Day 12: October 10, 2015--New York City to Hartford, CT

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Ambling around Midtown Manhattan (Click to enlarge)

Today we took a sort of "amble" through Midtown Manhattan (I'm sure Thoreau would have approved of the "amble" part; I'm not so sure about the location) and then boarded a train for Hartford, Connecticut.

Anyway, we didn't spend particularly long at any one place along the way, except necessarily the Empire State Building, as there was quite a wait to get up to the Observation Deck. Since we ambled without aim, I won't be subtitling the day's post, though there's reason to divide the Gallery, which I will explain there.

We had planned to stay four nights (Friday through Monday) in New York City. But as it was Columbus Day weekend, and hotel rooms were hard to get, we couldn't find a cheap enough room for Saturday night. So I hatched a plan: Friday, Sunday, and Monday in Pod 51; Saturday night in Hartford, Connecticut, so we could see the Mark Twain House the next day.

(Photo by Lila)

So first thing Saturday morning (well, 9:30--pretty early for us!) we checked out of Pod 51 (Map 1), leaving most of our stuff in storage, just taking along a change of clothes, and set off on our "amble" up East 51st Street, aiming ultimately for Penn Station and a 4:30 departure. (The plan went perfectly.)

First stop--more or less by accident--was a quick look inside St. Patrick's Cathedral at 51st and 5th Avenue (Map 2). Begun in 1858 and completed in 1878, it is one of the best-known Catholic churches in America.

The funeral masses for Babe Ruth, Ed Sullivan, George M. Cohan, Robert F. Kennedy, Andy Warhol, Joe DiMaggio, and William F. Buckley Jr. were held here (among many others, I'm sure). In a lighter mode, F. Scott Fitzgerald married Zelda here in 1920--not in the Cathedral, exactly, but in the rectory next door.

Jogging over on 5th Avenue to West 49th Street, we entered Rockefeller Center (Map 3). The flags of United Nations countries were up on the 200 or so flagpoles, and a few folks were skating. We noted the entry to the Observation Deck, the theater where the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon is recorded, and the Radio City Music Hall. Then we ambled on.

Continuing on 49th, we turned left on 7th Avenue and soon found ourselves in Times Square (Map 4), famous for dropping the ball. I, for one, was pretty surprised to discover that Times Square is nothing like a square; it's more like an x-shaped intersection (locally called "bow ties") with wide-ish sidewalks. Anyway, the place was definitely buzzin'.

We soon turned left on 42nd Street and headed for Grand Central Station (Map 5). I told Lila how, when a place (like a living room) got busy with people passing through, someone might exclaim, "Geez! It's like Grand Central Station in here!" Yeah, it was busy--the place had 21.9 million visitors in 2013. By the way, it's properly been called "Grand Central Terminal" since the early 20th century, but the former name "Grand Central Station" is still used by most folks. (A "station" has through traffic; a "terminal" is the end of the line.)

Incidentally, our train did not run out of here, nor have any Amtrak trains since 1991; they all leave Penn Station.

Main branch of the New York Public Library, opened in 1911. (Photo by Lila)

Back along 42nd to 5th Avenue (again), and as we turned the corner we passed in front of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the main branch of the New York Public Library (Map 6). I would have loved to have gone in--not just for the books, but for the architecture, and the history. Since the library opened in 1911, their website says, "famous users" have included such writers as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Norman Mailer, Frank McCourt, Somerset Maugham, John Updike, Tom Wolfe, Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Marchette Chute, and E. L. Doctorow.

Ambling further along 5th Avenue, we reached at last today's prime destination (if there was one), the Empire State Building (Map 7)--which, as a boy, I called "The Umpire State Building." I'll bet I wasn't alone in that mistake.

We were approached outside by a gentleman who was kind enough to offer us tickets to the Observation Deck with some sort of wild promises about avoiding lines, etc. Listen, pal, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, ya know. Do I look like some kinda rube? etc.

Anyway, that "line" thing was an issue. Because we are pretty casual travelers, we had not booked in advance. And it was a Saturday, after all. So, according to time stamps on our photos (who writes this stuff down?), we were approaching the building around 11:30 (Hey! We covered a lot of ground in two hours!) and took our first shot from the top about an hour later. By 1:00 PM, we were back on terra firma (how long can you stare down on a city while being jostled by SRO crowds?)

(Click to enlarge)
For my money (which, by the way, was $32.00 a head), Observation Decks ain't all they're cracked up to be. And I saw hide nor hair of Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Tom Hanks, or Meg Ryan, so...

On down 5th Avenue, then, for a quick view of the iconic Flatiron Building (Map 8), which we had also seen from the Observation Deck. Memorably photographed by both Alfred Stieglitz (1903) and Edward Steichen (1904), it is imprinted on the brain of everyone who has studied photography. We could not do it justice.

Designed by Chicago's Daniel Burnham (who also did city planning for Manila and Baguio--where a park is named for him--in the Philippines, and two of the "Union Stations" we traveled through, in Chicago--where another park is named for him--and Washington, D.C.), the building was completed in 1902, the year before Stieglitz shot it. Burnham used new materials and techniques to build the 22-story building; due to its narrow footprint and height, many expected it to fall over in a good wind, calling it "Burnham's Folly."

Having seen it, we ambled on up Broadway to see Horace Greeley in Greeley Square; and then across the intersection to Herald Square (both Map 9).

It was Greeley, founder and editor of the New-York Tribune and losing presidential candidate against incumbent Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, who inspired a generation of adventurers with the expression "Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country."

Across the "bow tie" is Herald Square, formerly home to the offices of the long-defunct New York Herald. The statue of Minerva (Greek Athena), Goddess of Wisdom, was atop the building until its demolition in 1921. It was reinstalled at ground level in 1940. The eyes of the owls--"familiars" of Minerva/Athena--at the top of the clock pillar (NB: not the owls we shot) are said to glow at night. We missed it.

The whole assemblage was actually a memorial to the Herald's owner, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., who in an early act of calculating sensationalism had sent reporter Henry Morton Stanley to find the lost African missionary David Livingstone. Bennett was a real character; this article about him at Atlas Obscura is worth the read.

Finally, we ambled along West 34th Street to Pennsylvania Station (Map 10) to catch our 4:30 train. We arrived in Hartford, Connecticut, around 7:20, walked a few blocks east to our nearby hotel (the Hilton! Lila will never forget that bed!) and had a great night's sleep before our meeting with Mr. Clemens in the morning.

"The best bed is the one you can imagine..." But these came mighty close! (Photo by Lila)

BONUS: Several lines from old songs have been alluded to in this post. Can you name at least three?

Don't miss today's Gallery!

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