Grand Central Terminal’s Centennial

Today (February 2, 2013) marks the centennial of the opening of New York City’s magnificent Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street. [1]

Whenever I am in the Terminal, I marvel at its beautiful details and overwhelming presence.

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

 

 

 

 

 

W. C. Brown
W. C. Brown

 

Being in the Terminal also reminds me of an ancestor who played a significant role in managing its construction for the New York Central Railroad: William Carlos Brown, who was a Railroad Vice President, 1902-1906; Senior Vice President, 1906-1909; and President, 1909-1913. He was the son of my maternal second great-grandfather, Rev. Charles E. Brown, and hence was my second great-uncle. [2]

William J. Wilgus
William J. Wilgus

The idea for the Terminal was suggested in December 1902 by William J. Wilgus, the Chief Engineer of the New York Central Railroad.

Wilgus was responding to the crash earlier that year (January) of two steam-powered trains in the Park Avenue Tunnel at 58th Street in Manhattan. Because of the steam, cinders, heat, fog and snow, the engineer of one of the trains could not see the other train and failed to stop. Fifteen passengers were killed instantly, and many others were injured.

As he pondered that year over the crash, Wilgus became convinced that it was no longer possible to run a massive railroad yard at the heart of the nation’s largest city and that electric locomotives would be much safer and more efficient to operate in cities. Therefore, he suggested demolishing the existing Grand Central Depot, replacing steam locomotives with electric ones and constructing Grand Central Terminal.

The New York Central’s board of directors in January 1903 approved this suggestion and committed to a massive demolition and construction project while not interrupting train service to and from the City.

The demolition phase was the largest in the City’s history at the time: 120 houses, three churches, two hospitals, an orphan asylum, stables, warehouses and other buildings on 17 acres were torn down.

On May 1, 1904, ground was broken for the new building. Upon completion it covered 70 acres with 32 miles of rails that converged into 46 tracks serving 11 platforms. The Terminal alone cost $43 million to build ($1 billion in today’s dollars).

N.Y. Times, Feb. 1913
N.Y. Times, Feb. 1913

When it opened, the New York Times called it the “greatest railway terminal in the world.” Another observer at the time said it “is not only a station; it is a monument, a civic center or, if one will, a city.”

Even more effusive in 1975 was the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division in rejecting a challenge to the designation of the Terminal as a “landmark” thereby restricting its redevelopment:

  • “Grand Central Terminal is unquestionably one of New York City’s best known buildings. Along with the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, the image of its façade symbolizes [the] City for millions of visitors and residents. The Terminal as a whole includes a variety of architectural and engineering elements: railroad tracks and platforms; space and facilities for marshaling and handling railroad equipment; passage-ways and ramps affording access to adjacent streets, office buildings and subway stations; and concourses for the use of passengers and pedestrians passing through the Terminal. The Main Concourse . . . is a large room, 120 x 375 feet, with a ceiling 125 feet high at its apex. “
  • “From its formal opening to the public in 1913 . . . the Terminal has been recognized not only for its architecture, but as a superb example of comprehensive urban design. The complete submergence of all the tracks and a double track system not only resulted in the accommodation of more trains without the acquisition of more land, but permitted construction of revenue-producing buildings on the air rights over the railroad tracks and the development of Park Avenue as one this nation’s most prestigious residential communities . . . . Today . . . [the] Terminal still remains a splendid edifice and a major part of the cultural and architectural heritage of New York City.”[3]

[1] To celebrate the centennial, Sam Roberts, the urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, published a wonderful article and video in the Times about the Terminal and its construction. The article was excerpted from his book, Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, which was just published by Grand Central Publishing. The Times also has re-published its February 2, 1913, special section about the Terminal’s opening. Photographs of yesterday’s centennial celebration are online as is a collection of vintage photographs of the Terminal. This post is based upon these Times articles and upon Kurt Schlichting, Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Engineering, and Architecture in New York City (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press; Baltimore 2001).

[2] Prior posts have recounted tales of Rev. Charles E. Brown. Subsequent posts will review W.C. Brown’s amazing railroad career.

[3] Penn Central Transp. Co. v. City of New York, 50 A.D.2d 265, 377 N.Y.S.2d 20, 24-25 (App.Div. 1975), aff’d, 42 N.Y.2d 1271, 366 N.E.2d 1271 (1977), aff’d, 438 U.S. 104 (1978).

 

Personal Reflections on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

When I moved to Minnesota at age 30 in 1970, I had no knowledge of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 or the execution by hanging of some of the Indian leaders of that war. I had not grown up in the State and had not been exposed to its history, and although I had majored in history in college and had studied U.S. history, the War was not covered.

BannerUS-Dakotawar

By the time I went to church on October 7, 2012, I was aware that during the U.S. Civil War there had been a short war with the Indians in Minnesota and that subsequently some of the Indian leaders were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota. That was the sum total of my knowledge of these events.

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

The moving worship service that day at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church was devoted to remembering that War and its aftermath, especially its impact on the Dakota people. The beautiful Indian music and the sermons by Westminster’s Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, and by Jim Bear Jacobs made me realize that the War and the executions of the Indian leaders were important events that had lasting effects to this day at least upon the Dakota people and Native Americans more generally.

I immediately wanted to share this moving and beautiful worship service with others by writing a blog post about it. I soon realized that there was so much to say about the service itself that I would have to break it up into three posts. I also realized that I needed to know more about the War and about the commemoration this year of the 150th anniversary of the War. This lead to my researching and writing separate posts on these subjects and another about the contemporaneous reaction to the War by my second great-grandfather, Rev. Charles E. Brown.

Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey
Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey
General John Pope
General John Pope

The additional research turned up the September 1862 exhortation by Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey for “extermination” of the Dakota Indians. The same disgusting clamor also was made that year by U.S. General John Pope, who was in charge of ending the uprising. Pope said his purpose was “to utterly exterminate the Sioux [Dakota]. They are to be treated as maniacs and wild beasts.” The next year the federal government offered a bounty of $25 per scalp for every Dakota Indian found in Minnesota.

The evident anger and fear of the white settlers perhaps are akin to that experienced by the American people after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Nevertheless, as noted in a prior post, these public incitements, if made today, would constitute one form of the crime of genocide under international law.

The impact of the War on Native Americans is only one of the many ways in which what has become the dominant culture of the U.S. has denigrated Native Americans. The result is high incidences of public school drop-outs, alcoholism and suicide among Native Americans. All of this reminded me of the testimony in the Minneapolis school desegregation case by a Native American educator who said he was a “well-balanced schizophrenic,” i.e., he had one foot in Native culture and the other in the dominant culture.

Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich

RoundHouseAnother insight into Native culture was provided by my recent reading of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, which was awarded the 2012 National Book Prize for fiction. One of the central events in the novel is the violent rape of a Native woman by a white man on an Indian reservation in North Dakota in 1988, and the resulting legal problem as to whether the federal or Native American courts had jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the crime.

In an Afterword, Erdrich, who lives in Minneapolis not far from my home, cites a 2009 Amnesty International report that points out that 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime, that 86% of such rapes and sexual assaults are by non-Native men and that few are ever prosecuted.

The novel also discusses something I never learned in law school or in 35 years of practicing law. In Johnson v. McIntosh, 21 U.S. 543 (1823), the U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice John Marshall, stated that radical title to U.S. land was obtained by European powers upon their “discovery” of the land and that the U.S. government inherited such title upon the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. In this context, “tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages.”

Two other U.S. Supreme Court cases were also mentioned in the novel as bearing on the jurisdictional issue presented by the fictional rape. In Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 (1832), Chief Justice John Marshall for the Court decided that the federal government had the sole right of dealing with the Indian nations in North America. Nearly 1.5 centuries later the Supreme Court in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191 (1978), determined that Indian tribal courts did not have inherent criminal jurisdiction to try and to punish non-Indians and hence may not assume such jurisdiction unless specifically authorized to do so by Congress.

This research, thinking and writing prompted further reflection on the subject of memory and the October 7th Scripture—Numbers 15: 37-41:

  • “The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. You have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”

God understands that we humans are forgetful and that individuals and especially groups of people need reminders of important things. Indeed, constant, physical reminders like fringes on the corners of your garments are useful because of our forgetfulness and our sinfulness. Similarly many Christians wear necklaces and pins with crosses for the same reason and to proclaim that they are Christians.

Such practices and the re-telling of important stories also help educate the omnipresent newcomers to the faith or the history. They help to keep the faith or history alive. That certainly happened at the October 7th worship service and at the Minnesota History Center’s exhibit about the War and the other events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the War.

For the same reasons the various ways in which Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero is remembered are important. So too the Holocaust museums in Washington, D.C. and around the world help us remember the horrors of the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

At the same time, my reaction to the October 7th Westminster worship service suggests another phenomenon. Memory can be asymmetrical. Most white Anglo-Saxons like myself have or had no memory or understanding of the U.S.-Dakota War. For the Dakota people and Native Americans generally, on the other hand, the War and the executions of the Dakota 38 is an ever-present, painful memory. Thus, this worship service and the events commemorating the War are especially important ways of trying to break through the ignorance of the dominant culture.[1]

My reactions to this worship service also help me understand that the third-part of the Westminster worship service—Responding to the Word—does not end when you leave the sanctuary after the service. It should continue in how you live your life and how you continue to think about and probe the meaning of the Word that day. My contemplation of this worship service and the Word will continue beyond this posting.


[1] A recent article discussed this asymmetrical phenomenon in the context of an individual’s new love for another person. It said that human beings are prone to “hedonic adaptation, a measurable and innate capacity to become habituated or inured to most life changes” and that “[h]edonic adaptation is most likely when positive experiences  are  involved . . . . We’re inclined–psychologically and physiologically–to take positive experiences for granted.”

An 1842 Journey from New York to the Iowa Territory

In May 1842 Rev. Charles Edwin Brown and his wife, Frances Lyon Brown, both 29 years old, and their two young sons (Benjamin Perry Brown, almost three years old, and Charles Perry Brown, one and a half years old) left their home in the small village of Warren in the central part of the State of New York to go on a Baptist missionary trip of roughly 1,500 miles to another small village, Maquoketa, in the eastern part of the Iowa Territory.

At the time Rev. Brown was the Pastor of the Baptist Church in Warren. Previously he had submitted an application for appointment as a missionary “in the distant West” with a preference for the Iowa Territory, and his application had been endorsed by the New York State Missionary Convention. Later the American Baptist Home Missionary Society appointed him to be a missionary to the forks of the Maquoketa River in Iowa at an annual salary of $100 plus $75 for travel expenses.

The Browns could not economically ship all of their household goods to Iowa so they sold everything except clothing, bedding, a table, a stand, a rocking chair and a small cook stove. These remnants weighed approximately 1,600 pounds.

This would not be an easy journey.  Of course, there were no airplanes or automobiles on Interstate highways to take them there. Nor were there any cross-country railroads. An account of the journey that is set forth in the memoirs of Rev. Brown, my maternal great-great grandfather (2nd great-grandfather in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s parlance), provides a window into what life and transportation were like in the U.S. of 1842 when approximately 17 million people lived in the 26 states of the Union. (Four years later, in 1846, Iowa became the 29th state in the Union.)

The First Stage: Warren to Utica, New York

Utica, NY, 1855

The initial stage of their trip for six or seven days, from Warren to Little Falls and Utica, New York, of approximately 130 miles presumably was by horse-drawn wagon. Utica, then a town with a population of approximately 13,000, was a terminus on the 17-year old Erie Canal that had been built to connect New York City’s harbor with Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes and thereby improve transportation into, and from, the interior of the U.S. This stage cost the family $15.00.

The Second Stage: Utica to Buffalo, New York

Erie Canal
Erie Canal Packet Boat

On Monday, May 2nd, at Utica the Browns boarded the Little Western, a passenger packet or Line boat on the Erie Canal for the second stage of their journey. They had a comfortable cabin in the bow. The kitchen and dining cabin were in the stern with freight and baggage amidships. “With good company, clean wholesome food, a sober and accommodating master and crew, the two hundred mile trip from Utica to Buffalo was comfortable and pleasant.”  As the boat did not run on Sunday, it was tied up for the day in Tonawanda, New York. This gave the family the opportunity to attend a Methodist Church worship service in the morning and for Rev. Brown to preach in the afternoon. On Monday (May 9th), they arrived in Buffalo, then a town of 18,000 people. The family’s total fare at 2 cents per mile for each adult was $8.00.

The Dart Grain Elevator, Buffalo, NY, 1842

With the Erie Canal, Buffalo became a key junction for the shipment of western grain to the east coast and beyond as the Great Lakes ships were too big to go on the Erie Canal. Until 1842 loose grain on the ships had to be manually scooped into baskets and transferred to the wharves by block and tackle while sacks, barrels and casks of grain and flour had be to manually hauled to the wharves and then loaded onto the canal boats, oftentimes with an in-between hauling into and out of warehouses. In late 1842, however, this changed with the invention by Joseph Dart and Robert Dunbar of a grain elevator with a steam-powered conveyor belt and buckets for the direct transfer of grain from the ships to grain elevators on the land.

The Third Stage: Buffalo, New York to Chicago, Illinois

Great Western Steamer

 On May 9th, the family boarded the Great Western, a Great Lakes steamer, for the third stage of their journey. The four-year old, 185-foot Great Western was one of the largest and finest of the day and was the first to have a spacious upper cabin for its nearly 400 passengers. The entire hull was occupied by the boilers with holds for freight and wood.

Great Lakes Map

Prior to completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, shipping on the Great Lakes was primarily on sailing craft as traffic was not sufficient to make the more-expensive steamers profitable to operate. The Erie Canal, however, expanded Lakes traffic so that steamers increasingly became the preferred mode of transportation as they offered fast, efficient and predictable delivery of passengers and freight.

The Great Lakes voyage on the Great Western steamer took six days before arrival on Sunday, May 15th, in the village of Chicago, population of approximately 5,000. Other than a storm the first night out, the trip was pleasant with short stops in Cleveland (population of 6,000) and Detroit (population of 9,000). Mrs. Brown commented that on the way they had seen the “pleasant villages” of Milwaukee, Racine and Southport, Wisconsin. The total fare for the family was $48.00.

The Fourth Stage: Chicago to Savanna, Illinois

After an overnight stay at the New York House, a two-story hotel in Chicago, Rev. Brown hired a man with horses and lumber wagon to take the family and their possessions the additional 200 miles to Savanna, Illinois on the Mississippi River. Their rocking chair and a small chair were put on top of the boxes for Mrs. Brown and the older son to sit on during the ride.

On Monday, May 16th, the fourth stage of the journey began in the lumber wagon. After two over-night stops, they arrived in the town of Rockford, Illinois, the home of the wagon owner. Unfortunately the owner had to testify in a trial, and the family was forced to stay there until the following Monday. The delay, however, gave Rev. Brown the opportunity to preach that Sunday in Rockford’s Baptist Church, his “first sermon in the west.”

On the following Monday after a day’s ride, near Crane’s Grove, Illinois, they asked Mrs. Crane, “middle aged and stout” with a pail of milk, if they could stay there that night. She replied, “Oh, I reckon, though I am mighty tired. The old cow gives a right smart of milk, well on to half a bushel.”

The next morning, the owner of the lumber wagon discovered that he had overfed his horses and one had died. Mr. Crane was then enlisted to take the Browns, again by horse-drawn wagon, the next 18 miles to Cherry Grove, Illinois, where the next day (May 24th) another man, Mr. Gardner, took the family to Savanna, Illinois on the Mississippi River. This was the Brown family’s first view “of the mighty river, its volume then being much greater than in later years.”

The Fifth Stage: Savanna, Illinois to Charleston, Iowa

Mississippi River,    Savanna, Illinois

The fifth stage of the journey on the evening of the 24th was a ferry across the Mississippi River from Savanna to Charleston (later Sabula), Iowa where they stayed the night in the local tavern. Perhaps the ferry looked like the one pictured at the right.

The Sixth Stage: Charleston to Maquoketa, Iowa

The next morning, May 25th, Rev. Brown hired yet another man and team to take them the final 25 to 30 miles to Maquoketa, Iowa. Around midnight they arrived at their destination, Mr. C. W. Doolittle’s cabin. “With cordial frontier hospitality . . . Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle turned out and welcomed us, prepared supper and then gave us their bed, while they found lodging for themselves and family in the cabin loft. Tired and worn by the long and tedious last day’s drive we slept sweetly and soundly, four in the bed, myself, wife and two children.”

Conclusion

This six-stage journey took a month: 6 or 7 days from Warren to Utica plus 24 days from Utica to Maquoketa.

Rev. Brown served as a Baptist missionary in Iowa for most of the following 36 years, a subject that will be examined in a subsequent post.