Bowsprite: A New York Harbor Sketchbook

happy new year: steam whistles & water worship

Posted in cibbows, coney island brighton beach by bowsprite on 2010/01/02

Happy New Year, Everyone! Happy, safe, blessed 2010!

Every new year’s eve at midnight, Conrad H. Milster, chief engineer of the Pratt Institute Power House, gives a steam whistle concert from the campus of Pratt Institute. 120 pounds of steam pressure release into the air, making the area resonate with a sound and power of a time now gone, and yet, preserved.

The engines are beautifully tended, “machinery that was built to be art.”

Milster was an engineer working on the ferries of NYHarbor in the ’50’s, and he has beautiful photographs of the old ferries. However, whistles are his passion. He has hours upon hours of recordings of whistles, and a collection of steam whistles of locomotives, factories, and ships–most notably, the whistle of la grande dame, the ocean liner S.S. Normandie.

“Here in the engine room, you see and hear motion, you smell the oil. The man who ran a steam engine saw how things worked. You were always adjusting the flow, checking the bearings, listening to the sound of the machine. To be a talented engineer, you have to emphathize with the machinery. If you have talent, the aesthetics of a good machine will grow on you.” Someone else waxed poetic on this very subject. (Quotes are from this article on Conrad.)

Here is a clip of the concert; the small whistles are controlled by a keyboard that anyone can plink on to let off steam, the larger whistles, by a rope to tug. DO bring ear plugs along with your champagne & glasses!

More clips! just a few hours later, these are from the Coney Island Polar Bear’s mad dash into the 39° waters:

This just in! for a lovely tribute to the midnight letting off of steam, see Rick’s video clip here. It was funny to run into my dear studiomates, Poul & Kayoko, friends Aki & Troy. Happy 2010 All!!!

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