While researching unique fire escapes for our Cities 101 piece about the rules in New York City regarding these architectural icons, we came across these wonderful photographs by Weegee of families sleeping on fire escapes. In The New YorkerArthur Miller wrote about these occurrences in the essay “Before-Air Conditioning,”

People on West 110th Street, where I lived, were a little too bourgeois to sit out on their fire escapes, but around the corner on 111th and farther uptown mattresses were put out as night fell, and whole families lay on those iron balconies in their underwear.

Learn and see more about Weegee, the sensationalist crime photographer in 1930s and 1940s New York, who also documented the changing city.

See more from our Vintage Photography column