Musement takes a look at some curiosities surrounding one of the most iconic landmarks of all time: The Empire State Building.
I first visited the top of the Empire State Building in 2005 during a school trip to America, which was the very first time I visited New York City. Our not-so-considerate chaperone took us there right after we arrived, at 7 o’clock in the morning—I don’t know if he did it because he had better things to do later that day (the most likely explanation, because he just left us—a bunch of 15-year-olds—to wander around Midtown by ourselves all day), or because it was simply the time of day when we were likely to be the least annoying. All I remember from that ride to the top of one of the most important symbols of New York City is the impenetrable fog. No breathtaking vistas, no panoramas over the Hudson Bay, no views of the city streets from above, contemplating how they resemble the veins and arteries of a giant organism. We couldn’t even see the pigeons flying just a few meters away from the top of the Empire State Building.
My second time, in 2009, was much more satisfying: the whole city lay at my feet, with Central Park, the five boroughs and the yellow cabs whizzing by on Fifth Avenue. Almost a century of cinema and music filled my imagination: so many artists have devoted their movies and songs to this magnificent Art Deco building that has towered over the city since 1931, and the building has done nothing but return the love of its admirers. It’s there, waiting to be photographed by anyone looking for a shot that—although probably not very original—would perfectly evoke the city’s unmistakable skyline; and it celebrates all special events together with New Yorkers, as its top floors light up in myriad colors: a rainbow during Gay Pride weekend, the red, white and blue of the American flag on the Fourth of July, and green on St. Patrick’s day.
As an homage to one of the most important symbols of one of the most beautiful cities in the world—one of those places you have to visit at least once in your life—let’s discover together some interesting facts about the Empire State Building.
1. A race for the heights
John J. Raskob and Walter P. Chrysler both had a lot in common: both were passionate about cars, but also about building skyscrapers. Raskob built the Empire State Building only a year after the completion of the Chrysler Building, another real Art Deco jewel located only 300 meters away. But Raskob intentionally made sure that the Empire State Building would be taller than the Chrysler Building in order to rob it of city’s tallest skyscraper title by making it 20 stories higher.
In the ‘20s and ‘30s, fancy fringed clothing weren’t the only things in style—airships were all the rage as well. Admittedly, they haven’t had the same cultural staying power that the vagaries of fashion and time have bestowed on flapper dresses, but back then, they were the next big thing: so much that even the top of the Empire State Building was designed as a landing pad for airships. Unfortunately, it was used only once for that purpose: after the first airship landed atop the Empire State Building, people figured out that the winds were too strong at that height to ensure safe landings.
3. A spectacular lobby
Naturally, everyone is amazed by the breathtaking views from the top floor of the Empire State Building—but there’s plenty to be amazed by on the ground floor as well: in the main lobby, you can feast your eyes on an extraordinary Art Deco relief sculpture made from aluminum, 23-carat gold leaf and rare European marble that represents the Empire State Building itself and a map of the state of New York.
4. A tragic number
Among all the impressive numbers, the Empire State Building is also known for a very sad statistic, which has nothing to do with movie glamour or extraordinary heights: no fewer than 30 people have chosen to take their own lives by jumping from the top of the skyscraper. In fact, the ghost of Evelyn McHale, who committed what’s known as “The Most Beautiful Suicide”, is said to haunt the 86th-floor observation deck.
5. I Heart New York
“Sex and the City”, one of the most beloved and revolutionary series in television history, is not only set in New York but is an ongoing love letter to the city. It was no surprise that the September 11 attacks made a powerful impact on the series: the last episode of the fourth season, titled “I Heart NY”, was dedicated to what happened that day, and for the later seasons, the iconic image of the Twin Towers in the credits—which used to show up behind the main star, Sarah Jessica Parker—was replaced with the Empire State Building, which took their place as symbol of the city with solemn dignity.
6. Cameos on the big screen
Just how many movies have featured the Empire State Building in a prominent role? There’s no definitive answer to that question. It’s simply impossible to count up all the myriad movies, scenes, TV shows and music videos in which the Empire State Building has made an appearance over the years. Among the most well-known, we can mention movies such as King Kong—with its iconic image of the giant gorilla climbing to the top of the building—When Harry Met Sally, Annie and I, or Kramer vs. Kramer—but any list will only end up missing hundreds and hundreds of them.