Wednesday, July 28, 2010

further tales from the underground

I have recently finished reading the chapter about Alfred Beach's pneumatic underground idea in Paul Collins' Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck . There is a wonderful section in this chapter which describes the opening of the doomed Beach Pneumatic Transit Company, 260 Broadway in New York City. When reading this passage, I couldn't help but recall the sets of several recently released films, so have inserted pictures from these between the text (any guesses which films?).

Collins describes how journalists and politicians arrived at an unassuming building for the opening where they were ushered down the back steps into a cellar.

However it was no longer a cellar anymore but a comfortable office, and a few steps down, guests found themselves in a room
“120 feet long and ablaze with gaslit chandeliers, spread out before them ...

... Fine paintings hung upon the walls, lavish tables of champagne and hors d’oeuvres had been laid out, a fountain glittered with its stock of goldfish, and sumptuously upholstered couches awaited the visitors; in one corner a piano was playing, its notes echoing through the subterranean lair … beyond the edge of this cavernous room, brilliantly lit up, lay something that no New Yorker above or below had seen before: a subway car” (From Banvard's Folly, p156).
One wonders whether these set designers were inspired by the evocative image of pianos and champagne and other treasures underground? Banvard's Folly is a great read, and one that I would recommend if you are interested not only in a good story, but also some of the economic, political and other social events shaping pneumatic tube technologies of the past.

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