Ancient Sites of New York City 4: Murmurs of the Eternal City at Penn Station

In his “Roman” section of “Antiquity”, Goldsmith records five entries on the grandeur of old Penn Station. (I visited the ‘new’ station this morning and there is nothing there to write home about!). One entry describes the design of the great Hall as a response to the Baths of Caracalla.

Another singles out the ‘soot-stained travertine’ used in the station, connecting it to bother tje Colosseum and St. Peter’s.

In an extended selection from Tom Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again the station becomes the setting for a meditation on time and human history. It is described as “mumurous with the immense and distant sound of time”, as “the calm voice of time hovered along the wall”. Transplanting the bustle of the Roman baths to the hustle of the railroad station, Wolfe moves to focus on the passing of people through the place:

Men came and went, they passed and vanished, all were moving through the moments of their lives to death, all made small tickings in the sound of time – but the voice of time remained aloof and unpeturbed, a drowsy and eternal murmur below the immense and distant roof.

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