Tag Archives: New York

Gettysburg – A Journey into History

When we set out on a visit to Gettysburg National Battlefield, on a sunny day in early spring, I was counting on a glimpse into an eventful chapter of history… but the extent of it was an eye opener and way beyond my expectations.

The battle of Gettysburg was one of the biggest battles in the Civil War, fought between the Confederate and Union armies – the Army of Northern Virginia led by Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of the Potomac led by Union Major General George Meade.

This battle accounts for the highest number causalities in terms of people killed and wounded, and is considered the turning point when the tide started turning against the confederates. It was fought in and around the town of Gettysburg (obviously!) over July 1 to 3, 1863. Over the three days, wins in the battle shifted between the sides, but by the end of the third day, a decisive blow had been struck and General Lee’s Confederate Army was forced to retreat, abandoning all hopes of a victory in the north. Intermingled among the stories of valour and heroism and utmost sacrifice in the course of the battle, are the stories of brother fighting against brother, and friend turning against friend. Just imagine the emotional upheavals that rent the hearts of so many people!


I was very very impressed with the way the battlefield is maintained and managed. All the sites and monuments are clearly marked and the auto tour is the most helpful facility. You stop your car at the clearly marked auto tour stops and put the CD in the car’s player. The commentary provides you all the information to understand what happened at that site and its relevance to the battle and the war overall.


Markers along the way tell the stories of the events and memorials pay homage to individuals as well as fighting units. Most of the states that participated in the battle on either side have also dedicated memorials.


Among the state memorials, the earliest established was the Virginia Memorial dedicated on 6 June, 1917. It portrays General Lee riding his horse, Traveller. At the base of the are shown various men who left their civil occupations to join the war… a professional man, a mechanic, an artist, a boy, a businessman, a farmer and a youth.


The biggest of the memorials belong to Pennsylvania, dedicated in 1910. On top of the dome of the monument is depicted the Goddess of Peace and Victory. Above the huge arches are carved battle scenes honouring the four branches of the army, infantry, cavalry, artillery and signal corps. At the base, bronze tablets list the names of the 34,500 Pennsylvania soldiers who participated in the battle of Gettysburg.


New York Memorial very impressive. Topped with an eagle and showing the state emblem, it displays the names of all commanding officers and their units, not memorialised individually.


The North Carolina Memorial was one of the early ones, being dedicated in 1929. A wounded officer is shown urging his men forward, while he points to the enemy.


The Mississippi Memorial showing two infantrymen, one mortally wounded and fallen down holding the unit colours, while the other is in the act of defending the colours using his musket as a club, was dedicated in 1973.


The Louisiana Memorial depicts the Spirit of Confederacy holding aloft a flaming cannonball, rising over a fallen soldier – an artilleryman – who grasps a battle flag to his chest. This memorial was dedicated in 1971.


I like the Maryland Memorial very much for its conceptual inclusiveness. It shows two soldiers from Maryland, belonging to the two sides, helping each other. Also, a bronze tablet at the base lists the Maryland commands in both armies. This memorial was dedicated on 13 November, 1994.


You will also find a memorial to the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy, dedicated in 1965, to honour all the men who fought in Confederate armies and navies. It shows a colour bearer urging his fellow soldiers to come forward. On the base are inscribed the names of the states that formed the Confederacy.


The 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg was celebrated with around 2,000 veterans of the Civil War from either side attending. All veterans were invited to attend the function with expenses paid. At the gathering, on 3 July 1938, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, a monument to peace and national unity, was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt. Made of Maine granite and Alabama limestone, the memorial is topped by an eternal light symbolizing the United States.


Markers like these are present all over the place and provide you the most valuable information to understand what passed here, so many years ago.


The different types of cannons used at the battle are on display at various locations at the site.


A view of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

When you start talking about the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular, there is so much to talk about… so many interesting snippets. How did General Lee’s estate and home in Arlington turn into the Arlington Cemeteries? What happened with the Schwartz brothers at the McLean House? Why did General Sickles often visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine? So much to talk about. Maybe another post, another day.



25 Jul 2014

On the Kindness of Strangers…

At some time or other, we have all been touched by the kindness of strangers. I’m not talking about someone helping you with a heavy suitcase down the staircase at the train station or holding the door for you when you are loaded with shopping bags. Those are actions of the moment, without much thought behind them, more like reflexes of good manners. What I’m referring to are actions that are the results of conscious decisions to help others with no thought of personal gain.
The other day I was listening to ‘This American Life’ on NPR, and the story was about unusual acts of kindness by strangers. What was unusual about them was that some of the stories were not even intended as acts of kindness. Like, the guy who walked along the subway platform, telling each waiting passenger that were either in or out. The story goes on to narrate how inspiring it was to be told ‘you’re in’, though it meant nothing and was just a random muttering from a stranger. Was there an intention here to help people feel good? I would rather doubt it, but the end result was that it made others happy.
Listening to the stories, I was reminded of an incident, two summers ago, when I was subject to an act of kindness – actually, more like a present – from a stranger.
It was around 2 pm and I was waiting for a train to downtown, to meet a friend for a movie. As usual I had a book with me, and sat reading as I was a few minutes early. Suddenly I got this feeling that eyes were upon me and looking up saw this person watching me intently. I looked around; lots of people on the platform, so no need to worry. Ignoring the watching eyes I returned my attention to the book.
Time for the train and I got up and walked out. The person approached me smiling and started speaking. It was easy to say, ‘sorry, I don’t speak Spanish’. He extended a small card towards me and kept talking in a mix of English and Spanish. The only words I could get were… ‘for you… books… to read’. He pushed the card into my hand. I looked down and saw that it was a Barnes & Noble gift card. Like a true New Yorker I thought… Oh, the guy wants to sell me the card – probably blank. Yeah, right!
By this time, the train was approaching the platform. I tried to give the card back to him. But he wouldn’t take it and kept explaining. What I could grasp from his talk was this: he was a visitor to the city and was going back that day. Did not have time to use the card, and so wanted to give it to me.
The train doors were open, and it was easier to say ‘thank you’ and get in to the train than continue arguing with him. And I was careful to sit far away from where he sat. I pushed the card into the book I was reading.
I did not think of it further till I was passing in front of the Barnes & Noble store on Broadway (which has since closed). Went in and checked to see if the card was of any value. How much do you think was on that card? 78 dollars! I was amazed, to say the least. And truly felt ashamed at being so suspicious of the guy’s intentions!
Why did he pick me to make a present of the card? I cannot make a guess, except maybe it was because I was the only one reading a serious book on the station platform.
I still remember two of the books I bought with that card… ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ by Jhumpa Lahiri and ‘Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas’ by Tom Robbins, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed!

20 Jun 2014

The Park in the Sky

How often does one get a chance to be part of history? That too, the history of such magnificent city as New York? Such was the good fortune of the people around when the Highline opened on June 9, 2009.

What is Highline? It is a beautiful, beautiful park that was built and nurtured on the abandoned old tracks of the 6th Avenue El!


A bit of flashback… the Els, or elevated railroads, in New York were built to avoid the frequent accidents that used to happen with the freight trains running on the ground in the city. It was sooo bad that horse-riding men were employed to gallop ahead of running trains, waving red flags, to keep pedestrians off the tracks! Hence was conceived the idea of train tracks off the ground and running above the city streets.

On June 5, 1878, the 6th Ave El started operations. It covered a distance of 13 miles with stations at Rector St, Cortlandt St, and Park Place on Church Street; Chambers St, Franklin St, Grand St, Bleecker St on West Broadway; 8th, 14th, 23rd, 28th, 33rd, 42nd, 50th and 58th Streets on Sixth Avenue. The line also connected directly to factories and warehouses, enabling freight trains to deliver meat and produce – raw as well as processed – inside the buildings. And what is great, is that the traffic on the El did not affect the ground traffic at all!

However, by the 1930s, the decline of the El had started. The entire structure had weakened beyond hope of repairs. After being operational for 60 years, it was decided that the 6th Avenue El will be torn down. And on Dec 4, 1938, the operations on the line came to an end. And parts of the line were dismantled.

Fast forward to 1980s… plans are being made for the demolition of the remaining parts of the El. Local residents headed by environmentalists and activists challenge the plans in court. In 1999, a neighbourhood group, ‘Friends of the High line’ is formed to find alternate usage for the space offered by the now defunct railroad tracks.
Gradually support for the group increases and in 2002 a City Council resolution is passed advocating the reuse of the tracks.

In 2004, funding from the city is acquired for the development of the tracks. A design is selected through competition and the Highline Park comes into being, with the first section extending from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street open to the public on June 9, 2009!


‘Enchanting’ is an apt word to describe the Highline. The rail tracks are kept intact and flowers, shrubs and trees of all kinds are planted along the sides and between the tracks. And they change according to the seasons, adding variety to the overall sense of greenness that the park has.


The rail tracks that used to go into the meat packing factories and other manufacturing facilities can still be seen, though the entrances to the buildings are blocked up.


You can enjoy coffee, snacks and ice cream in one of these red brick factories, converted to a small marketplace. Also, you will find commemorative t-shirts, pens and very interesting books in the marketplace.


And the Highline has become a venue for art shows and exhibitions. The other day when we visited, a sculpture show was going on, attracting quite a few fans.


In fact, the whole area surrounding the Highline has developed an aura of artiness as evident from the street paintings and art objects.


Looks like even the neighbouring buildings are inspired to contribute to the effort!


And the views! Boy oh boy! It’s wonderful to look along the streets from the height of the Highline Park.


And some of the best views of the Hudson are from the Highline.


Looking for an exotic venue for your next event or occasion? Come to the Highline! And if you are in a mood to help out with the park, you can always volunteer. All in all, the Highline Park is making history in the neighbourhood!



06 Jun 2014


If anyone was asked to name the most heard of street – road, highway, boulevard, whatever – in the world, the universal answer will be ‘Broadway’! Reaching far back into history, and glorified in so many works of fiction and poetry, this thoroughfare could be the most identifiable single element of the great city of New York!

This is the oldest north-south arterial road in New York, existing from pre-Dutch times, when it was just a trail used by the native Americans. With the Dutch settling at the southern end of Manhattan island in 1620s, it became a country road extending north, beyond the gates of the settlement at present-day Wall Street. Today Broadway runs the length of Manhattan, starting at Bowling Greens in the south and moving out of Manhattan past 220th Street. (Actually, it extends further another 20 miles, to end at Sleeping Hollow in Westchester county, but it’s the Manhattan part that matters, right?)
Broadway could not be contained within the grid system of New York City roads, adopted in 1811, and goes diagonally for most of its way through midtown. That also explains the curious shapes of some of the buildings at Broadway’s intersections. A prime example of this will the Flatiron Building.

Starting with an impromptu parade on October 28, 1886 to celebrate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, Broadway has always been the place for parades. A parade could be to honour a visiting head of state or someone with a major achievement, or to celebrate a victory in a sports event or anything else significant. Thus did Broadway get the sobriquet ‘Canyon of Heroes’.

The new generation may not – will not – remember the quarter inch ticker tapes that carried the stock prices from the exchanges and spewed out by the stock ticker machine. As the lower part of Broadway has always been lined on either side by financial institutions and brokerage firms, they had a lot of this ticker tape lying around. So what was more natural than showering some of it on the procession going down on Broadway… yep, just like confetti! And thus did the parades on Broadway get the name ticker tape parades.

These days, the ticker tape parades go from Battery Park to the City Hall. And each parade is commemorated by a granite strip with the name of the person being honoured set into the sidewalk of the Canyon of Heroes.

Only, instead of the ticker tape, paper from the shredder is most often used!
Along the Broadway are Wall Street, Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street fame, Trinity Church, City Hall Park, Union Square, Times Square, Columbus Circle and Central Park, Columbia University, The Cloisters, and a host of other interesting places.


Trinity Church

And these days Broadway has become a synonym for theatre in NYC! Mainly for the reason that the theatre district where the majority of the playhouses are located, is right on the Broadway. And from there, you have off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway performances as well! And if you want to snag some discount tickets, that can be done at the ticket kiosk at Times Square too!


Ticket booth at Times Square


Zuccotti Park


Food trucks along Broadway, downtown

A random thought… wouldn’t it be great to do a full walking trip of the Broadway, from one end of Manhattan to the other? Say for example, start at Broadway Bridge at the top of Manhattan and walk all the way to Bowling Green… sounds awesome! So here it is… before this summer is over, I’m going to do that. It takes me around 15 minutes to walk a mile; 13 miles in a day will be easy-peasy! One more item added to the summer fun!



16 May 2014

Back to downtown for a lunch time walk…

Soon after I had moved to the mid-town office (The salt mine I work at has offices all over the world!), I had taken a happy break from winter, going to work from our Bangalore office. So it had been a while since I was in downtown New York. Okay, five months, but this is New York and a lot can happen in five months! And recently when I went to meet a few friends there, it was like a new place… all exciting and interesting! And of course, I went on a lunch time walk. So this is for all my friends who used to share that walk in times gone by…

The first noticeable change was the new connection to the Winter Garden from the World Trade Center PATH station. Gone is the bridge and corridor overlooking the construction site at WTC. The high ceilinged concourse is stunning, with the pillars arching over, way above the pedestrians. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the concourse is part of the transportation center at the WTC, scheduled to open in 2015. The concourse will have shops lining the sides when whole construction is complete.

The Winter Garden is also being redone, of course, without changing the iconic basic structure.

The trees outside the winter garden always reminded me of candelabras in their winter state. And in the next week or so, those branches will be adorned with green leaf clusters, obscuring the structure of the branches, but providing such delightful shade to people taking their lunch break under them.

The trees have already started sprouting buds, even as last year’s dry seeds are still hanging on.
Squirrels are already busy starting their collection for the next winter. Come on buddies, don’t worry… winter is sooo far away!

It is a wonderful walk along the tree lined walkway to the battery Park, with river Hudson on one side.

I love the blue lights along the South Cove where one can climb up on the viewing towers to get a good look at the Hudson traffic and the Statue of Liberty.

And there are interesting art works as you continue past the South Cove. One of the art works always aroused speculation among us though its name was clearly written. I have seen people looking at it from all angles to see what the artist wanted them to see, instead of what a first look told them. Here is the artwork for you…

There is one willow tree that I take note every year; it is one of the first to sprout and it is ever beautiful with its delicate tresses waving in the breeze from the river.

At the corner of Battery Park is Pier A, originally constructed in 1886 and in use variously by the New York City Department of Docks and Harbor Police till 1992. It is the oldest historic pier in the city and is a designated New York City Landmark. Currently, it is being restored and will be home to an oyster bar and restaurant.

Charming is the apt word to describe the Manhattan skyline from this point. The red stones of the old buildings and the blue reflection on the new 1 World Trade Center tower look so well matched.

From the Battery Park, I turn to Broadway and the walk back. Of course, saying Hi to the Wall Street bull.

The history of that bull and how it came to be in that spot is a story connected to the illustrious past of this financial capital of the world. Another time…


09 May 2014

What is in a name? Seriously?

I am a great fan of AWAD (A.Word.A.Day), a daily subscription email list founded by Anu Garg of wordsmith.org. There are certain words that I might not have ever encountered but for the daily AWAD email. Petrichor jumps to mind… that lovely indescribable scent that emanates from the parched earth after the first rains, finally got a name when it dropped into my inbox one fine morning. Bringing with it, memories of monsoons and school reopenings which for some inexplicable reason coincided most of the time. But I digress…


Last week’s AWAD theme was toponyms – words derived from the names of places. Got me thinking about how place names came into being. Also, about interesting place names.

It is easy to imagine the need to identify geographical locations in communications, even in cave people days. ‘Big mammoth felled at rock mountain; come, join the fun’ would prevent a lot of that mammoth going waste, you can imagine. 🙂 And most of the earliest place names were based on geographical features, naturally. That trend continues to the present day with innumerable names like Glendale, Riverside, Hillview, etc.

A lot of place names were carried over from the old countries by immigrants who were nostalgic for the lands left behind. New York (earlier, New Amsterdam, when it was owned by the Dutch), Lancaster, Brunswick (New, North, South), Rochester, Stamford, Berlin, Copenhagen… they are all present. When I was travelling in Egypt, the tour guide asked us why we had to have a Cairo and Alexandria in the US. The only answer we could give was that the US is a true melting pot! 🙂


Many of the current place names are derived from their original names used by the native Americans, which again were based on geographical features. A prime example is Manhattan, from ‘manna-hata’ meaning ‘island of many hills’ in the language of the Lenape tribe. Massachusetts (by the great hills), Connecticut (place of the long river), Hoboken (where pipes are traded), Passaic (river flowing through a valley)… very interesting to take a look into the thousands of such names.

Then there are place names that exist in every state, sometimes more than once in the same state. Middletown, Harrison, Bloomfield, Fairfield… can you think of any state that does not have towns with these names?

Then there are the truly interesting place names. Like Cut and Shoot in Texas, Casa Blanca and Moriarty in New Mexico, Hell in Michigan, Real and Loving also in Texas (two towns, not Real Loving!), Caliente (meaning ‘hot’ in Spanish) and Steamboat in Nevada… the list goes on. Not to forget Blue Ball and Intercourse in Pennsylvania, so inexplicably close together!

But my favourite is Truth or Consequences in New Mexico. According to my friend Google, the city called Hot Springs changed its name to Truth or Consequences, the title of a popular NBC radio program, in 1950, in response to a promise that the program will be aired from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Voila! Hot Springs got a new name!

The most poetic and literary place names I have come across belong to Columbia, Maryland. Columbia is a planned community with self-contained villages and its localities are named after places in the literary works of well-known American authors like Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, etc.place-names-word-cloud10

Kind Rain, Scarlet Petal, Rising Moon, Deep Calm, Open Sky, Tawney Bloom… can you imagine any more poetic place names?


Interesting thought…

According to Wikipedia though the word Manhattan has been translated as ‘island of many hills’ from the Lenape language, the Encyclopedia of New York City offers other derivations, including from the Munsee dialect of Lenape: manahachtanienk (‘place of general inebriation’), manahatouh (‘place where timber is procured for bows and arrows’), or menatay (‘island’). Which one would you think is most apt? 🙂


27 Jan 2014

NYBG Train Show


I was so afraid I was going to miss the NYBG holiday train show this year. For starters, I was travelling for almost the whole of December. And, once I got back, the polar vortex also arrived, bringing ice and snow and sleet with it… Still, despite all odds, I made it in the nick of time… went and saw it on the last day of the show! 🙂

As my people already know, I am a great fan of trains. Small trains, big trains, unusual trains… all of them. Even the PATH trains. But at the NYBG show, I found the trains sort of meh… What really got me was the landscaping.

Combining historical and geographical interest, the show features 140 iconic New York buildings, many of them from dates past. The models are made to scale using all natural plant parts. It is almost like a miniature tour of the city!

This year’s show features 21 model trains and covers 6,000 square feet of area with 1,200 feet of track laid out. The trains in the show are G-gauge and represent American trains from the late 1800 steam engines to today’s high speed passenger trains.

A new introduction this year are trains made of plant parts, looking like they are straight out of some fairy tale. Hoping there will be many more of them next year!


Among the buildings recreated are the Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Public Library, the Guggenheim, City Hall, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, the original Pennsylvania Station, Met Museum and many many more.

The train show debuted at the NYBG in 1992. The designer behind the wonderful miniature landscapes is Paul Busse, assisted by a team of 20+ artists and engineers of the Applied Imagination team. More examples of their fascinating work can be seen at www.appliedimagination.biz.


Plans for the buildings are made with the help of photographs and architectural drawings. Then a shell is made with foam board. Twigs, bark, moss, leaves, flowers, acorns, pine cones, seed pods… anything that comes from nature is used to mimic the architecture. The finished product is coated with a thin layer of resin to protect it from dust and moisture.


Each structure involves hundreds of hours of painstaking work, with every intricate detail recreated through the imaginative use of materials. The minute details, executed so meticulously, truly gives meaning to that oft repeated word ‘awesome’!


I was left with the definite impression that the original structure would have been way better if it was constructed with natural plant parts! 🙂

Notice the pistachio shells and corn husk?

Notice the pistachio shells and corn husk?

The holiday train show is held at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory of the New York Botanical Garden.



From the ‘Am I seeing things?’ department

Was Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home in Tarrytown, featured twice in the show? I believe so (in fact, I have documentary evidence!) but realised that only when I was looking through the pictures taken! 🙂




15 Jan 2014

It’s cold out there…

It is cold… believe me, it is really really cold… Brrrr… it is brrrrold. No, that is not true. Brrrrold is bracing cold. When you want to go for long walks with a sweater thrown over the shoulders and something from Starbucks in your hand. Cold that makes you think of good things like fireplaces and warm red wines and chocolate brownies.

What we just went through is nothing like that. This was frrrold… freezing cold, bone chilling cold, mind killing cold. Cold that breeds inertia, cold that makes you think of the equator and escape.

The polar vortex, as the cold snap was called by the meteorologists, has set many records, including the coldest Jan 7th since 1896!

Apparently, it has also inspired many to conduct interesting experiments. We all know about the ‘lick the lamppost’ experiment… who doesn’t love A Christmas Story? Happens, a girl in New Hampshire really did that and was stuck to the pole for 15 minutes before she could be freed. She apparently hasn’t seen the movie, or couldn’t resist the ‘triple dog dare’!

Some other interesting experiments include throwing boiling water up into -17 degree F air, blowing bubbles that freeze in mid-air, and making slurpees by super cooling soda. If you would like to see these in action, take a look here.

Anyhow, when weather gets this cold, I know it is time to pack my bags and bid adieu to New York for a few weeks. Fortunately, the salt mines where I work has offices all over the world – literally. So by the end of the month, I’ll be happily headed to Bangalore, part work and part vacation. And won’t be back till the buds start waking up and daylight savings time is on again. 🙂

Thinking of travel, I knew I needed a new toiletries bag. And I had to make it before my trip. So finally got around to it this week. Yep, being house bound has its advantages too; things get done!

Actually, there is not much to it. Take a rectangle and circle of fabric, make partitions in the rectangular piece, attach it to the circular piece, and you are done! 🙂

Any kind of sturdy strong material will work for this. The measurements will depend upon how big you want it. Mine is nine inches tall with a six inch diameter. For that the measurements were 23×17 inches for the rectangle and 7 inch diameter for the circle.


Make a narrow fold and stitch 4 inches on two of the short sides of the rectangular piece.

Fold and stitch both the long sides of the rectangular piece, one inch on one side (the side where the side stitches are already made) and half an inch on the other.


Fold and pin four inches along the long side where the half inch stitch was made. And mark sections as you see need.


These are to hold the brushes, perfumes, lotions, etc. Stitch along the marked lines.


Now, attach the rectangular piece (folded edge) to the edge of the circle. Turn inside out and thread a ribbon through the top fold.


Tada… all done!


If you would like more detailed instructions, feel free to email me: ria at thebigjackfruittree dot com.


I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (what else is beer for), the power to change the things I can (coffee to the rescue) and the wisdom to know the difference (workin’ on that one).




10 Jan 2014

Festive New York

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The last days of December… The best time to be in the city. Just as we pull out our winter woollens at the first indication of the chill, the city pulls out its adornments of magical enchantment. Lights twinkling from every building and every tree, music percolating into the street, smells of hot chocolate and coffee wafting in the air… all add a lightness to your steps.


Of course, there are more tourists in the city, more than at any time of the year; they are everywhere wandering around with maps in hand and eyes on top of the buildings. However, even they begin to look charming, with their mittens and scrubbed faces and dangly caps. Maybe an unforeseen impact of the holiday cheer going around! 🙂


For me, the one event that triggers the festive season is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. This year, it took place on December 4, a Wednesday.


In an event broadcast live worldwide, Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned on the 45,000 multi-coloured LED lights on the 76-foot tall tree, topped with a 9 1/2-foot-wide Swarovski star. Artists who performed at the ceremony included Mary J. Blige, the Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel, Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis.

Toy soldiers at the Rockefeller Center

Toy soldiers at the Rockefeller Center

Looking at the spectacular pageantry associated with the event today, it will be hard to imagine the simple origins of the tradition.


The year was 1931. The nation was under the grip of the great depression, but New York suffered more than other parts of the country. Businesses had closed, manufacturing had ceased, and construction had come to a standstill. The stock market had lost 90% of its value; unemployment was above 25%.


Like a ray of light shining through the cloudbank, work on the Rockefeller Center started in the summer of 1931, bringing hope to the construction industry, burdened with a 64% unemployment rate.


By December 24, the plaza was cleared and excavation had started. Workers lining up at the site to collect their paycheck decorated a 20 foot evergreen rising out of the rocky ground, with garlands of cranberries, tinsel and tin cans. I’m sure none of them even dreamed that their action would set up such a long standing tradition!


Today, the search for the perfect evergreen to become the Rockefeller Center Tree starts in the beginning of the year. A minimum height of 65 feet, with a width of 35 feet at its broadest point, will qualify a tree to be in the running, but it takes a special something, be it a symmetrical shape or thick branches – something that contributes to that perfect look – to be the winner. The Rockefeller Center’s head gardens manager makes the final decision on the selection.


Once the tree has been identified, it is given special care and regular grooming. In November, preparations will start to get it ready for its travel to Manhattan. The branches are wrapped in twine and burlap, and are strapped tight to the trunk to make a compact shape. When ready, the tree is held up using a hydraulic crane and cut. Trees have travelled to the city on trucks, barges and once even on an airplane!


  • There were two Christmas trees at the Rockefeller Center in the years 1936 and 1937; three trees in 1942.
  • The 1966 tree, harvested 120 miles north of Ottawa, was donated by the Canadian government to celebrate their country’s centennial in 1967.
  • In 1941, four live reindeer were penned near the Christmas Tree as an added attraction.
  • On Dec 27 1979, a man climbed to the top of the tree to demand the freeing of Americans held hostage in Iran, and stayed there for an hour and half till he was coaxed down.


Generally the trees are taken down in the first week of January, most often either donated to Habitats for Humanity for use as lumber or chipped and turned into mulch.


Though the Rockefeller tree holds the pride of place in the city – the country, the world – J there are so many lovely ones I make a point of visiting every year. Here is the one at the Bryant Park with the ice skating rink.

Bryant Park

The shop windows dress up so beautifully during the season that one tends to forget the crass commercialism for the moment and marvel at their beauty. Look at these from JC Penny…




“I’d rather be a lamppost in New York than mayor of Chicago.”

James Walker, Mayor of New York City from 1926 to 1932, nicknamed ‘The Late Mayor’ for his tendency to be always late and ‘The Night Mayor’ for obvious reasons. 🙂


01 Jan 2014