Hotter than Hell
The summer of 1849 was one of the hottest on record. In Saint Louis, Missouri, there were dozens of old timers who said it was a sign the second coming was at hand because flames of hell were flicking sinners. My grandfather said those flames scorched saint and sinner alike, and I think he was closer to the truth.
Many versions of my story still abound, each one of them containing a given set of facts. Saint Louis had a new three story building that year, complete with a fancy clock tower. People loved that building and paid it a sort of worshipful homage. The tower displayed the temperature on two sides, a phenomenon at that time.
Long, scorching days chained the summer months. Dust filled the air. Dry coughs choked parched throats. Still, everyone did all right until the afternoon the temperature read 130 degrees! People fainted. People died. Preachers and politicians went into oratory overdrive.
It was years before most people could talk about that summer with dry eyes. Fear reigned. People forgave others and begged God for mercy.
Imagine their embarrassment when it was finally discovered that expensive French clock had made a mistake, overstating the temperature some thirty degrees. By Christmas people barely gave that clock tower a second glance and the building was torn down to make way for a train station in 1914.
First published: Aug, 2008
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