There are a million stories in the naked city … like the time the Empire State Building “caught fire” in the middle of the Christmas season.
It was December 10, 1966, an unseasonably warm evening in New York City, with Saturday-night travelers and holiday shoppers thick on the streets.
One of them, in the area of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, pulled a fire alarm.
Shortly after 6 p.m., three fire engines, two hook-and-ladder trucks and a rescue squad came roaring into the area, ready to fight something all of the men aboard must have secretly dreaded — a fire on the upper stories of one of New York’s tallest landmarks.
The firemen dashed into the building, hauling equipment, as thousands of passers-by gathered, gawked and took pictures.
(This according to the New York Times, to whom this entire account is deeply indebted. Presumably the alert had not yet gone out to clear the sidewalks surrounding the building.)
A few minutes later, the all-clear sounded. There was no fire, just the illusion of smoke, created by a dense, swirling cloud of smog and the lights of the building’s upper stories.
And the city sighed with relief, for a moment, then moved on to the next of its million stories and momentary distractions.
My grandfather was not there, as far as I know.
He sure enough saw the smog, though:
I’ve written about environmental alerts showing up on my grandpa’s calendar. Those were a few years later, though. I don’t remember every one of his entries, but this is the earliest entry I can remember to make special notice of pollution or harmful environmental conditions.
Apparently this bout of smog and fog hung around for a few days — and got pretty serious before it finally cleared out.
The New York Times of Dec. 11 reported that Connecticut state health officials declared an air pollution alert due to “lingering stagnant air” over much of the state. Officials called a halt to open burning, and asked residents to stop other activities that could contribute to the smog.
(Unfortunately, it looks like my grandpa had a couple errands to attend to on the 10th that required him to burn some gasoline. A gentleman needs his trousers and a clean set of teeth, after all. Alas, I must blame my grandma — that looks like her writing — for transposing his dental appointment 12 hours ahead.)
The paper also reported that New York’s airports, as well as highways in northern New Jersey, were forced by fog to close for the morning of Dec. 10.
Temperatures were warm up and down the Eastern Seaboard, with cities from Hatteras, N.C., to Syracuse, N.Y., reporting record highs.
And the lead of the Times’ Page One weather story deserves reproduction here:
A perspiring Santa Claus outside Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue growled “Merry Christmas” to a staring youngster, and at the Weather Bureau office in Hangar 11 at Kennedy International Airport, the meteorologists “kept the door open to catch a breeze.” It was Dec. 10.
I wonder what the reporter would have written had he (or she) been assigned to follow Bill Blumenau around for the day.
A perspiring middle-aged man grumbled to himself in the dentist’s chair: He’d dressed for winter, and the office was unexpectedly stuffy. He shifted his position to keep from sticking to the seat. It was Dec. 10.
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A couple of notes catching up from last week’s post, which featured some original music based on 70-year-old home recordings of my grandpa playing piano:
– Thanks to those of you who took the chance and went to check out the sounds. (If you meant to do so, and it slipped your mind, the Hope’s Treat EP can still be heard here.)
– Thanks to your support, Hope’s Treat actually showed up on some of Bandcamp’s popularity rankings, based on the tags I used to label the EP.
– Finally, some suggested that the good readers of Hope Street might be more interested in my grandpa’s original piano solos than my alterations of same.
For those who fit that description, here’s a short YouTube movie featuring my grandfather playing a medley of two songs.