A visit to the new planetarium, and so much more.

Earlier I posted some memories of the old Hayden Planetarium in New York City. As a child it was one of my favorite places to go.

1956, Planetarium 1

Finding myself in New York City once again, I decided to take the opportunity to visit the American Museum of Natural History along with its new Science Center. With one small exception, I was not disappointed.

I started out with a wonderful presentation narrated by the Planetarium director, the illustrious Neil deGrasse Tyson, called “Dark Universe.” It was visually stunning and extremely enlightening. I mentioned to my Facebook group that if Carl Sagan were still alive, and had he been able to see this presentation, it probably would have brought tears to his eyes – such was the respect paid to the wonder of the universe in this beautiful show.

Next on the docket was a visit to a very brief presentation about the Big Bang, narrated by Liam Neeson. Only 4 minutes long, it was light on science but a good introduction to the subject for the many people who come to visit the planetarium.

Leaving the Big Bang theater, one exits the dome and proceeds down a spiral ramp with many exhibits along the way relating to the formation of the universe from the Big Bang to the present day.

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Other exhibits artfully and powerfully illustrate the scale of the universe from the subatomic to the farthest reaches of our observation. On the bottom floor one finds some familiar things: the Willamette meteorite which was salvaged from the old planetarium,

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and many scales embedded in the floor showing your weight at various locations in the universe, such as the moon, a red giant star, the Sun, and a neutron star.

One never stops learning. I was surprised to see that my weight on the “surface” of a red giant star was almost negligible. Had I stopped to think about it, I would have realized that these expanded giants are so large that their photosphere is far, far, from their center of mass, meaning that the effect of gravity is almost nil.

I was crestfallen to find out that the Copernicus room with its amazing clockwork orrery which I so dearly loved as a child no longer exists; the entire building that housed the old planetarium was torn down to make way for the new Science Center, and apparently the mechanisms had stopped functioning as early as 1980. Modern day knowledge and technology has far surpassed the needfulness of the old mechanical device… but it was cool. The planets actually moved in real time, and the glowing orange Sun at the center was captivating. At least I have the memories.

Orrery

Leaving the planetarium, I wandered around the Natural History Museum and reacquainted myself with many of its amazing exhibits. Like the movie in Paris, this is not a building that one can experience in a single day so I had to be selective. I was not, however, disappointed.

The old dioramas in the African mammal room and elsewhere have been lovingly preserved and maintained; they look exactly the way I remember them and are still stunning to consider. These are true works of art.

My first girlfriend, to whom my mother introduced me when I was about four or five, was still there, along with many other wonderful fossils. In the hall of dinosaurs, I learned something new again: the old conventional wisdom that a Stegosaurus had a brain in its ass to control its back end the same way a hook and ladder truck has a second driver is simply not the case. Live and learn: farewell, Brontosaurus. Farewell, butt brain. (But Pluto is still a planet, dammit.)

The museum is now home to one of the largest dinosaur fossils that can be seen by the general public. It’s so long that they had to have its head stick out of one of the exhibit rooms.

“The new, much larger occupant grazes the gallery’s approximately 19-foot-high ceilings, and, at 122-foot, is just a bit too long for its new home. Instead, its neck and head extend out towards the elevator banks, welcoming visitors to the “dinosaur” floor.”20160204_123143

 

 

 

 

The so-called “titanosaur” is so new that it has not yet been officially named, but it certainly makes for quite the sight.

There were so many other things to see. If I were to ever live in New York City again, which given real estate prices is far beyond the realm of possibility, I would certainly become a member and support the museum with regular visits.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

“Boom?”

And therein lies a tale.

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The above photo, found at reddit, illustrates he beginning of the construction of the Empire State Building in 1930. The top half of the image shows steam shovels carving away a hole for the foundation. Since Manhattan’s bedrock, ideally suited for the foundations of large skyscrapers, is closer to the surface in midtown and by the Battery, blasting was used to move that rock out of the way. (Historical note: the theory that this bedrock depth was responsible for the clustering of skyscrapers in those areas is giving way to other economy-based theories).

The procedure for this blasting was to drill holes in the rock face, have steam shovels cover up the area to be cleared with huge blankets made of twisted steel cables at least 1″ in diameter, and let fly. The resounding “whump!” was audible for blocks. The blankets were then removed, and the rubble cleared away by Mike Mulligan, Mary Jane, and friends. I loved watching this process as a kid, and construction companies would put windows in the walls around the building site so that rubberneckers could enjoy the spectacle. I was grateful to see these photos, as clear pictures of the process are difficult to find.

Earlier in life, however, there was a downside.

When I was about two, my parents lived in an apartment on Madison in the 90s. My room was next to the kitchen. One day I remember wandering into the darkened kitchen and beginning to play (I’m sure I had been forbidden to touch!) with the gas stove. It was cool to turn the knobs and watch the flame come on, and then turn them off and watch the blue fire dance around the burners before going out.

Remember this was in the early 50s: the oven had no automatic lighter, but you had to turn it on and stick a match down a hole in front to ignite the burner. I, however, knew nothing of that – all I know is that I must have turned that central knob, and when nothing happened, go back to the other four. However, the oven was filling up with gas, and the next time I turned on a burner, the inevitable happened.

With a roar, the gas-filled oven exploded. I was saved from serious injury by the fact that the oven door was taller than I was… when it blew open, it hit me on the forehead and I lost the front of my hair and my eyebrows, gathering a significant cut in the process, but my face and body were protected from the flames by the door itself.

I’m sure my parents were scared spitless, and relieved that I handn’t been killed outright. But my mother reported to me later in life that for a long time thereafter, when one of those construction blasts went off, my eyes would get as big as saucers, and I’d look at her, and ask “Boom?”

To this day I still don’t respond well to loud noises or being startled. I wonder if there’s a residual effect going on there? The most accurate of all Sun Microsystems “fortune” lines, at least for me, is “You will be surprised by a loud noise.”

Works every time.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

No Hamburger Tuesday.

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I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. But during WW 1 and WW 2, Tuesday was a day of rationing. I originally thought this sign had something to do with Thimble Theatre, but it turns out it has more to do with the European and Pacific theaters.

During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for every Tuesday to be meatless and for one meatless meal to be observed every day, for a total of nine meatless meals each week. The United States Food Administration (USFA) urged families to reduce consumption of key staples to help the war effort. Conserving food would support U.S. troops as well as feed populations in Europe where food production and distribution had been disrupted by war. To encourage voluntary rationing, the USFA created the slogan “Food Will Win the War” and coined the terms “Meatless Tuesday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” to remind Americans to reduce intake of those products.

Herbert Hoover was the head of the Food Administration as well as the American Relief Association during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, and played a key role implementing the campaign, which was one of Hoover’s many attempts to encourage volunteerism and sacrifice among Americans during the war. The USFA provided a wide variety of materials in addition to advertising, including recipe books and menus found in magazines, newspapers and government-sponsored pamphlets.

The campaign returned with the onset of World War II, calling upon women on the home front to play a role in supporting the war effort. During this time, meat was being rationed, along with other commodities like sugar and gasoline.

This particular photo seems to have been taken in New York, where Nedicks was a big chain.

It does not escape me that the waitress is offering you a hot dog on meatless Tuesday. John Godfrey Saxe once said, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” Which reminds me of the old joke about a customer who returned some hot dogs to his butcher, complaining that the middle section was filled with sawdust. The butcher replied, “Times are tough. It’s hard enough making both ends meat…”

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Coney Island, July 4, 1946

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That’s a lot of people. Made me think of similar pictures of crowded beaches in China – the linked ones are of China’s Qingdao Huiquan Beach. The brochure photo probably looks a lot different:

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But when it’s hot in the City and you want to get away, that’s the price you have to pay. I grew up in New York in the 50s and I don’t ever remember visiting Coney Island when it was that massively crowded, but this was, after all, a holiday shot.

♬ When the sun is shining  brightly
And there ain’t no ice cream cones,
It ain’t no sin to take off your skin
And dance around in your bones. ♬

The Old Wolf has spoken.

New York, 1865

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This photo of lower Hudson Street was taken by Marcus Ormsby in 1865, to showcase the John Peake pharmacy. It’s a beautiful capture of day-to-day life in New York at the close of the civil war.

Some intriguing information about this photo can be found at Ptak Science Books. As one who was raised in New York, such historical photos fascinate me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Original Penn Station, New York City

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New York, circa 1911, the original Pennsylvania Station lived for only half a century, ultimate succumbing to declining train ridership and the pressure to build upward.

 

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Another view from Gimbels department store, circa 1910.

 

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The general waiting room

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1962, the year before its demise.

Fondly remembered, sadly missed.

The Old Wolf has spoken.