CHAPTER 49. New York

Dumb! Yes, I am positively speechless at this stupendous, this colossal and marvellous city! I have seen pictures, read books and had personal descriptions of New York, but none of these can convey the correct impression of this city which stands alone without compare. It is awesome yet fascinating. It is terrifying as well as astonishing. One moment we admired. The next we shuddered. No, it cannot be described by me, for to know New York you must be in it, breathe its atmosphere, gaze at its skyscrapers, see its traffic, yes, and even eat and sleep there, for these two are different.

We passed the Sing-Sing prison about thirty miles out of the city and here the great steam engine, the largest I have yet seen, was replaced with an electric locomotive, for the people of New York are jealous of the cleanliness of their city and no railway steam engine is permitted within a radius of 30 miles. We seemed to be going through the city on the elevated railway for a long time before we finally reached the station. A negro took our luggage on a truck to the taxi stand.

Did I say taxi stand? That is wrong. I was the one to stand there, not the taxis. I stood with the others and just gazed at the sight. There were hundreds of taxis in the basement, or rather underneath the station building of many stories. They were all of the same make and painted a bright orange colour. There was a marshalling officer in charge. Please note these words, “in charge”. He was also a picture. Dark trousers held in position with a belt, a grey shirt, sleeves cut off at the elbow, wet with perspiration, and a peaked cap on the back of his head completed his uniform. The ladies, and they all seemed to be ladies, who drove the cars, were in the same dress and at about the same temperature, for it was very hot, notwithstanding the time of night.

The taxis were in several rows, but they had to pass one spot where the marshal was situated to pick up their passengers. Three or four of them were loaded at the same moment and if they took more than a moment didn’t that marshal roar! When the cars started they just bounded away at a terrific pace. They were all fitted with “bumpers” and for the first time I understood the meaning of the word. As one car moved off another took its place and he knew he was there when his bumper struck the car in front.

Many taxis left and we were still standing there. The negro was content to wait, but at last I thought it was time I moved. I tried to stop three cars, but they just would not take any notice of me. I spoke roughly to one and asked him what he was doing. He just replied “Too much luggage” and let someone else take his car. This annoyed me and I grabbed the next man and sharply said, “Here, put this luggage on!” He also demurred and told me to take two taxis. The marshal heard my reply and came up. “What is the matter?” he asked. “I cannot get these on one car, boss”. “Get to blazes! Take the car around the corner and I will show you!” He did. In less than 30 seconds he had us all comfortably seated in the car and the luggage properly stowed away. I thanked him and he appreciated the half dollar. We raced away out of the station and the tires screamed as we turned the corners.

World Tour 1938
Sections of New York from the centre


I had given the direction “The Waldorf”, but I had no idea as to the distance. We joined the traffic four deep. I was enjoying the thrill, but I could not see much of the city from inside the taxi. In about a minute we turned sharply and again drove under a skyscraper. This time it was the hotel. Here there were porters galore, far too many of them, for they all had to get their tip. From the heat of the street and the bustle of the city we entered a most beautifully furnished and decorated lounge as cool and quiet as early spring and as refreshing as an oasis in the desert. The booking over we entered the lift and this was our first experience of a real lift. In three seconds after we started we were at the tenth floor, which was really not very high as there were still 32 stories above us. We entered our room fitted with every comfort that modern science can provide. We had arrived at what was to be our home for a week.

Next morning we went out to see more of this great city. It took some time to get used to the sights. Outside the hotel in Park avenue (or Fourth Avenue as it is properly called, for all streets are numbered) we saw eight or nine rows of traffic moving along the street at the same time. Yet this wide street was dwarfed by the height of the buildings on each side. I left the others to have a look around while I made my way to the office at 219 Fourth avenue. As we were in the same avenue I started by walking, thinking I would not have far to travel. I soon got tired of this and took a bus over the remaining 2 or 3 miles before the office was reached. Here I met Mr. Spalthoff and some of the other men.

World Tour 1938
The Rockefeller Centre – our guide starting us on our tour of the Sky Gardens

I left early in the afternoon to join the others on a visit to what is known as the Rockefeller centre, which is one of the most marvellous of all the skyscrapers in New York. As this was the first building of its kind which we inspected I will describe it briefly, but it would take a whole volume to tell you all about it. The “Center” occupies 12 acres, nearly the whole of the three blocks from 48th to 51st streets between 5th and 6th Avenues.

Let me here explain that the “avenues” are the streets which run up and down and the “streets” are those which run across and at right angles to the avenues. For this reason, and because the city is so beautifully laid out it is very easy to find your way about it.

The Rockefeller Centre is in the heart of the business area. It made my neck ache as I watched the top of the building 850 feet in the air on my way towards it and while I took its photo. several times. It is a city in itself. It has a daily population of over 100,000. More than 20,000 people work in the building and over 80,000 persons bent on business or pleasure visit it every day. We paid our 2½ dollars each and were presented with a badge and attached to a party under a guide so that we could be shown over the buildings.

World Tour 1938
A peep from one of the buildings as we ascended

I called them buildings, but I am not sure whether I am correct. There are 11 buildings in the centre for a street running through a building makes it two, but actually when you get right down to the road or the bottom they are all one building because they are all connected underground although divided by streets up above. They are built on what is called the Rock of Manhattan. This is an island surrounded by the East River, the Harlem River, and what is most important, by the Hudson River. This island was bought from the Red Indians by Peter Minuit for 24 dollars worth of beads and trinkets in 1626. To-day its 21 square miles are assessed at nine thousand million dollars. The rock for the Center buildings was excavated to a depth of 100 feet and the weight of the stone thus removed was greater than the weight of the finished building.

Down, down, down we went to where scores of lorries were loading and unloading and driving away beneath the buildings in order to solve the traffic problem overhead. We walked underground from one building to another and under the ordinary streets.

World Tour 1938
on one of the pathways

Then we went up a little to see the roof gardens on the 7th floor. Here there were flowers and shrubs as well as very large lawns. It was exceedingly difficult to believe that these were growing in many tons of soil on a concrete roof. On the 11th floor are what are called “the sky gardens”.

World Tour 1938
One of the fountains in the lower secton

We did not have sufficient time to visit these until a couple of days later. Then we saw something unique. The ground on which the Rockefeller Center is built was previously the first botanical garden of the city of New York. The architect conceived the idea of perpetuating these gardens by lifting them 150 feet towards the sky on the roof of the buildings to be erected. Of course, this was a most ambitious scheme and also one which was costly if not entirely experimental.

We are told in the volume of the sacred law that King Nebuchadnezzar raised his gardens on a series of masonry arches. If these Babylonians could walk through the Rockefeller Center to-day they would marvel still more. Seven of the roof tops have been landscaped and the work was completed only five years ago. Plants, shrubs and trees have been imported from all parts of the world, as it was the desire to have all nations represented.

World Tour 1938
Hard to believe these 210 feet high trees are growing on a roof

They could not wait many years for the trees to grow so they experimented once more and transplanted trees which were several years of age and between 10 and 20 feet in height. I saw them growing and they appeared quite healthy. I saw two trees from Japan which are 50 and 70 years of age. They were only about six feet high, but they were mature trees. There was a plot laid out as a Dutch garden and it was just like what we had seen in Holland, so apparently the architects knew what they were doing.

World Tour 1938
The Chinese Gardens

After England, France, Italy, Spain, Holland and Japan had been allotted gardens the rest of the nations were put together in what is called the Garden of the Nations. This was very beautifully laid out with a small waterfall running through it. When admiring the quaintness of the Japanese garden we looked up and smiled to see that just above it was the office of the Chinese Consul. And yet the garden seemed to flourish!

World Tour 1938
A picturesque waterfall with trees and shrubs all around it – on a roof!

We visited a vegetable garden where all kinds of vegetables were growing and fruit trees ten feet high were being trained against the walls. Although we were in a city of wonders and were prepared for almost everything the members of the party expressed themselves to one another during the inspection with such exclamations as “Isn’t it wonderful!”

World Tour 1938
a beautiful Garden but – on a roof 150 feet high!

Here are some of the amusing facts given us by the guide. The concrete roofs which were to be made into gardens were first drained with four inch drain pipes. Then the roof was covered with a 4” layer of coarse cinders, a 4” layer of crushed stones and pebbles and a foot or more of rich soil. They used hundreds of tons of cinders and over 6,000,000 pounds of soil. There are 2,000 trees and shrubs and 10,000 flowers growing on the roof. In the Garden of the Nations alone 96,000 gallons of water are pumped each day through the streams, pools and fountains.

World Tour 1938
A post and rail fence brought specially from Australia and reconstructed on the roof

In winter when the snow is on the city these gardens have to be covered with a blanket of leaf mould and hot hay. To prevent the hay from blowing off the roof pine boughs have to be placed over it. The total area of the gardens is just over 30,000 square feet. It is certainly one of the sights of the world and in no other place would you expect to find it but New York.

We visited one of the two theatres called “The Radio City Music Hall”. This is one of the show places of the nation and is the largest theatre in the world. It seats 6,200 persons and every seat is comfortable as we afterwards tested them to see a performance. The auditorium is built in the form of an arch 60 feet in height. It represents the sunrise and the lighting effects are truly wonderful. The steel truss supporting the arch weighs 300 tons and is the heaviest ever used in theatre construction. From where I was standing at the back of the theatre to the stage was exactly 196 feet and yet it did not appear to be any further distant than an ordinary picture theatre and certainly the voices and the pictures were the clearest I have heard and seen.

The screen on which the pictures were projected is also the large ever built and measures 70 feet by 40 feet. Just step this out in the garden and you will get a good idea of the size. I understand that even the front seats are sufficiently distant from the screen to prevent any distortion of sound or sight. The curtain is of shimmering champagne gold fabric and weighs several tons. It is operated by a system of 13 motors and can be raised or lowered quickly or slowly. The stage is 144 feet wide and 62 feet deep. I saw a ballet of about 50 girls dancing in a long line and the stage looked empty. The stage can be elevated a vertical drop of 40 feet in three seconds and under the surface of the elevator is a turntable 47 feet in diameter.

Then we went to an exhibition, saw many beautiful stores where everything required by man can be purchased, even to a ticket for any part of the world. A fully equipped and up to date post office is provided and the government only pays a rental of one dollar per year for the large space occupied.

Perhaps the most interesting of all the sections was the National Broadcasting Company’s suites which occupied 4 million square feet on six of the floors. For this we had a special guide and were shown broadcasting from the beginning to the end. Once again, it is the largest broadcasting station in the world. After going through all the stages we were very fortunate in securing seats in the main studio where a special broadcast was being made. This auditorium is only for special occasions and seats 1300 people. Because we were from New Zealand and exercised a bit of cheek we were given the seats.

World Tour 1938
We look out on New York from the top roof of the Centre

Then we went to the roof. We entered the express lift and went from the first to the 65th floor in 47 seconds. Strangely enough, we did not notice how fast we were travelling, for the lifts are fully enclosed and nothing can be seen of the outside as we ascend. The only sensation of speed or height was a clogging of the ears as the air pressure altered, very similar to what is experienced when ascending 5 stories which took us right out to the roof promenade and restaurant. Here we got the most wonderful view of a city that I had yet experienced.

World Tour 1938
The Chrysler building with the spire

It was simply marvellous to walk around a complete circle and have a panorama of this vast city and looking over all the other skyscrapers except one – the Empire State Building. That Building is the highest in the world and will be described later. We saw the Normandie just coming up the harbour to the wharf and from our distance and at our height she appeared very small and insignificant. Later we had a close up view at the wharf and it was then a different impression that we were given.

On the top floor is the Rainbow Restaurant. This is open for dinner only and no one is admitted unless in evening dress. It is most expensively furnished and decorated and has a magnificent dome and lighting in the centre. We were content to go down to a restaurant below the street where we had a very good dinner in a cool, air conditioned room, also tastefully furnished and illuminated, for the sum of one dollar.

In the Center we also visited the museum of science and industry. Here we saw every part of the human body working in some form or other. The circulation of blood could be followed with ease. A stomach magnified several times was in operation. By turning a handle you can operate other models such as the neck and the vertebrae. Then there was a man which attracted a great deal of attention. He was transparent except for all bones, muscles, arteries and veins and his skin was made of glass. In other words, he was a skeleton enclosed in a glass case, the actual size of a normal man and in addition to the skeleton you could follow the muscular and circulatory systems.

Another exhibit which alone was worth the 25 cents admission was the iron lung. Here we saw a life size child receiving artificial respiration in such a manner that it was easy to follow exactly what was being done. We had a hard job to drag Lois and Elizabeth away from this exhibit, but we all have a better knowledge of what is being done when we read in the papers that an iron lung is being used.

There was also a mechanical test for motorists to see whether they could drive properly by night as well as by day. I just sat down and completed that test with 100%. They would not believe it and I did it the second time with the same result. Perhaps those jibes about fast and careless driving will now cease.

World Tour 1938
Another Section of New York from the Centre

We went to the roof again late at night and saw the thousands of Neon signs and other lights all over the city. We saw the Great White Way of Broadway and the illuminated tower of the Empire State Building, the highest point of the city.

We visited this building the day before we left New York. It was wonderful, but we did not get the same thrill out of it as we were more used to such marvels of architecture and construction. An express lift took us to the 90th floor in less than one minute. Then we went up to the 102nd floor by another lift. This floor is 1250 feet above the street.

When we reached this spot we were at the top of the world’s biggest city. I cannot say whether this is the largest city, but I firmly believe it is the most wonderful.

Another extremely interesting evening was spent at the Hayden Planetarium. This will not convey very much to you and it will be difficult to describe. It is a building specially constructed as a theatre of the stars. In one portion on the ground floor you see accurate working models of the earth, the sun, the moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Venus and several other stars. They were built to scale so that one could get a proper idea of the relative size of the different planets and also their position to one another.

The theatre above was built in the form of a huge sky or dome, so that when the very large projector was in operation you could see actual photographs of the sky, enlarged many times. A lecturer gave a very interesting talk last night about an hour and a half. New programmes are provided each month.

Now for something about the every day New York.

At first I was just staggered with the size and the pace, but after a few days I found myself taking everything in the normal manner. Of course, New York was first a Burroughs opportunity and I had to make the best of it. The Burroughs office opened at a quarter to nine and I was always there before that time, except the last morning, of which there will be more to tell you later. I mention this matter of time as an illustration of how one can settle down to new conditions of life.

The Waldorf Hotel was the best I had found on the trip and provides every comfort that man desires and more than most men can pay for. I found that many of those who were staying there had most, if not all of their meals in other places. A breakfast of melon, toast and coffee cost 1½ dollars at the hotel. In the rear of the Waldorf Building on the ground floor was the Savarin restaurant where the same breakfast could be obtained for 60 cents. Straight across the street was a drug store, air conditioned like both the hotel and the restaurant, where the same breakfast was served very much quicker for 25 cents.

In the hotel you had super service, beautiful surroundings, exquisite table linen, the best china and cutlery and the same food. In the restaurant the surroundings were not so costly and the table linen and cutlery were of the restaurant type, but the food was the same. In the drug store you sat on a stool at the counter with 20 or more other business people getting a hurried breakfast at a cheap rate. The food is still the same, for the people patronising these stores are critical and don’t mind complaining if the food and conditions are not right, so that a good standard is maintained.

Consequently, after the first morning I was seen in the drug store on the round stool with red cushioned top eating blue berries or melon or orange juice with two or three slices of hot buttered toast made right in front of me while I was eating the fruit and then a cup of hot coffee with a small jug of cream (I usually got two jugs), and my word, the coffee was good! The Americans know how to make good coffee. When I walked out of the store feeling well satisfied, I felt I had beaten the two Scotchmen I had been told about in Aberdeen, the first one of whom ran behind a tram car to save 2d. and the other one thought he would beat him and save 2/6 by running behind a taxi. I had saved a dollar and a quarter and had the same food.

World Tour 1938
We look out on New York from the top roof of the Centre

Then there was the travelling to the office. The first morning I went to the office leisurely in a taxi. On the second morning I was up just after six o’clock and got my breakfast at 7.15. Then I had to find the right bus which eventually got me to the office at 8.30. The next morning I was perched up in the drug store half an hour later, got a better bus and was still at the office at 8.30. On the following morning I had my breakfast at 8 o’clock, got a subway (they don’t call them underground railways in America) and was at the office at 8.45. On the last morning I thought I would just see how fine I could cut it. I had breakfast at 8.25 and caught the subway at 8.32 which gave me good time, as the subway station was only a few yards form the drug store. I thought I had cut it down to a proper routine, but I did not count upon another incident which was an experience I will always remember.

We were well on the journey in the subway when the train stopped. We went a few yards further and it stopped again. Once more we started and almost reached the station when it not only stopped, but all the lights went out and the electric fans stopped. There I was in a crowded underground railway standing up and hanging on to a strap with people tucked in all around me and the heat absolutely stifling. Let me digress for a a moment to explain something about this heat.

You may have noticed that since we arrived in America the weather has been hot. I have refrained from saying anything about the heat in New York until the right moment. That moment has now arrived. Before we left home we were told that we would reach America at the hottest part of the year. Therefore, we expected to get some hot weather, but we did not expect to run into a heat wave, worse than has been experienced for he last eight years. Since we arrived in New York several deaths have been recorded as a result of the heat. Of course, papers did not say whether the people were in a poor state of health, but I presume that was the cause. Anyhow, we have now had the hottest weather we have ever experienced.

I put on a fresh shirt in the morning and before I reach the office it is wet through, notwithstanding that I have left off every piece of clothing that is possible and have also joined the crowd and carry my coat over my arm. When I return from the office at night the first thing to do is to have a bath, but as the ice tap is only over the basin and not the bath the cold water tap gives water which is quite tepid and of course the cold bath is not obtainable. A fresh shirt is put on, but before I have my bath to go to bed it is also wet through. Offices everywhere are like ovens, except in the latest buildings where the air conditioning plants are installed. The heat of the pavements comes through the soles of your shoes to your feet. Everyone complains and asks the question, “How long will this heat wave last?”

Now if this is the condition of the atmosphere in New York, how much worse must it be underground! Just think this out for yourself and you will understand why I felt the perspiration trickling down my body as I waited in the dark for something to happen in that underground train. I felt certain that within a few moments of the stopping of the train and the fans some of the girls on their way to work would faint. The thought made me feel like it myself and I could scarcely breathe when the doors were opened and we were all told to leave the train. Those in carriages which did not reach the platform had to go through the train until they could get out.

Then we were told to take another train on the opposite platform to go to another station and then catch another train to get to our right destination. That seemed easy. I stood on the edge of the platform and in a couple of seconds the other train arrived. Of course, there were some people to get off and it was also a loaded train as it was the busiest hour of the day. Before the people were properly off the usual time for a train to stop had elapsed and then the crowd went mad.

They expected to be left behind unless they got on to the train. No doubt many were anxious to get to work on time and might even suffer some penalty if late. A push came from the rear. I sensed what was happening and tried to get out of the way. I could scarcely move one way or the other. My coat was ripped from me. With all my force I heaved and pushed until I was free. Then I saw men and women fighting like cattle in a pen. The railway officials tried to get the doors closed but they were powerless until there was no possibility of another person getting inside. The train was not permitted to start until the doors were closed.

At last it went off and left some hundreds still standing on the platform. In less than a minute another train arrived and I got aboard without much difficulty. It was an express and went through several stations without stopping. Of course I could not see where it was going, but as it had started in the opposite direction to the way I was previously travelling I thought I was being taken a long distance out of my way. When it stopped I got into another train which was waiting. To my surprise we went to the next station in another direction and there I was at 18th Street, my proper destination. Apparently they had put the express through some other line which brought us close to the road of the first train. I was late, as it was exactly five minutes past nine when I reached the office. However, I would not have missed that experience for a couple of pounds. It was bad while it lasted, but I can now look back upon it as one of the experiences of New York city.

This last day was to be devoted to Banks. I went out with one of the Burroughs men to see something of the installations. They were unlike our own banks in many respects. The buildings I visited had been constructed without any thought of cost. They were finished in the most expensive and luxurious manner. Nothing was too good for these banks. Then I was reminded that I was in America by seeing several armed police watching every part of the public space. Although I did not see them, I was also shown where the machine guns were kept ready for use in case of a hold-up.

I arrived at a bank in Wall Street at about noon. Here I saw an installation of over 50 of the special Burroughs Bank Bookkeeping machines. I wished that I could hope to see some such installation in New Zealand, but alas! Not in my time!

There was some shouting in the street. Corrigan was coming! On our way to the Bank we had seen hundreds of police and thousands of people in the streets waiting for the boy flier to proceed through the streets to the Town Hall. The bank official who was with us asked me if I would like to see the procession. I was very glad to accept. He took us through to the front windows and I climbed up with the rest of the staff to see the sight. It was a sight! I had seen the same thing several times on the pictures, particularly when Lindbergh came back after his flight. This was entirely different.

The street was packed with many thousands of people wildly excited, yelling at the top of their voices, waving flags and throwing streamers, while on them was falling a heavy shower of pieces of paper like a snow storm. Most of the men were wearing white shirts and no coats and the women were mostly dressed in light clothing. Anyhow, that did not matter, as they were all covered with pieces of paper which were falling from buildings 30, 40 and 50 stories high. Some of the paper blew into the bank window. Apparently the staff in the office had been tearing up anything and everything they could lay their hands upon. There were pieces of letters, newspapers and a telephone directory amongst those which reached me. Hanging down from the windows above to the street below were miles of streamers.

Corrigan was sitting on the folded hood of a car acknowledging the cheers and welcome of the crowd. It was bedlam let loose. The papers estimated the crowd in the streets at one million. It took some time for them to pass and as they began to thin out we could see that they were all walking on a carpet of paper in some places at least a foot deep.

The excitement and interest was not yet over. With all this paper in sight the thought came to my mind, “What would happen if someone dropped a cigarette butt?” But what is this I can see? Right behind the last of the crowd and hurrying them along the street are seven large water wagons washing down the street. There is not much that the Americans do not think about. A fire under such conditions would have been disastrous, but there was no possibility of that occurring. The first wagon shot water up the centre of the street with such force that practically all the paper was carried to the gutter on each side. To make sure of it the second and third wagons sent a spray of water to right and left respectively so that the paper was thoroughly wet and in a heap in the gutter. The remaining wagons followed to take up the watering when the first ones ran out. In the rear of the water wagons were several rubbish wagons and an army of men sweeping the footpaths, or sidewalks, as they are called here, and shovelling the paper inside.

Thus, before the crowd had properly finished what appears to be accepted as their method of welcome, the city authorities were meeting the expense of cleaning it up. This expense must have been very heavy. Some thousands of additional policemen were brought into the city. According to the papers to-night the authorities have already gathered 1,970 tons of paper from the streets. To-morrow morning there will be some more to gather as they have not yet cleaned down those tons of paper which remain on ledges and balconies of the high buildings. The number of tons gathered when Lindbergh was welcomed was only 1,750.

Before I left the office that night I had to say goodbye to all the men on the New York staff who had been so good to me. I have made some friends whom I will hope to see in New Zealand at some later date.



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