The Empire State Building has been linked to me, in one way or another, since before I was born. That may sound a bit confusing…but stay with me.
I am an American male, raised to hide emotional reactions. But, I can say that the building has made me cry on more than one occasion. When I was young, one of my favorite movies was King Kong. I could quote lines…once upon a time…yes, I could. Now I can merely paraphrase. But as a boy, somehow I “got” the idea of why Kong did what he did to the people of this wonderful town. He was frightened and he was in love with Faye Wray so he took her to the only place where he could save himself and, he thought, her.
It didn’t work. He died. She lived. And the hero at the end said something like: “It was beauty that killed the beast.”
So, I cried.
I cried again when Deborah Kerr was hit by a taxi on her way to meet Cary Grant in An Affair To Remember. When he finally found out that she was paralyzed because of him, he cried. “I didn’t see the taxi,” she said. “I was looking up at you.”
And, yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan finally met (thanks to his little boy) on the observation deck in Sleepless in Seattle. It didn’t help me when Jimmy Durante sang “As Time Goes By” at the end. And, the lights of the building became a giant red heart.
[Tonight, the building is bathed in blue in honor of the Alzheimer's Foundation.]
I kissed more than one girl on the observation deck. I got a parking ticket once when I left my MG on 34th Street…beneath a NO PARKING sign. I once had to pick something up for my wife in an office of the building, so I wandered the hallways, not as a tourist!
The legends and lore of the Empire State Building are many. Amazingly, it was built in only 10 months! It was opened to the public on May 1, 1931. (May 1 is my wedding anniversary.)
Sixteen years and one month later, I was born.
According to Wikipedia, there were 30 attempted suicides by jumping. It seems only four were successful. The first occurred before it was even opened. A worker was laid off. He jumped to his death. One jumper clearly was not on the “List.” She jumped off the 86th floor deck but the wind blew her back to a ledge on the 85th floor where police brought her inside.
A slightly gentler breeze could have ruined her whole day.
On a foggy day, July 28, 1945, a B-25, flying in zero visibility flew into the side of the building between the 79th and 80th floor. Fourteen deaths resulted. Parts of the plane severed the elevator cable and the operator survived a 75 floor free-fall. Look it up. She’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.
On a clear day, in late 1930 or early 1931, a young man was walking along the streets of the west Village. The man worked for Bell Labs on Bethune Street. He looked up and saw the workers putting the finishing touches on the Empire State Building.
The man had come from a rather poor family who lived in northeastern Pennsylvania. He had dropped out of school and left home to find work in the Big City. The man lived in Bergen, NJ with a relative. His wages were low but he sent what he could back home to help out. After a year or two, the man returned to complete high school, court a young woman named Mary…and eventually married her in 1936.
I know this story pretty well. The man was my father, Paul.
He told me all this when I was a little boy watching King Kong.
“No,” he told me more than once. “I never saw a large ape climbing the building.”
As a little boy, I never could quite believe him about this. How could he not have seen the ape falling? How could he have missed it when beauty killed the beast?
The beast? Well, I guess that’s where I played out my small role in my father’s contact with this great building. Sixteen years and one month after he walked down Bethune Street, I was born.
Add two years to that…I would be entering the “Terrible Twos.” So, my father gets the beast after all.
And, about 70 years later, I’m standing on 7th Avenue looking up at a very special building…washed in blue light…honoring those who have lost their memories.
That’s something I’ve haven’t done…lose memories.