And now for some real oral history (yes, this is a series)....
It was May, 1939.
Chuff chuff, Chuff, chuff. hissssss.
The Amtrak pulled into Pennsylvania Station, New York City. A husband and wife stepped out of the train. Wow. Above them, vaulted ceilings rested in the warm shadows cast by the glow of electric lamps and outdoor sunlight. The couple carried their bags across the arching concrete walkways that led toward the center of the station.
Columns, cornices, and marbled scrollwork reached into the sky for hundreds of feet. The gods of ancient Greece would have been envious, could they see it.
Then my great grandparents walked into the main area.
Many stories above, arching webs of steel were flung into the sky. The girders, crossbars, rivets, and welds married visions of an industrial future with a sense of the gothic. There was light everywhere. The blinding summer light played on the girders, filtered in by the thousands of glass-panes that made the ceiling in this shrine to the worship of human accomplishment.
Train stations, airports, and bus terminals are spiritual places. When we sit down on our little bench and look around, we remember who we are. We remember the universe. The travelers pass by, rubbernecking at the sights. Others weave around like a cosmic needle, plunging through the crowd smoothly, directly. But no matter how much we take charge, we know the truth. Such sights make us feel very small, very alone in the world.
And so it is that the things we build to praise our might -- put us in our place.
But in May, 1939, my great grandparents didn't feel alone at all. Almost the entire town of Endicott, New York was on that train with them.