THIS DAY IN NEW YORK CITY HISTORY
The Bowery Boys have a terrific post up today commemorating the 70th anniversary of the opening of the 1939 World’s Fair. It’s packed, as their posts always are, with terrific images, including this one from Life magazine:
The Perisphere, as this structure was known, happens to be the setting for one of my favorite scenes from Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Chabon’s hero, Sam Clay, is taken to the abandoned fairgrounds somewhat against his will by his new boyfriend, Tracy Bacon. Chabon describes their entry into the Perisphere this way:
The Perisphere was supported by a kind of tee, a ring of evenly spaced pillars joined to it at its antarctic circle, so to speak, all the way around. The idea had been for the great bone-white orb, its skin rippled with fine veins like a cigar wrapper, to look as if it were floating there, in the middle of the pool of water. Now that there was no water, you could see the pillars, and you could see Tracy Bacon, too, standing in the middle of them, directly under the Perisphere’s south pole.
“Hey,” Sammy said, rushing to the wall and leaning across its top. “What are you doing? That whole thing could come right down on top of you!”
Bacon looked at him, eyes wide, incredulous, and Sammy blushed; it was exactly what his mother would have said.
After they hoist themselves up through a trap door and explore the interior for a while, lighting their way with cigarette lighters and occasionally stepping on buildings from model towns, we get this end to the chapter:
“Ow!” Sammy said, dropping his lighter. “Ouch!”
Bacon let his own flame go out. “You have to kind of pad it with your necktie, dopey,” he said. He grabbed Sammy’s hand. “This the one?”
“Yeah,” Sammy said. “The first two fingers. Oh. Okay.”
They lay there for a few seconds, in the dark, in the future, with Sammy’s sore fingertips in Tracy Bacon’s mouth, listening to the fabulous clockwork of their hearts and lungs, and loving each other.
It’s the kind of scene Chabon writes best.
The other New York anniversary for today, the BBs also inform us, is Washington’s inauguration: April 30, 1789. Two hundred twenty years ago today, America got its first president. The events at Federal Hall on Wall St. were described by William Maclay, Senator from Pennsylvania and inveterate if cranky diarist, this way:
“The President advanced between the Senate and
Representatives, bowing to each. He was placed in the chair by the
Vice-President; the Senate with their president on the right, the
Speaker and the Representatives on his left. The Vice-President rose
and addressed a short sentence to him. The import of it was that he
should now take the oath of office as President. He seemed to have
forgot half what he was to say, for he made a dead pause and stood for
some time, to appearance, in a vacant mood. He finished with a formal
bow, and the President was conducted out of the middle window into the
gallery, and the
oath was administered by the Chancellor. Notice that
the business done was communicated to the crowd by proclamation, etc.,
who gave three cheers, and repeated it on the President bowing to them.
As the company returned into the Senate chamber, the President took
the, chair and the Senators and Representatives, their seats. He rose,
and all arose also, and addressed them. This great man was agitated and
embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed
musket. He trembled, and several times could scarce make out to read,
though it must be supposed he had often read it before.
He put part of the fingers of his left hand into the side of
what I think the tailors call the faIl of the breeches (corresponding
to the modern side-pocket), changing the paper into his left (right)
hand. After some time he then did the same with some of the fingers of
his right hand.
When he came to the words all the world, he made a flourish
with his right hand, which left rather an ungainly impression. I
sincerely, for my part, wished all set ceremony in the hands of the
dancing-masters, and that this first of men had read off his address in
the plainest manner, without ever taking his eyes from the paper, for I
felt hurt that he was not first in everything.
He was dressed in deep brown, with metal buttons, with an eagle on them, white stockings, a bag, and sword.”
More on the day’s events here, which is where I found the Maclay account. You can also find some good stuff here, including images of the 1939 medallion that commemorated both the President and the Fair:
Once the oath of office and speeches were through, Washington and company paraded to St. Paul’s, a few blocks to the north, and once the requisite prayers had been offered, the President headed home, down Broadway, all the way to the bottom, where the Smithsonian Museum of the Native American now stands.