01 May 2010


Seventy-nine years ago the Empire State Building in New York City was completed. At 1250 feet high, it stood as the world's tallest building for more than forty years, until the completion of the World Trade Center in 1972. After the tragic fall of the WTC in 2001, the Empire State Building once more became the tallest building in the city, though not the world. A flurry of global skyscraper construction in newly oil-rich nations has dwarfed (relatively) the ESB, so that now it is the fifteenth tallest building on Earth. (click on any image to enlarge)

The ESB retains a special place in my heart. When I first saw a picture of it in a third-grade geography book in 1956, I was enthralled. At the time I was attending a country school in Bynum, Montana -- two stories and three classrooms held the children in grades 1-8, all overseen by a visionary rancher and Renaissance man named Ira Perkins, the school principal. 'Twas he who insisted that rural kids become active in music, dance, gymnastics, and reading, in spite of a miniscule budget. He encouraged creativity and an unfettered imagination, balanced by firm but fair adherance to school rules. On one sunny winter's day during recess, as kids built snow forts and tunnels, and played fox-and-geese on a maze of paths through the snow, the sun was reflected off ten thousand white crystals on the ground. I was delighted, especially when Mr. Perkins told me that the points of light were snow fairies. That fanciful notion remains with me.

Those were idyllic times -- riding horses bareback in the warmer months, seeing herds of antelope leaping fences on the hillside near the school, listening to music and dramas on the radio (no TV back then), every moment a threshold of discovery. School was my oyster. I loved learning about the wider world, and still do. When I first visited New York City in the early 1990s, I was privileged to stand on the viewing platform atop the WTC south tower, with a 360 degree view of the city. Looking north up Manhattan, I easily picked out the Empire State Building -- a double thrill on a day of personal highs.

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