08/19/2010 12:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Jon Stewart Talks Historic New York Heat Wave With Ed Kohn: Was It Hotter Than 2010?

Jon Stewart talked with historian Edward Kohn last night about his new book, "Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt."

In the interview, Kohn compared the historic 1896 summer to the conditions we've been experiencing recently.

"The past summer we've had it pretty bad, three-day heat waves, five-day heat waves," Kohn said. "This was a 10-day heat wave. Inside the brick and stone tenements of the Lower East Side, the temperature could easily reach 120 degrees."

The cost of the temperatures was staggering.

"About 1,300 people died during this 10-day heat wave, most of them the working poor. They literally worked themselves to death."

One of the story's central conflicts is between the city of New York itself and its citizens.

"The city did virtually nothing during this heat wave. One of the simplest things they could've done was simply to lift the ban on sleeping in parks. Thousands of people might've gone to Central Park and gotten a breath of fresh air."

That's when Roosevelt stepped in and began to make a name for himself.

"Roosevelt, at that time, made kind of a bold move," Stewart said. "He said: 'What if we try to save poor peoples' lives?'"

Roosevelt, bridging the gap between privileged Republicans and the immigrant working-class, toured some of the worst tenements. He championed the idea of giving away free ice, and he saw first-hand how it was being used.

"He watched as mothers wrapped ice in handkerchiefs around the foreheads of their little babies," Kohn said.

"Nixon used to have a parlor game where he would wrap babies' heads in ice," Stewart said. "I believe it was considered Thanksgiving entertainment."

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