John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: June, 2014

First Impressions of the WTC Museum

Be not troubled or afraid. I know many of you who lived through the terror and heartbreak of September 11, 2001, experienced those events or witnessed it all helplessly cannot or do not wish to revive those raw emotions by visiting the place once called “Ground Zero”  be it the World Trade Center Memorial or Museum. Be true to your own counsel.


My purpose is to report my first impressions of visiting the museum. I had been to the memorial twice before when it was gated and entry required a ticket. Now the public space is open to all. It is in many ways a park, the memorial fountains are soothing, it is still partially fenced in by construction sites for new buildings and the PATH terminal which is terribly distracting and it will be filled by tourists especially this summer. No vendors are in evidence which has a calming effect.


The Museum is different. (I visited the museum on Monday, June 23rd with Mary Ann and my cousin and friend, Bob Christman.)


The ticketing process is still developing and purchasing tickets in advance is recommended, but, unless you are a member you will still face a slow line to claim your tickets. Extra time is a must. Security is the equivalent of being at an airport.

From security you descend by escalator, stairway or elevator to an informational level where there are guides, an information desk, rest rooms and the controversial book shop and gift shop. (It is discreetly set off to one side of this lobby.)


The elevators can be used to access the main floor but the primary path is along a long ramp that snakes downward. Early along there is a map cut into the wall in relief showing the four flight paths and recorded conversations from that day play as you pass. From high on the ramp, you first view some of the artifacts like the slurry wall, the last column removed from the site and steel from the side of one of the towers twisted by the impact from one of the airplanes. The survivors’ staircase is alongside the stairs and escalators that connect the suspended ramp to the main floor.


The main floor is far underground down where the footings for the towers were set.  The footings for both the North and South Towers are visible throughout this huge space and a ramp on the south side of the South Tower brings you below the footings exposing concrete and steel above this path.


Several different artifacts, memorial objects and remembrances are set out in various locations throughout these spaces. The area near the North Tower by the slurry wall is an enormous space with breathtaking views.


It is on this floor where the curators took the utmost care to provide an experience that each visitor commands for themselves. The telling of that awful day is presented in a separate exhibit behind a glass wall under a sign that describes what it is. Access to the exhibit is through a revolving door which gives pause to decide if you are ready to re-live those events. The photos of the dead are discreetly set in alphabetical order on the inside walls of a large room that you do not see unless you seek to enter.


The same is true for other experiences of the day. Nowhere is the visitor subject to shock, violence or terror. It is a somber place for sure. It is stark and minimalist in its framing of the objects on display and the story it tells. The large number of tourists in their bright, summer apparel counters the somberness but even the most casual visitor I encountered was subdued and seemed to understand.


I dreaded this first visit and there were certain experiences that my companions and I avoided. But, I am glad I made the visit and broke the spell. In the fall I will be ready to return and this time I intend to take the next step and re-visit some of the events and recollections that I was not prepared to encounter this time.

On Board The S.S. John W. Brown

We were about three and one-half hours out of the berth in Baltimore Harbor, slowly sailing on Chesapeake Bay, just past the half-way point on this six-hour historical voyage. So far, my two grandsons were holding up, but fading. They’d explored every part of the Liberty Ship open to them plus a few, I suspect, not open to the public where their nimble and athletic 12 and 14 year-old legs gained the better of obstacles in their path. You bet I was waiting for the melt-down, that moment when they would pass the point of no return; they’d lose it, their father would lose it and I’d lose it too leading, just perhaps, to burial at sea.


The staff and volunteers running this, the 99th historical voyage of the 1942-built, John W. Brown, truly had their act together filling the day with a variety of happenings, commemorations, events, meals and distractions to make for a full day. But for two electronically skilled, Type “A” personality Boys with a capital “B”, I knew when I made these plans that this adventure would be a challenge. Let the record show that when Drew was five and Matt was three, I told them: “From now on, Drew, your name is, Jesus, and, Matt, your name is, Christ. That way, when I yell; ‘Jesus Christ, knock it off,’ you’ll know who I’m talking to!”


Sailing on this World War II relic had been a long time item on my “bucket list.” The ship has four sailings in 2014 and Father’s Day weekend worked for me and their Dad, my son Mike. We did it right, drove down on Friday, taking them to see the Orioles play the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards that night. We lasted until the Eighth Inning when the rain arrived with the Orioles losing 2-0. We left for the hotel to see our Rangers lose the Stanley Cup to the L.A. Kings. (The Orioles also lost, 4-0.)


Saturday was glorious. The storm passed leaving a cool, dry, sunny day. Mike drove to the pier where we set eyes on this “old dog.” S.S. John Brown is just one of two Liberty Ships still in existence, left from the 2,711 frantically turned out by American shipyards to replace the incredible number of ships sunk by Nazi U-boats early in the war.


While we were waiting to board, I asked the boys, “Who do you think is older, me or the John Brown?” If you took me, you lost. I was launched in 1944, the Brown in 1942.


Drew and Matt, like their father and grandfather, have a devilish sense of the absurd, causing me to fear that security and the attitude of the regulars manning the ship could be an issue. Absolutely, not. Security was appropriate and, as for the crew, these volunteers all came with a relaxed attitude and a great sense of humor. Like one deck hand who told Matty, “Before you use one of the Port-o-sans, you should know that one flushes overboard. Let another person use it before you do. If they don’t come out, don’t go in.”


Activities included a girl-group trio, the Manhattan Dolls, who put on a wonderful Andrew Sisters, show while styled in tight-fitting, 40’s era tops and pencil skirts. The National Anthem, was appropriately, played as John Brown passed Fort McHenry and Taps as we cleared the harbor. After lunch just past the half-way point in the bay, an air show mesmerized the crowd as a Japanese Val and Zero buzzed the ship while the crew loudly shot off blank 20 mm shells from two cannons mounted on the bow. The boys asked me, “Gramps, what if they were real?”


“If they were real, we’d be toast.”


A US Navy Avenger and Dauntless intervened chasing off the “enemy,” one trailing smoke. The show ended with a B-25 Mitchell making a series of low passes.


One act remained, billed as: The Ultimate Abbott and Costello Tribute Show. It featured three comedians, Bill Riley, (Costello) Joe Fields (Abbott) and Jason Crutchley (Scoop Fields) who re-create a number of their classic routines. Drew and Matt joined me in one of the converted cargo holds and we were soon roaring to material like “The Honey Bee Club,” Two Tens for a Five,” Sticky Fingers,” “The Hidden Lemon Trick” and “Who’s On First.”


What is old was new again especially for the boys and it delivered so much that the effects lasted for the rest of the trip. Salvation was at hand, halleluiah!


We drove home the next day and met Jodie in Westchester where we said our goodbyes. When she asked them what was their favorite part of the trip, they exclaimed, “Mom, ‘Who’s On First.”


The Quonset Hut They Called Home

One Sunday afternoon when I was about nine years old my mother took me on one of our many outings to Canarsie to spend the afternoon on the pier overlooking Jamacia Bay. The pier was one of our regular Sunday destinations but this trip had a different twist. Leaving to go home, we walked under the Belt Parkway overpass, but Mom didn’t head for the bus stop on Rockaway Parkway. Instead, she led me toward one of Quonset Huts lined up in rows and rows that were a fixture for as long as I could remember visiting Canarsie.


As we walked toward one of the huts I realized that they were deserted. Mom made sure no one was around then pushed open the door at the end of the hut. I followed her inside this curved structure where the walls and the roof were one. It was empty. No furniture, no rugs, no remnants or reminders of who lived there. I don’t even remember seeing a sink or a toilet. We only saw one half as each hut was divided into two homes by a corrugated metal wall in the middle. But I do remember what my mother said out loud as we left: “I don’t know how a woman could make that her home and live there.”


When next we visited the pier, the Quonset Huts were gone and pretty soon construction began on a public housing project that the City would deem the Bayview Houses.


But the image of those cylindrical huts sheathed in corrugated steel lined up like an army of gigantic half-buried cans of soda or beer remained in my memory. There was another colony of Quonset Huts that I recall being located on vacant land in Maspeth, Queens, a short distance from where my Uncle Bill, Aunt Helen and my Christman cousins lived. This development was arranged on the slope of a hill that led up from 69th Street to Mount Olivet Cemetery along Eliot Avenue. Curiously, I can picture these tin cans vividly, but, like Canarsie, I can’t remember any images of the folks who lived there.


Quonset Hut housing: the why and how:


Our deliberate detonation of two Atom Bombs on Japan suddenly and dramatically ended the Second World War. Overnight, the incredible number of young American men who had and were still being assembled for the most massive of any seaborne invasion ever envisioned; the assault on the Home Island of Honshu became instantly superfluous.


Millions of GIs, swabies, Marines and coasties some still in Europe waiting to sail to the Pacific to meet their fate each said, thought or prayed in their own way the same thought: I’m free, free, thank God Almighty; I’m free at last!


And what does a young man want once he felt finally free enough so that he is able to look himself in a mirror, smile and reflect, “Damn I’m not going die alone out here.” What does he want? The girl back home!


The official date for the birth of the first Baby Boomers is January 1, 1946. That’s reasonable. The boys in Europe who did the heaviest fighting there could have been home in May, a good number had already married their sweethearts before going overseas so they had a quick staring point. Nature’s course was inevitable but hard core reality quickly hit; a significant number of these new families had no place to live!


“The housing industry, still reeling from the Great Depression, had been further diminished by a wartime shortage of materials and labor…As a result; an estimated one million families were forced to double up with other families…Before the end of 1946, that number would triple.”


Fortunately, our Nation remained on a war-footing and the right organizations existed on a local, state and national levels to implement emergency housing. They used what was available, military housing on bases made instantly surplus, other makeshift facilities like trailers, but for the most part, they relied on a ubiquitous and readily available alternative, the Quonset Hut.


Conceived by the US Navy before we entered the war, the original huts were built on their new base at Quonset Point, RI to equip a remote post on Greenland. The design was based on a British expedient building, the Nissan Hut. But His / Her Majesty’s government in its infinite wisdom had given the copyrights to Peter Norman Nissan, who designed this beauty when serving with the 29th Company Royal Engineers during World War I in recognition of his service. Some legal eagle in the Pentagon saw the patent implications of deeming these structures to be Nissan Huts and, as if by magic, they became Quonset Huts.


The emergency housing units went up quickly once construction began and most opened in 1946. One of the largest developments was in Los Angeles, the Rodger Young Village, built on a surplus aerodrome; it housed over 1,500 families. The press reported that eager husbands camped out two to three days before registration began.


413 were thrown up in Canarsie, each hut accommodating two families. The New York Times reported on October 16, 1946 that the first 75 units in a development in Jackson Heights, Queens were accepted just ten days after construction has begun. Ultimately, over 1,800 Quonset Huts went up on the former site of Holmes Airport.


By 1951 these humble dwelling had fulfilled their reason to exist but it took another two years for their hosts including the City of New York to evict the slackers, schemers, grifters and deadwood forcing them to move on down the road. By then, most vets and their families had moved on to the new suburban developments and the beat went on.


The huts were erased, there mission completed; here today, gone tomorrow. But I think I know the answer to Mom’s lament: “I don’t know how a woman could make that her home and live there?”


“Ma, she didn’t have a choice.”




Confessions of A Closet NY Rangers’ Fan

I shoot de puck, it go in de net, I score de goal, ay! To me, that’s the simplest and best description by an athlete replying to the tired, inevitable reporter’s question, “How did you win the game tonight?”


My late, great Canadian friend and business colleague, Terry Manning, related that gem supposedly made by Maurice Richard at one of our sessions at a bar somewhere in Montreal, New York, London or White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.


(Terry also taught me a valuable late-night pronouncement to be delivered before leaving a bar: “Let’s have one for the ditch!”)


Terry’s first love was the Montreal Canadiens, and I should have been able to torture him during the early 80s when we worked closely together as my local team, the upstart NY Islanders, won four Stanley Cups in a row from 1980 to 1983. But I couldn’t give a damn about these interlopers; my team was the Rangers, the one I grew up with.


My experiences with the Rangers originated during the early 1950s when my cousins, Helen, Bill and Bob Christman surprised me for birthdays and with tickets to Sunday night games at the old Madison Square Garden.


The Rangers weren’t good usually finishing fifth or sixth in the six-team league that was the original National Hockey League. They weren’t any better later in 50s when my friends and I started making visits to the old joint on Eighth Avenue and Forty-Ninth Street. We showed out high school General Organization (G.O.) Cards that together with fifty cents gave us access to the side balconies. The principal problem with those seats was they presented an incomplete view of the ice after the third row from the rail cutting off about 10% of the action along the near boards. Regulars would arrive early enough to commandeer entire rows of choice seats for themselves and their buddies and, if perchance we arrived early enough to seize seats for our selves, they were not beyond bully threats forcing us to vacate them.


College years and post-college years before marriage, it was not uncommon for us to attend the Football Giants contest on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium then proceed downtown via the Eight Avenue subway for hockey.


But try as I might, watching hockey on a regular basis was not for me and like NASCAR, if the subject came up, my eyes would glaze over and my thoughts would drift to a myriad of other interests while I half-listened to this background noise. I did attend a number of games at the Madison Square Garden that replaced the old joint in the late 1960s especially after my employer, Marsh & McLennan, leased a series of corporate boxes. Great to entertain clients and I could duck out early and catch a reasonable LIRR train in the basement back to Port Washington.


One memorable night, Winston cigarettes staged a Winston Cup night. At the time they sponsored stock car racing both on a national and local level and somehow or other it was hooked into this particular hockey game. We had 15 folks in the box that night each who received a bright red Winston baseball cap. Then, as luck would have it, a Ranger scored three goals achieving a “hat trick” that night. When thousands of fans finished sailing their new found head gear from high and low the ice had been turned into a sea of crimson. Then, lo and behold, the same chap scored a fourth goal. The few remaining caps hit the ice along with other hats of all types and even packs of Winston cigarettes.


But the playoffs are a different matter altogether and the further the Rangers progress, the further out of the closet I come. They had a near miss in the 1978-79 season losing in five games to Montreal and that glorious 1993-1994 season when they finally won the Stanley Cup and silenced the taunting chorus of “1940-1940-1940…”


Now twenty years later, the Rangers are back in Cup this time as decided underdogs against the Kings. Few give the Blue Shirts a chance. Balderdash! Proudly out of the closet, permit me to paraphrase the late radio sportscaster, John Kennerly, and declare: “The Rangers will go through Los Angeles like the Acela goes through Metuchen, New Jersey!