Monday, October 11, 2004

Cooper blog.

Lilly came with me to the office today, since school had adjourned in honor of Cristobal Colon. She entertains herself pretty well at the office, and generally doesn’t bother me at work. She’s also easy to feed lunch, since what she wants is McDonald’s. So from today’s Happy Meal bag, I learned that the concept rolled out 25 years ago. 1979: Year of the Happy Meal. Since that was the year I graduated from high school, the concept missed me, like more and more youth-oriented marketing schemes. But my children are right in its crosshairs.

This particular McDonald’s, in the food court at Northwestern Station, probably doesn’t have too many children for customers. I suspect this because the Happy Meal toy was some action figure from Treasure Planet, not merely a bomb, but last year’s bomb.

When I was on walkabout in New York last week, I didn’t manage to see any sites of historic or cultural import, at least on the inside. But after I finished my meal, I noted on my PopOut map that I was near Cooper Union and Cooper Square, so I headed that way, stopping first at St. Mark’s Bookstore, an independent of the sort every city ought to have. Besides many interesting books, such stores have shelves and shelves of titles I would seldom read, let alone buy, such as just about any kind of litcrit. But I’m glad those books are there, all the same.

The neighborhood was alive with college kids, mostly NYU students I expect, but also probably handfuls of Cooper Unionists. The outside of the CU building — the big 19th-century main one — was dimly lit and foreboding in the evening, in that way that Victorian structures often are, a cast of light and shadows befitting the full name of the institution: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.

I’m only mildly acquainted with it as an institute of higher learning. Mostly, I’d heard about the Great Hall, site of a number of famous speeches but none more so than one by Lincoln in early 1860 that put him on the national political map. The CU’s web site has this to say: “When the [Great Hall] opened in 1858, more than a year in advance of the completion of the institution, it quickly became a mecca for all interested in serious discussion and debate of the vital issues of the day.

“The Great Hall was the platform for some of the earliest workers' rights campaigns and for the birth of the NAACP, the women's suffrage movement and the American Red Cross. To the Great Hall's podium has come a pageant of famous Americans – rebels and reformers, poets and presidents. Before they were elected, Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Taft and Theodore Roosevelt all spoke there. Besides Woodrow Wilson, only one incumbent president has spoken in the Great Hall: William Jefferson Clinton…”

Hoping for good luck, I suppose, I read that Sen. Kerry spoke there this summer. When I walked by last Monday, the serious discussion and debate of the vital issues of the day seemed a bit muted, since no one was around but the guard at the front desk. I didn’t think the hall would be open, so I walked on.


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