The Days of Pestilence
The following data is extracted from The Creoles of Louisiana.
The New Orleans resident congratulates himself - and he does well - that he is not as other men are, in other great cities, as to breathing-room. The desperate fondness with which the Creole still clings to domestic isolation has passed into the sentiment of all types of the city's life; and as the way is always open for the town, with just a little river-sand filling, to spread farther and farther, there is no huddling in New Orleans, or only very little here and there.
There is assurance of plenty not only as to space, but also as to time. Time may be money, but money is not everything, and so there never has been much crowding over one another's heads about business centres, never any living in sky-reaching strata. The lassitude which loads every warm, damp breeze that blows in across the all-surrounding marsh and swamp has always been against what an old New Orleans writer calls "knee-cracking stairways." Few houses lift their roofs to dizzy heights, and a third-story bedroom is not near enough to be coveted by many.
Shortly before the war - and the case is not materially changed in New Orleans today - the number of inmates to a dwelling was in the proportion of six and a half to one. In St. Louis, it was seven and three-quarters; in Cincinnati, it was more than eight; in Boston, nearly nine; and in New York, over thirteen and a half. The number of persons to the acre was a little more than forty-five. In Philadelphia, it was eighty; in Boston, it was eighty-two; in New York, it was one hundred and thirty-five.
The climate never would permit such swarming in New Orleans. Neither would the badly scavenged streets or the soil which, just beneath, reeks with all the foul liquids that human and brute life can produce in an unsewered city. It is fortunate that the average New Orleans dwelling is loosely thrown together, built against sun and rain, not wind and frost. This, with the ample spacings between houses, and an open plain all round, insures circulation of air - an air that never blows extremes of hot or cold.
It is true the minimum temperature is lower than that on the sea-coast of California, in part of Arizona, and in South Florida. That of the Gulf coasts and the Atlantic shores of Georgia and South Carolina is the same. But in every other part of the United States it is lower. Once only the thermometer has been known to sink to sixteen degrees Fahrenheit. Its mean January temperature is fifty-five degrees to sixty degrees Fahrenheit, milder than that of any other notable city in the Union, except Galveston and Mobile, which have the same. Only Middle and Southern Florida have a warmer midwinter. As to its summers, every State and Territory, except the five New England States east and north of Connecticut, experiences in some portion of it a higher maximum temperature than the land of the Creoles, and the entire country as high a temperature, except parts of California, Oregon, Washington Territory, and two or three regions directly within the Rocky Mountains. Even its mean temperature in the hottest month of the year, July, is only the same, eighty to eighty-five degrees, as that in every part of the South that is not mountainous, even to the mouth of the Ohio, with the Indian Territory and two-thirds of Kansas. Only three times since 1819 has it risen to one hundred degrees, and never beyond. Whatever wind prevails comes tempered by the waters and wet lands over which it has blown. The duration of this moderate heat, however, is what counts. The mean temperature of New Orleans for the year exceeds that of any region not on the Gulf. It is exceeded only in southernmost Florida. That of Arkansas, middle Mississippi, middle Georgia, and South Carolina is ten degrees cooler, and the northeastern quarter of Alabama, North Georgia, and Western North Carolina have a mean fifteen, twenty, and in the mountainous parts, thirty and more degrees lower. The humidity, moreover, is against strong vitality. The country is not to be called a rainy one; there is no rainy season; but the rains, when they come, are very heavy. Over five feet depth of water falls yearly on this land of swamps and marshes south of the thirty-first parallel between Lake Sabine and Apalachee Bay; a fall from four to six times as great as the rainfall in the arid regions of the far West, more than twice the average for the whole area of the United States, and greater than that experienced by over ninety-eight per cent, of the whole population. The air's diminished evaporating powers make it less cooling to man and beast in summer and more chilling in winter than drier winds at greater and lower temperatures would be, and it comes always more or less charged with that uncanny quality which Creoles, like all other North Americans, maintain to be never at home, but always next door - malaria.
Source: The Creoles of Louisiana