A deadly heat wave descends on the city
Photo: Phil Greer/Chicago Tribune

July 12–16, 1995

Seven hundred thirty-nine dead. That so many could have perished in a modern city in a First World country defied belief. Even as bodies piled up at the Cook County morgue — many of them elderly residents of the South and West Sides — city officials seemed unable to grasp the gravity of the situation: “It’s very hot … but let’s not blow it out of proportion,” Mayor Richard M. Daley said as temperatures started to soar. Improvements have since been made in the city’s heat-emergency response protocols, but for many of those who lived through July ’95, confidence in the system was permanently undermined.

From the Archives

July 2015 issue
Photo: Michael Zajakowski

For our July 2015 oral history, Mike Thomas interviewed first responders, meteorologists, ER doctors, and, among others, the mother of one of the tragedy’s youngest victims, a 3-year-old who’d been left in a car by a daycare worker.

“My husband called me at work downtown and said they had to take little Geno to the hospital … then he said something like, ‘Go to your mother’s house.’ So my boss and I took a cab to my mother’s house, but nobody was there. I called my husband again, and he said, ‘I’m sorry. He’s gone.’ Just like that. I fell on the floor and was beating the floor, screaming. There’s just a tremendous hole, a pain, and you just cry until you can’t cry anymore.”