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‘Swamp Cooler’ Was Used To Combat Heat

by Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, I hope you  all had a great time at the Watermelon Carnival.  Due to business appointments, I was unable to attend and needless to say was disappointed.  Many people that I haven’t seen in years are there and I always make new friends who read the column.  

After recovering from my hip replacement operation and getting an excellent overall health report, I’m back in full swing for the first time in nearly three years and I have a lot of catching up to do.  Lupe did go down to the carnival, and she and Virginia went to the park for a while until the oppressive heat drove them back to an air conditioned living room.  As a kid I remember how hot it was and unless I got to go to the movies  or visit the drug store, there was no relief from the heat.  

In those days the Grand Theater, the barber shops and the drug stores were the only places that offered an opportunity to cool off.  The theater had large evaporative fans that we called “swamp coolers,” and the barber shops and drug stores had ceiling fans.  Most of the stores had oscillating fans that did little more than stir the hot air.  

When I went to work at Newman-Gardner, air from a fan was what they were offering the people attending funerals. After several people nearly collapsed from the heat one day, Johnny Middleton firmly told Newman to install a swamp cooler in the only window of the chapel.

This was a great improvement, but nothing like air conditioning.  In those days most of the funerals were held in churches and many of them had no electricity, so the windows were opened and the mourners had to fan with the old hand fans provided by the funeral homes with a religious picture on the front and the name of the funeral home on the back.  

I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating in view of the heat we’re having now.  While working, we were required to wear a suit and tie during all services.  I usually wore a tropical light weight suit, but Paul Kiihnl always wore a black suit.  I don’t have to tell you how a black suit absorbed the heat.  This particular day we had a service at Mt. Liberty – we called it Old Liberty back then.      

Paul frequently was called on to deliver the sermon, and it was a day much like the ones we’ve had lately.  There was no air conditioning and Paul was in the pulpit in his black suit. Even from the rear of the church I could see the sweat running down his face  

I was in the door and he made the mistake of looking at me and I opened my coat and fanned it to show how cool I was and for the rest of the service he refused to look at me.  

Another time we were at Sand Hill, and for some reason the people wanted what they called a vault.  It was really only a shelf dug in the grave and boards were laid along and overlapped.  Mr. Kimzy, who had a store at O’Tuckalofa at the time, was handing me the boards and I was laying them.  I was nearly on  the verge of a heat stroke when I asked him, “is that all of them”?  For some reason Mr. Kimzy bonded with me and thereafter he would make a point to come up to me and speak and remind me how I nearly collapsed that day.  When I was living with Papa and Nannie Badley, they had no electricity as there were so few families on that road that they wouldn’t run an REA line.

I remember on a hot night I would pull a blanket off the bed and sleep on the floor  and escape a little of the heat that way.  The old people called them pallets. I remember one man telling Papa that he didn’t think his brother was really his brother.  He said that when families would go to house parties, they would lay the babies on a pallet and let them sleep.  

He said that he believed that his parents brought home the wrong baby.  That’s another example of our Southern humor that is fast disappearing and we are the worst for it.  I remember a family that when they got their first refrigerator, they would turn it off at night – for what reason I don’t know.  Speaking of refrigerators, the only family we knew of that had a refrigerator was the Edgar Carr family. Since they didn’t have electricity, it was a Servel that ran on kerosene.  In those days it didn’t matter what brand a refrigerator was, they were called Frigidaires because that was the first brand on the market and the unit was on the top.  

I remember when we moved down the street from Jim Peacock’s family, they had the first refrigerator I had ever seen with shelves in the doors.  The first ice trays had stationery cube partitions and you had to get the cubes out the best way you could.  I suppose by now you realize that this is one of those weeks when I felt like rambling more that usual.  Some of you can send me some information that would be interesting and I welcome it.  

My email address is or write me at P.O. Box 61 3189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.

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