Of course we made it home, but not in an easy manner. In fact, it was a real nail biter, with quite a bit of drama (at least, we felt quite stressed). I’ll tell you about it in the last segment of this blog, and about our amazing encounter with some special folks, but before doing so, I remembered that my New York City trip blog from July 5 wasn’t completed.
Upon our return home to Urbana, Deb and I were watching the “CBS This Morning” show, and of all things, they did a story on Willis Carrier, the “King of cool”, and the 110th birthday of the very first air conditioned building, located in Brooklyn. Take a look at our July 5 blog to read about this milestone. Barely a century ago, automobiles, airplanes, air conditioned buildings, light speed communication systems, power plants, electric motors, light bulbs…..breathtaking technological advancements were becoming reality in the lives of everyday people.
I’ll summarize the previous July 5 blog here so you don’t have to return to it…..Deb and Ty visit sites 99.9% of the population (which includes Deb) would only visit at gunpoint…..in Greenpoint/Maspeth area of Brooklyn we walk around the site of Peter Cooper’s glue factory, the first air conditioned building in the world, and the construction site of the iron Monitor ships. From there, Ty forced Deb to continue this strange sight seeing venture with stops at a giant, inflated ketchup bottle located at the site where the Declaration of Independence was read to General Washington and his troops in New York City, a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge (Deb liked this), a search for the site of the first electric power plant, the address where the first utility bill was delivered (one block away from the power plant), and then a walk to the World Trade Center site. And while this was going on, a bit of praying on our parts that our car would be charged up enough to reach home.
We left the World Trade Center site and walked through the financial district on our way to the subway. On the way we stopped at the Trinity Church cemetery where we found the grave of Robert Fulton. Robert Fulton, of “Fulton’s Folly” fame, developed one of the first steam ships in the US. With his business partner, Robert Livingston (one of the “Committee of Five” Continental Congressional members that drafted the Declaration of Independence as well as a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the person who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase deal), a very successful transport company was founded that cut the time from one week to one day for transit up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany. The naysayers, pessimists and pundits of his day were silenced as it became clear that a new generation of transportation technology had arrived.Coincidently, adjacent to Fulton’s grave is Alexander Hamilton’s, of $10 bill and poor dueling skill fame.
Deb and I made it to the subway, and went uptown a bit to Astor Place where we could walk a brief distance to The Cooper Union, Peter Cooper’s remarkable educational institution. Deb is telling me to quit taking pictures and to get on the train before the door closes.We reached The Cooper Union, which is a historical building for many reasons. It has a large auditorium which was the largest at its time (built in the 1850’s) for many years. Abraham Lincoln, Booker T Washington, Susan B Anthony, Mark Twain and many others including President Obama have spoken here. A large, imposing sculpture of Peter Cooper is in the small park adjacent to the building where Peter gazes on a somewhat rough looking crowd in the park.I had previously described Peter Cooper’s business success in glue, and his associated developments of jello and the double boiler. He’s most lasting fame, however, was for building the “Tom Thumb”, the first steam locomotive built in the US. He also owned iron ore mines and steel making plants. Overall, he was a very, very successful business person with an eye toward key technological solutions for the needs of those times.
The thing I find most remarkable about Peter Cooper was his drive to provide opportunity for others. The Cooper Union, to this day, has no tuition. It has also been open to all regardless of gender, culture, race, religion or whatever means used to discriminate. If you are qualified and granted admission, there is no tuition. Our great land grant institutions and many other schools were formed with similar intentions, but have lost their way and thereby limiting our ability to provide education and opportunity throughout our population.
Enough of this soap box. Here’s where I’ll try to tie these things together. At a young age, Peter Cooper had the opportunity to demonstrate a tidal power driven ferry to the mayor of New York City. Robert Fulton was asked by the mayor to observe the demonstration, and in a haughty manner, denigrated Cooper’s ferry. Regardless of whether or not Cooper’s device made economic and technical sense, Cooper felt insulted and vowed to never treat others in the manner he had been treated. And so it seems, he stayed true to his word, forming The Cooper Union, an institution that embodies this ideal. Remember our visit to Thomas Edison’s first power plant? Thomas Edison, prior to any of his successes, attended lectures at the Cooper Union and also used its laboratories to conduct experiments on his first successful invention, a ticker tape machine. And, of course, it was Thomas Edison’s kindly words of support to Henry Ford, an employee of Edison’s Detroit Illuminating Company, that helped encouraged Henry. What would have happened if Fulton had responded in a kinder manner to Peter Cooper? Or, if Peter Cooper’s reaction to Fulton’s diss would have been to act in a similar manner to others as Cooper’s fame and fortune increased? Maybe the impact is not so earth shaking, but the air currents from a butterfly’s wings may be all it takes to set earth shaking events in motion, and a kind or disheartening word are every bit as powerful.
Nearby The Cooper Union is New York City’s oldest bar, McSorley’s Old Ale House, where our friend, Peter Cooper, and many others would frequent. For those who have trouble ordering from multi-tap establishments, it’s very easy in McSorley’s. You can order either light ale or dark ale. Five bucks gets you two very cold 12 ounce mugs of ale (who says NY is expensive?), and another three bucks a large plate of cheese and crackers with a spicy mustard that will clear your nose for a decade. Located above the bar is the chair used by Peter Cooper on his regular trips to McSorleys. McSorleys is a great place to stop, with an atmosphere similar to English pubs with lots of people engaged in conversation, saw dust covered floor, and overall comfortable surroundings. Next to Peter Cooper’s chair above the bar is the tavern’s motto: “Be good or be gone!”.
A short subway ride back to Chinatown to meet up with The Sun Catcher, and then back to Long Island. We were happy to find the car had been fully charged at the parking lot, dispelling whatever notion we had that it wouldn’t be so. And so our trip into the “City” ended, but was really the official start of our oil-free journey home.