Across the pond with Rex Wailes: New York

January 06th 2020 by Nathanael Hodge

Extracts from Rex Wailes' 1929 diary of his trip to the USA and Canada. Part 15.
Poster Image

The Flatiron Building, New York


On Saturday, the 18th., I went with Mr. McClelland to his office at Flatiron Building - the first of the New York skyscrapers. From here I went on to the E.S.U. I got my mail, and found Miss Briggs, the reception Secretary, most helpful. The trouble was, that I couldn't give her anything to do until I remembered the East Hampton windmills on Long Island. After much trouble she got into touch with Mr. Alfred P. Hinton of East Hampton, and I spoke to him on the 'phone. He said that it was a 3 hour journey from New York each way and (I’ve regretted it ever since) I jibbed at that and said I hadn't got the time.

A New York ticker tape parade, 1920s

Just as I was leaving the E. S. U., Mr. McClelland 'phoned to say that there was a police parade in the afternoon, and that if I would join him at his office we would lunch at the Holly and all three watch it from the office afterwards. We did. It took 3 hours to pass, and consisted of most of the under 3 years service police and the police bands, 5,200 in all. Mounted, river, traffic, automobile, fire, prison and ordinary police. The idea was to agitate for an increase in pay or free uniforms (they buy their own at present and get about $1500 a year salary). There was an enormous crowd, which grew gradually less. As the colours passed, which they frequently did, the men raised their hats and the police saluted. This too got gradually less! People in buildings threw down torn paper and littered the streets with it, while sporadic rushes across the street were made by individuals or groups of pedestrians, sometimes they got over and sometimes they were stopped by the police on duty. The traffic up Lower Broadway and all Fifth Avenue was held up and only at a few intervals was a halt called, and cross town traffic permitted.

The Woolworth Building and Hudson River, painting by Colin Campbell Cooper (1856-1937)

When all was over, we went up the Woolworth Tower, and I was shewn New York - or such of it as we could see. Brooklyn and Staten Island were in a haze, and Jersey City under a pall of smoke. Only Manhattan Island was clear. It is an impressive sight, but one wants binoculars to see clearly. I’ve regretted not having them many times. Mrs. McClelland felt very dizzy and didn't enjoy the trip most unfortunately. She said that she felt as though she was slipping off the edge. That Panorama from the Woolworth Building is fine under those conditions, what must it be like on a clear day. On either side of Manhattan Island great wharves and docks, with all kinds of river traffic from motor boats to the Leviathan. The bridges across to Brooklyn and Jersey City, the wonderful skyscrapers to the south, with the Islands, and the Statue of Liberty in the background. To the North, endless buildings on a chequerboard plan, with a green pier in central Park, but otherwise seemingly limitless.

Times Square, New York in the 1920s

In the evening we took a bus up Fifth Avenue and Broadway to 40th Street, walked up to about 50th Street, and then down 4th Avenue to Times Square, whence we returned to the Hotel by Subway. Thus we saw the Roaring Forties of New York. A huge blaze of coloured and illuminated signs, intense by reason of their multiplicity, to a degree which Londoners can only imagine dimly. Theatres and Cinemas hold sway here, and the wonder of it is only exceeded by its crude vulgarity. For all that, it is effective and impressive, and worth a visit for anyone. The crowds on the sidewalks were enormous, and nearly every shop seemed to be open at 10 p.m. I believe assistants are paid overtime, but these people certainly work harder for their money than we do.

I forgot to mention that on Saturday evening Mrs. Farner was waiting at the Hotel with Mrs. McClelland. She took us for a drive in her car - with chauffer – down 6th Avenue, across to Central Park, and up Riverside Drive to her "apartments" (flat). The flat is expensively furnished with good stuff in bad taste. Here we had bootlegged Canadian ale (lager) and she talked hard, very entertainingly - but such a talker.

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