would be impossible to draw an accurate analysis by this picture. looks refreshing!

The black kids...

Looks to me like they just aren't ready to get wet being fully clothed. Maybe they were walking by, and decided to just watch for a minute. Perhaps a series photo in 5 minutes would show them frolicking too...

June '43 was hot...

June 23, 1943, Wednesday
Page 1, 539 words
DISPLAYING FIRST PARAGRAPH - Summer opened its 1943 season yesterday by averaging 12 degrees above normal for the date, with a high temperature of 91 degrees, reached at 3:50 P. M.

what was real?

"these kids didn't give a damn about frolicking in the water with kids of a different skin tone."

I hope that is true. However, another way to interpret the image is that the two obviously African American kids are holding back... It is, I think, ambiguous.

Most likely the kids didn't give a damn at this age, but my father's stories of, for example Jewish versus Irish conflict in the Bronx in those years suggest that things were far from calm across many ethnic divides (to say nothing of "racial" divides), and some groups played together at one age, but very quickly parted as they approached the teen years.

It's fascinating to try to infer social reality from an image like this.


I saw a photo in the newspaper of children in Chicago doing this. Some things don't change much.

I love the interracial mix

I love the interracial mix of kids in the picture. In the time of segregation and more open racism, these kids didn't give a damn about frolicking in the water with kids of a different skin tone.

Summer Cooler

I am of the generation of the kids shown in the picture.
Chicago children also practiced this ritual.

The key

This was a city ritual for kids, the hard part was hiding the key that would open it, the cops would always come to shut it and they would take the key. We would hide it but some good neighbor would show the cop where we put it. We made a deal with the candy store nearby, we wouldn't wet his windows and we would buy candy so he held it for us.

The "shower" was best made by hugging the hydrant using both arms to adjust the flow, another way was putting your butt on the hydrant and adjusting you could not get a good aim this way.

"Polio" is what the old ladies would tell us we would get by doing this.

This was in the 60's when I was a kid, you don't see this now and if you do its done with a sprinkler hook up that is very lame.

Thanks for the memory

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