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The Twilight Veil
by [?]

New York! How few of us call it home! We have been sucked into it, as into a whirlpool, and as we spin round and round on its mighty unrest our hearts and fancies find repose in memory–the memory of an old New England village, or a corn field and a split-rail fence and then the level prairie, or cotton fields and the red handkerchiefs of the negroes, or the vineyard slopes of Sicily, or the great white surf beating up the cliffs of Connemara. It may be that the second and third generations of immigrants, born on the East Side, are true New Yorkers, just as a vanishing generation of elderly men and women on Murray Hill and the Avenue are true New Yorkers. But the great majority of New York’s five millions cherish in their hearts either the memory or the hope of some spot far away to which they give the allegiance of home love. Ours is a curious city in that respect. Perhaps, indeed, it is a fortunate one. Without such memory or such hope, the flat-dwelling imposed on most New Yorkers by economic necessity would be a deadly thing–or shall we say, a more deadly thing?

If you desire a curious experience, go into a New York club like the Yale or Harvard or Players’ club, and collect a dozen men at random, asking each for a little word-sketch of his childhood home. Seldom enough will the scene of that sketch be in New York City, and you will probably be surprised to find how infrequently it will be in any city. A kind of urban consciousness gets complete possession of us after we have lived long on Manhattan Island, and we are prone to forget what a geographically tiny spot it is. We forget the country. It comes as a surprise when we discover how many of our fellows were, like us, country bred. We are still a nation, at bottom, of little white dwelling houses, if not any longer of little white school houses. (I know the phrase is little red school houses, only they never were red, but white!) This is probably one reason why our aesthetic sense is not adjusted to find more beauties than we do in the physical aspects of New York City. Deep in our consciousness, if not rather our subconsciousness, lies the ache for green vistas and gardens, for low sky lines and quiet streets. When we speak of the picturesque in New York, we most often refer (aside from the obviously striking aspect of the lower city from the harbor) to the old brick houses on Washington Square or the quaint streets of Greenwich Village. Yet we do both the city and ourselves an injustice by this more or less unconscious attitude. Let us consider picturesque to mean what is shaped by chance and the play of light into a beautiful picture, and, if we but walk the town with eyes upraised and open, we shall see the picturesque on every side.

There is the Plaza Hotel, for example. Every New Yorker and every visitor to New York knows it,–a great, white, naked sky-scraper, with a green hip-roof, rising close to the Park and St. Gaudens’ golden bronze of General Sherman. But how many know that it is probably the one sky-scraper in the world which can gaze at its own reflection in still water, and that to the spectator looking at it over this water-mirror it becomes a gigantic but ethereal Japanese design, even to the pine limb flung across the upper corner?

They say there is an hour at twilight when all men appear noble, and all women beautiful. Certainly there is such a twilight hour when New York City is veiled, oftimes, in loveliness; and most lovely at this hour is the Plaza mirrored in the pool. The view is not easy to find, unless you are one of those who know your Central Park. But a little searching will uncover it. You will see in the southeast corner of the Park a lake, and just beyond this lake you will find a path turning west. That path leads to a stone bridge over a northward-stretching inlet of the pond. Cross the bridge a few paces and turn your face to the south. At your feet the bank goes down sharply to the still, dark water. Across the pond the bank rises steep and rocky, covered with thick shrubbery and trees. Shooting up apparently out of these trees is the white wall of the Plaza, three hundred feet into the air, and down into the water sinks its still reflection, to an equal depth. It rises alone, open sky to left and right, and there is just room in the lake for its replica. The picture is impressive by day, but as twilight begins to steal over the scene, as the sky takes on a pearly softness, and the shadows creep through the trees in the Park, and the lights in half the windows up that white cliff wall begin to gleam in golden squares, the great building becomes curiously ethereal, the pine limb flung into the foreground of the design catches the eye, the reflection in the water is as real as the reality. The Plaza, monstrous tons of steel and stone, floats between two elements. Then darkness gathers, the reflected lights in the blackening water grow more golden, and suddenly, perhaps, a duck swims across a tenth story window and sets it dancing in golden ripples. You may fare far among the ancient and “picturesque” cities of the earth without finding a rival for this strange bit of beauty in New York, an ethereal sky-scraper in white and gold gazing at its own reflection in the forest pool!