Dreaming on the elevated tracks at 47th Street

New York is a city of dreamers. But I wonder what the girl in John J. Soble’s 1936 painting is thinking about.

We see her on the edge of what looks like a tenement roof, staring out onto the (soon to be demolished) Sixth Avenue elevated tracks and to Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and beyond.

Her leg is kicked up in a youthful pose, while the woman holding the chair behind her seems older. A train is coming down the tracks as laundry hangs from a roof in the distance. She might be a neighborhood girl, but big city dreams beckon.

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17 Responses to “Dreaming on the elevated tracks at 47th Street”

  1. Sixth Avenue El, John J. Soble – This isn't happiness Says:

    […] Sixth Avenue El, John J. Soble […]

  2. Lady G. Says:

    She’s staring at the glowing sign of Radio City Music Hall and her leg is up, maybe she’s dreaming of joining the Rockettes! A fairly new dance troupe at the time – 1932 they started performing at RCMH. 🙂

    • Andrew Porter Says:

      The Rockettes were originally the Roxyettes, at the now-demolished Roxy Theater, whose entrance was on 50th Street.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    It’s certainly possible, they were quite glamorous in their day!

  4. Ty Says:

    I think she’s eying modernity and its promise. The dirty old tenements, the older woman dragging an old chair, the old Elevated all made to look even smaller, older and dirtier by gleaming new towers of Rockefeller Center.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I think that’s very fitting. I imagine her looking into the skyscraper windows and thinking that inside those walls, she’d never have to hear the rumbling of the heavy black elevated train rush by her window ever again.

      • Ty Says:

        And by extension, she could be daydreaming what has brought countless young girls (and boys) to NYC from virtually everywhere. That once there “I will matter, I’ll be important, I’ll be happy.”

  5. Elisabeth Harasti Says:

    I think she must be dreaming of glamour, her own and the city’s. I mean, what else, with that view to contemplate–those textures, that light, the million possibly thrilling other places she might be? How great to be young and fabulous, taking in the joy and mystery and evidence of human-made beauty, air and space all around you while you spectate for the moment. This is so beautiful! Reminds me of john Sloane. Thank you!

  6. David H Lippman Says:

    It’s a hot Saturday afternoon in Manhattan in the 30s, our young girl has had a hard week of auditions and dance classes and is taking a break from all of that, while gazing up at where she wants and hopes to be.

    Her mother, having finished the laundry is joining her for a few minutes, knowing that in a while, she’ll have to go back down and make supper for the family, when their father comes back from running the grocery store on the ground floor.

    Mommy knows how hard it is just to live — especially in the Great Depression — and is reluctant to squelch her daughter’s dreams, but is also aware that dreams may not come true.

    Let’s give this scene an okay ending. Daughter is going to get that job as a Radio City Rockette, and dance with them for more than 20 years. She’ll meet a Navy sailor from Staten Island at the Stage Door Canteen in 1943. He will ship out to the Pacific on the carrier USS Yorktown and earn a decoration when a kamikaze hits his ship, and return to her pretty much intact.

    They get married and take advantage of the GI Bill to purchase a home in Queens and he gets his accounting degree and runs a fairly successful accounting firm until retirement, while she remains a Rockette, taking time off to have two kids.

    They retire to an adult community in Florida. The oldest daughter goes to college, majoring in English literature and the ’60s. She becomes a professor of English literature. The younger daughter goes to Julliard and becomes a ballet dancer.

    For their 40th anniversary, the kids treat them to a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, to visit the Yorktown, which by then is a museum. The husband finally shows his family where he earned his Silver Star and Purple Heart, and stares across the Charleston skyline, looking into the past, remembering the faces of his buddies who died. The wife holds on to him, looking into her own past, remembering how she became a Rockette and was ultimately able to meet her husband.

  7. Ty Says:

    My dad used to say I should get a degree in creative bullshit.

    • David H Lippman Says:

      That’s all an MFA in CW is worth. If I could do it over again, I would have got degrees in biochemistry. I could earn a lucrative living creating designer fragrances for Paris Hilton, Derek Jeter, and Tyra Banks, or creating designer weapons of mass destruction for the Department of Defense. Love and hate. Opposite sides of the same coin.

  8. Ty Says:

    No one will ever accuse Star Trek’s heavy handed morality plays of being art. But I saw a documentary on the Star Trek NASA connection and it was surprising. One woman who helped design the Mars probe, Curiosity (which is supposed to be long gone but is still digging), flat out said I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Star Trek. She said she grew up in an environment where geeks were ridiculed and girl geeks were shut out. Hack writing? Yeah. But the scripts had just the right balance of science, social tolerance photon torpedoes and optimism to project a girl geek to Mars.

    • David H Lippman Says:

      I’ve been an award-winning journalist and historian for 38 years, working on four continents. I have a book on Amazon, had an award-winning website on WW2, even nominated for a Pulitzer, and I earn less than a 21-year-old guy who went through a seven-month computer repair school.

      Good writing today is a conspiracy theory website, a Harlequin/bodice ripper romance, a denunciation of a current politician written by a former politician, a celebrity’s memoir of overcoming (fill in the blank) to achieve fame, a book of diet, sex, and pet tips (“Trimmer Thighs For Your Cat”), or a Tweet.

      I work with media and politics people who can’t tell me who Nikita Khrushchev was or what the Gettysburg Address was. But they know about Kim Kardashian’s tips on nail care.

      I’m 55 years old. I watch baseball. I read thick books. I can’t even put an app on my phone to download Yankee tickets. To get mine for the game I went to last week (another long story), I practically had to scream at the top of my lungs at the group that sold me the ticket. They had no conception of the idea the cardboard-paper baseball ticket like the one my grandfather paid 25 cents for in 1912 at the Polo Grounds.

      I’m outdated,underpaid, stupid, incompetent, and can’t write a coherent sentence (yes, I was actually told that). The only thing I have to look forward to is the hope that I can get into that adult community home on Grand Concourse at 161st Street and be able to buy a decent season seat. I’ll spend 81 days a year at Yankee Stadium and the rest of the time at the Transit Museum being a volunteer.

      Writing should be left to hacks who team up with celebrities who write drivel. it pays.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        Yet from what you’ve posted here and your other insightful comments, David, I suspect you have a far richer life than most people could ever dream of having.

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