One interesting aspect of the job is that we spend a lot of time on city rooftops. Often times, access to these lofty perches is achieved only by scaling an old rusty ladder up a 90 degree vertical foxhole so it’s no wonder we seldom encounter any other visitors. Historically speaking, though, this was not always the case. From the late 1800’s through the mid-nineteeth century, a tenement rooftop was its own high altitude community.rooftop, east village, lower east side, alphebet city, nyc, new york cityFor those tenants who lived on the upper floors of a crowded, airless, walk-up tenement, the rooftops were just as important as the sidewalks and the streets below. Summer heat created perilously hot living conditions, and the rooftops were the only respite for the working class after the sun went down. It was common for these tarred top floors to be uniformly covered in tenant’s bedding, odd tables and chairs, and even baby bassinets.Travelling salesmen also realized the benefits of a captive audience (not to mention avoiding all the stairs) and it was not uncommon to see these snake-oil men hopping from roof-top to rooftop, shilling cure-alls, tonics and cigarettes. And because of sickness and disease in these tight confines went hand and hand, the weak and the elderly would often be set up on the cool of the roof to await visits from the visiting nurses who traveled from rooftop to rooftop dispensing care to these poorer neighborhoods. nursesCertainly a lot about this situation sucked– after all, they wouldn’t have been living on the roof if the living conditions were great– but we like to hope these impromptu al-fresco living situations also were opportunities for friendly neighbors to kibitz and for their kids to play together in cool evening breezes. But then again we weren’t there. All we see today is what we can imagine.rooftop, east village, lower east side, alphebet city, nyc, new york city

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