Saturday, March 24, 2012

“Are you sure we aren’t in Russia?”

.....I asked father. Since I had never been past the Atlantic Ocean, I had no idea what I’d find there, but it could not have been much different from what we wandered into at Brighton Beach. People speaking in foreign tongues, signs in another language….better yet in another alphabet altogether (I later found it was Cyrillic). No one spoke English at all. It was fascinating and exciting! I wandered into one of the many fur shops and tried on huge, full length furs with hoods….I know now that there was probably no place near Pittsburgh where one could wear such a coat. But, later in my life I would find many destinations to appreciate such a coat! Like the Nordic countries, the South Pole, and even Alaska…..

I did not purchase a coat that trip, but I will always remember the fun I had dreaming of doing so…..astoria

By the by, check out my Russian-inspired coat:

By the by, I never again visited Brighton Beach…..but in the very short time I was there, I felt a true sense of community. The people were kind and the welcome was warm. I recently came across other people's memoirs of Brighton Beach and found them heartwarming.
The world is one big community now, but there really is no place like one’s home:

By the by, I just read in a mag that Adele, the grammy-winning singer, just purchased a $3.1 million Brighton beach home! I thought that was so very exciting to be near Coney Island and all....but alas Archer corrected must be the Brighton beach in England! After all, the article also said that it was only a five minute commute to her boyfriend's office, and that would be a quick skip across the ocean. Silly me! I suppose that means she'll be leaving her haunted mansion!


By the by, check out my fabulous black brocade coat, Adele, a tribute to Adele! at:

By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures:

In need of nourishment.....

.... father and I strolled along contemplating the gastronomic offerings the vendors displayed. We finally settled on a couple of Coney Island’s finest frankfurters and topped them off with (of all things) sauerkraut! They were deliciously wonderful……and called “hot dogs”. I can see why!
 As we strolled the boardwalk, we realized that we could possibly work a little business into our sojourn. So we decided to stay for the evening at the Hotel Brighton. It was only a short walk away and would allow us to spend the next day shopping at the Russian furriers we knew to inhabit Brighton Beach.

By the by, interestingly, the Brighton Hotel had been moved up the beach before we got there…..that’s right…. “after a series of winter storms threatened to swamp the hotel, a plan was developed to move it in one piece 520 feet further inland by placing railroad track and 112 railroad flat cars under the building and using six steam locomotives to pull it away from the sea. Engineered by B.C. Miller, the move was begun on April 2, 1888 and continued for the next nine days, being the largest building move of the 19th century.” (according to Wikipedia). Tell that at the next ladies luncheon!.....astoria

        By the by, luncheon attire:

By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to:

Beyond the rides...........

....we saw the most extraordinary people one had ever laid eyes on…they were human oddities, and rather pitiful creatures, some called “freaks.”

They were just off the boardwalk. We descended into a world of darkness and bizarre images. I gripped father’s hand as we walked ever so carefully. There was a woman there with a long flowing beard, and children joined at the waist called “Siamese Twins.” There was also this tortured soul called the “Snake Girl” whose body seemed to dwindle down to a tail resembling a snake.
While I was amazed, I was also appalled. I wanted to look away but could not, until our descent into the bizarre world came to an abrupt halt as daylight blissfully assaulted our eyes again.....astoria  

By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Coney Island actually dates back to 1609.....

....when Henry Hudson landed on the shore in his exploration of New York Bay and the Hudson River.
It was purchased according to historians for “15 fathoms of wampum, two guns, and three pounds of powder.” What do you suppose a fathom of wampum looks like? Such a small price to pay for such a place of wonderment!
The “Wonder Wheel” that lead me here, opened in 1920, and was built by a man named Charles Herman.

                                                         By the by, city attire:

I had never seen “roller coasters” before but I found them tantalizing and frightening at the same time! The first one here was called the “Thunderbolt” and opened well before my time, in 1925. It was followed by one called the “Cyclone” in 1928. With a little research I found that these creations had ties back to the Russian community that settled right next door in Brighton Beach. Our “coasters” really began in St. Petersburg Russia in the 17th century and were called “Russian Mountains.” They were ice hills that upper class Russians went sliding down for fun! Even Catherine II was a fan of them................astoria       

By the by, I visited Coney Island again when I was older. It was much quieter and rather sad. There was a haunting
beauty to the place, even then, and now I understand there
is a resurgence of interest in it.  I find it captured best in a book you can find at:

By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Since it was our first time in New York together.....

....we needed to take a day off and just go exploring for the sake of fun, and oh what fun we had!
How could anyone spend time in this city, thinking of fun and not go to Coney Island!

I had never been to an “amusement park” and really didn’t know what to expect so this was bound to be quite the adventure.
 We got up early and made our way to the wonderful underground trains they call subways. We had to catch just the right train, on just the right platform at just the right time. It all seemed awfully confusing for me, but father had done this sort of thing before, so I tried my best to learn from his example.
  The BMT Brighton Line train came roaring and rumbling up to the platform at what seemed tremendous speed, but managed to stop in just the right place for us to get on board.
 After a rather exciting ride, both above and below ground we exited into the bright sunlight of the train station, shared by both Coney Island and Brighton Beach......astoria

                               By the by, travel attire:


As we left the station I could already see the amazing ferris wheel that marked the skyline as Coney Island......astoria


By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to:

Monday, March 19, 2012

There was a small string quartet ......

.... playing in one corner of the dining room all through dinner. Father kept asking if I wanted to dance and while I certainly felt like I was floating on air, I told him no, content to sit at our white linen table and simply watch the evening unfold around us.
It's hard to imagine that all the kitchen workers at this place were unionized. We have always tried to take good care of our employees especially during these tough times, but occasionally there is a rumble of a union coming into our shops as well. I suppose it's quite a different world in New York, and much harder to do right by your workers, but I hope the union organizers stay away from our dear button business for many years to come!
The food was delightful, the deserts divine, and planning our days out with father was great fun. Every time I looked at one of the grand couples walking in, I imagined each and every button on their glorious coats and dresses had come from our family business! Little things truly do add up! A button here, a button there, and before you know it you have a button empire!
After dinner we strolled around the lobby a bit, then walked out to watch the carriages and cars come and go from the entrance. Eventually we returned to our rooms, tired, sated, ready for a good nights sleep before the adventure really began in the morning.....astoria

By the by, dinner attire:


By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Oh the view........... I descended the staircase. People in all their finery. It was hard to imagine we were in the midst of what would be called "The Great Depression." It seemed the entire lobby was in motion. Father and I decided rather than going out and dealing with New York at night, after our long ride, we'd simply do dinner at the hotel's restaurant. Such a restaurant it was! Of course in that day, and especially in a place like the Waldorf, everyone dressed for dinner. In the entrance to the restaurant we were almost overcome with the smells of the fabulous dinner delights that awaited us.

I must say I felt a certain special connection to the hotel and all the grandeur, simply due to the connection of our names. John Jacob Astor built the original hotel, and of course named it after the Astoria community in Oregon where his family had made their fortune in the fur trade. While there certainly was no direct connection to my being named Astoria, I did feel a little bit of a special connection to all that I saw!...........astoria

By the by, what to wear to dinner?


By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We managed to somehow secure our luggage.......

.... and find the entrance where father and I piled into a cab and headed for our rooms at the fabulous Waldorf Astoria. Father had told me so many times about his honeymoon trip to the Waldorf with mother, I was breathless to finally see my namesake.
Nothing I had seen, or done, or read about could have compared to New York. The streets of Pittsburgh even during the evening rush were no match for an average hour on the streets of this city. Traffic, people, shops, police officers everywhere, whizzing by until we stopped outside the legendary hotel.
It towered above me, straining my neck just to look up and take it all in! The entrance was absolutely grand. Marble, staircases, the chandeliers, again people everywhere. I could see the white linen tables of the restaurant stretching out for what seemed a city block, all the uniformed staff, I wondered how they could ever run a business so huge?

Our rooms were extraordinary, each bedroom done in a different style. The bathtub called to me after the long train ride, and fresh air circulated throughout! I wondered how could they manage this?
Father and I decided to rest a while and get cleaned up, then dress for dinner, my first evening in New York awaited....astoria

By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The actual train ride..............

.... to New York, on the Pennsy (that’s what everyone called the Pennsylvania Railroad) was rather un-eventful. It took somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 some hours as I remember. I watched the world go by the car windows wanting occasionally to reach out and grab a moment that went streaming by as the whistle blew, but all I could do was watch and wonder what I was missing as a cloud of steam moved in to obstruct my view.
Meals were spent of course in the dining car, with everyone dressed appropriately, trying to eat soup or sip tea as the train rocked back and forth. Anticipation fueled my sleeplessness!

We came clattering into the amazing insanity that was Grand Central Station. Oh, but the cacophony that surrounded us! It seemed everyone was moving in different directions, grabbing things, shouting, the noise of trains pulling in and pulling out. I wanted to simply stop and stare, trying to absorb it all, but that was not to be; there were places to go and much more to try and comprehend.


By the by, I still remember the brown tweed suit I wore. It had a  wonderful fur collar and made me look much more mature. After all, I planned to be taken very seriously:

By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I was never supposed to..........

....go down into the “work areas”, rather expected to spend my time where the handful of “other employees” spent their days. But the offices never had the din, the smells, the dark corners to draw me in like the factory areas where the workers toiled. My forays were usually exposed when I would arrive home with the smudges and grime from the floors on my face or dress, but after a while father knew it was useless to try and dissuade me, so he simply turned a somewhat tolerant, although bemused blind eye to my industrial adventures. Little did we know where that wanderlust would lead!
Our workers would take blanks of materials like ivory, or pearl (much of which came from another mysterious place called Arkansas) and cut them into workable bits, then grind and polish them into what became our rounded corporate currency…..buttons!   The dust was always flying and was sometimes thick in the air, coating the skin, eyes, noses and hair of our workers.

They would cut and grind and polish during the day and then when the whistle blew, file out of the shops and head home to their own private worlds and neighborhoods, as we did to ours.

By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to: