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Looking south from the Empire State Building

  • Thursday, January 31, 2013

A true essay by Tom Dunn

1. About 1932 my Aunt Marge brought me over from Astoria to Manhattan. I insisted that we walk completely around the Empire State Building and kept staring at its very top. Upon completing our circuit, I cried out in dismay “Auntie Marge, there’s no scrape on the sky!”

2. My father, Michael James Dunn, was born in Harlem and hated being a “City Slicker.” One summer he traveled south toward the Bowery, where Manhattan actually began. From there he took the Staten Island Ferry, crossed that Island and took another ferry into Cliffwood, N.J., his ultimate destination.

3. There he visited his Aunt Maggie and Uncle Jack who raised chickens. Dad even enjoyed the “Out House,” because it assured him that he was way down in the “country.” One day he climbed a tree and, lo and behold, he spotted the Empire State Building! This dismayed him no end, because he realized that he was not that far from the Big City.

4. Nevertheless, Dad pranced around Cliffwood enjoying life in the country. My mother was fascinated by his happy attitude. This eventually led to their love and marriage.

5. They had 6 girls and 2 boys. My brother Jim and I had 2 girls between us, so he belonged to his Astoria gang and I to mine. Manhattan grew from the Bowery slowly northward, soon reaching 23rd Street. The “Flappers” were show girls who would sing “23 Skidoo” meaning “Get Lost, Buddy.” Delancy Street also stretched across from the East River to the Hudson River.

6. My grandfather, Tom Finnerty, became a “Longshoreman.” He’d ask one of his kids “Go see if the flag’s up.” Then he would strut down to the wharf with his baling hook strapped into the back of his belt,

7. Mom told me that she doesn’t know how Pop ever let her marry Dad, whom he called “a bloody pimp"! I was shocked that Mom knew what that word meant,

8. The Statue of Liberty was clearly visible on Ellis Island: “Give me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Pop Finnerty and millions of others came to America via the Statue of Liberty and soon settled all over our country,

9. Jersey City looks right at the Statue. Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel calls his Jersey City home “Purgatory.” He and I shared seminary life together at Garrison on the Hudson across from West Point. I entered at age 14, knowing nothing about real life. My first assignment was to “Our Lady of Sorrows” at Pitt and Stanton Streets on the lower east side. Unlike Father Bee Jay, I did not remain a Catholic priest very long.

10. As a young girl my Mom worked in the Flat Iron Building, clearly obvious by its V shape. Mom called her home Greenwich Village, not Grennich.

11. Like a million others I could stare south off the Empire State Building forever, enjoying a thousand memories. Did Steve Brodie really dive off the Brooklyn Bridge? Who knows?

12. I’m 86 now and will never again look south off the Empire State Building, such a magnificent view. I’m quite sure that I will fly “HOME” to Heaven soon on whispering wings.

Tom Dunn
Garden City Beach

Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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