Santa’s suit wasn’t the only thing that was tarnished with soot in the days when coal was the fuel of choice. And talk about air pollution! Ashes that piled up below the grate in the fireplace were easy to deal with compared to the sticky black soot that floated everywhere.
Logs were the cleaner fuel by far, but even the most dedicated woodcutter broke down and bought a load of coal to carry the household through the coldest part of winter. It produced more heat and the coals held heat longer.
In the country where houses were farther apart, the soot from chimneys was somewhat diluted and carried away by the wind. In the closely settled town, strata of soot-laden smoke clouds hovered over homes and businesses and dropped their blackening content everywhere.
You would collect flecks of soot on your face as you walked down the sidewalk. And when it rained, water that ran off roofs and poured down street gutters was black. It took several spring rains to remove the dingy look from towns.
In the country, care was taken to hang the laundry on the line when the wind was blowing smoke in the opposite direction if at all possible. However, we accepted the inevitable black streaks that settled on white sheets knowing that they never really hurt anybody and would come out in the next wash.
All chimneys did not draw equally well, but an occasional sudden draft of air would come down any chimney, forcing a cloud of smoke and soot out into the room. The soot settled at will—there was no preventing it.
Soot globules collected and hung so heavy on the inside walls of the chimney that every so often they caught fire. The roar was frightening as flames licked out the very top of the chimney. We rushed outside to watch the spectacle.
When spring cleaning time came, getting the soot out of the house was the main challenge. Ashes and dust could be shaken away but oily soot had to be washed with soap—out of curtains and coverlets and off surfaces. No wonder people put a fresh coat of paint on everything that they could and simply hid the soot.