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Those Hudson River Tunnels Turn 109 today

It’s been quite the week for anniversaries related to the old Penn Station.

On September 10, 1906, quite the engineering feat was accomplished when the first Hudson River tunnel was connected. Digging for two years from opposing shores, engineers met behind the tunnel shields midway beneath the Hudson. In a moment resulting from precise mathematical calculation and quite possibly luck – the final alignment was only off by 1/16 of an inch. The connected tunnel hosted reporters, engineers and executives two days later for a walk through. The second tunnel was completed two months later. When they finally opened to train traffic they were the longest underwater structure in the world. Engineers remained confounded by their constant shifting and oscillation. Tidal effects in the Hudson were finally identified as the cause. 

These are the same tunnels that have consumed political conversations of the past few months. Politicians near and far have postured on a plan for the inevitable replacement and cost. In a nostalgic and romantic way, it’s nice to remember that math and little luck helped create an underwater structure that has faithfully served us for 109 years and probably more while political battles wage on. 

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This day (and yesterday) in Penn Station history...

In the course of conducting research for the show, it's pretty easy to find anniversary dates for something. With construction of Penn Station taking roughly ten years, and then it standing for another fifty-five, something can be found for nearly every date on the calendar. But as we ease back into post-Labor Day routines starting today, this is a week full of fun factoids. 

Today, September 8th is an anniversary of the LIRR extension in Penn Station The LIRR, owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad at the time, would be the first line extended into the station. While the station remained under construction around them, LIRR passengers boarded and disembarked in a cordoned off area. The first trip 115 years ago, would be the first of many to provide easy rail access to Manhattan that fueled suburban growth in Long Island and New Jersey in the first half of the 20th century. By the 1920s, two-thirds of Penn Station's traffic will come from the suburbs.

Jules Crow,   Pennsylvania Station Interior  , 1906. Watercolor, Ink and Graphite on Paper. New-York Historical Society, PR042,   Mckim, Mead & White Collection

Jules Crow, Pennsylvania Station Interior, 1906. Watercolor, Ink and Graphite on Paper. New-York Historical Society, PR042, Mckim, Mead & White Collection


Yesterday, Labor Day Monday, remains a celebration of America's workers. As the the holiday came to be recognized federally in 1894 by unanimously passed legislation, it's passage followed the conclusion of the Pullman workers strike that crippled the railroads, resulted in 30 deaths and required federal intervention. While Labor Day had its origins in New York City in 1880s when 10,000 garment workers held a parade, rally and picnic, railroad workers are often symbolically linked with the Labor Day movement. 

More impressively, yesterday marked the 101st anniversary of the opening of the New York Post Office. At opening it was simply called Pennsylvania Terminal, and later renamed the Farley post office in 1982. Also designed by McKim, Mead & White, the postal building continued the Corinthian Colonnade of its railroad neighbor.  The famous inscription adorning the building: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" is not the official motto of the United States Postal Service (it doesn't actually have one).  It was suggested by McKim, Mead & White staffer William Mitchell Kendall who borrowed from Herodotus' Histories description of Persian mounted couriers.

VIA Library of Congress

VIA Library of Congress

VIA The Museum of the City of NY

VIA The Museum of the City of NY