Monday, April 9, 2012

When the Iceman Came

by Julia Buckley

My son is doing a project in conjunction with his reading of THE GREAT GATSBY, and one of his assignments was to come up with an artifact from the 1920's.  We finally settled on our ice door, which has long since been painted over and sealed off, but still bears testament to the fact that ice was once delivered from our very back porch into our extremely old pantry.  The fellow above, according to Houston Lifestyles online, was holding a 25 pound chip from a 100 pound block of ice--a common thing that these tough guys had to lug from house to house.  (Is this the origin of chip off the old block?  I always thought that was a lumberjack's term).

Anyway, the tool in the man's hand was referred to as a pair of ice tongs, and it kept his hands from freezing to the ice and allowed him to keep a good grip on the sometimes slippery substance.

Our ice door looks like this:

According to the Portage County Historical Society,
"A common sight in the years gone by was the iceman and his wagon (later his truck), making deliveries of blocks ice to his subscription customers. A sign was issued to each subscriber; was a two - sided placard indicating ice was needed or not. If ice was required, the iceman would cut a block of the required size with an ice pick, attach tongs to the block with a mighty stroke, and hoist the block onto his shoulder. Icemen were strong (Jim Thorpe, the great Indian football star was an iceman one summer), for they had to carry an average of fifty to one hundred fifty pounds of ice from the wagon to the icebox at each stop."

We knew that our house was old when we bought it (at least 90 or 100 years), and once when we were adding insulation to walls we found that 1920s era newspapers had been stuffed into them to add warmth (and a fire hazard).  So it's interesting to have this other connection to an era gone by, especially since our freezer/refrigerator is still in the very pantry to which our ice door connects.

The advent of refrigeration put the ice men out of business, but once they were an important part of every family's week.


Sheila Connolly said...

When I was young we lived in a rented house that had just such a door, that opened onto the kitchen stoop for delivery. It connected (by way of a ninety-degree turn) to a pantry opening onto the kitchen.

If I'd been given that assignment, I would probably have ended up talking about coal deliveries--we've had coal chutes (or their archeological evidence) in both our houses, and I once talked to a neighbor who remembered the deliveries. And don't forget--the coal dust lingers in the walls forever.

Julia Buckley said...

That's interesting--but the coal dust part is horrifying. :0

I guess old houses have all sorts of testaments to the past.

Susan said...

Funny, Sheila, but the first connection I made to the ice man was coal deliveries through a window into our basement. My dad would go down at night and pull the "clinkers" out of the furnace. We also had milk delivered to our back door. I remember my mom always referring to the small refrigerator as "the ice box." How much change has happened in our lifetimes!

Patg said...

I don't remember a thing about ice deliveries, not even remnants. I remember coal deliveries and every house having a shut into the bin in your basement. Every house had a basement.
How about milk deliveries.

Julia Buckley said...

Very interesting that everyone remembers coal. I remember some early milk deliveries, and also, back in the 70s, my parents used to get soft drink deliveries from the Burkhart company. I remember the truck dropping off bottles of Green River--is that a Chicago thing, or did anyone else have that?

Susan Oleksiw said...

My father often talked about putting the sign in the window for the iceman. In the house I grew up in we had an old ice door on the outside of the house, where the iceman left the block of ice. Inside the ice was sitting on a shelf that was inside the icebox. It was all very convenient.

There was also a coal chute, but that was closed up. The ice box lasted until the 1970s, when many of us in old houses realized that the ice door was an easy way for someone to break in.

Julia Buckley said...

A good point--you KNOW it would be a real problem now. And yet if you look for them you can see those ice doors all over the place. :)

C.C. Harrison said...

Julia, I remember the milkman delivering milk in the milk door. That house also had a coal chute. When the city brought in gas, my parents had to do a whole conversion and cleanup down there. The "coal room" became a home workshop for my dad.