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Tales from The Social Club: Exploring History

Meeting Date and Time: Tuesday, May 14, 2024 from 5 PM to 7 PM

Meeting Location Start: Snake Shack, 120 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036

Meeting Location End: New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Fifth Avenue & 42nd Street, New York, NY 10018


We all gathered at a small Shake Shack in a tight corner with very few seats. After ordering our food, we discussed what to do next. The skies were threatening rain. Our original plan was to go to Bryant Park and play games such as ping pong. However, with showers in the area, I suggested we go inside the New York Public Library.


We walked from the Shake Shack through Bryant Park and into the library. The rain threat did not keep people away as Bryant Park was packed with people (although they are not entirely visible in this picture). Only some light drizzle drops were falling at this point but I will come back to the weather at the end of this blog entry.

Bryant Park
Bryant Park

When we got to the library, we stopped by some old payphone booths, which no longer work. These phone booths used to be outside somewhere in New York City. Of note, there are no more public phone booths in New York City as the last one was removed on May 23, 2022. Phone booths have been replaced by high speed Wi-Fi Kiosks. A key advantage of the Kiosks over the pay phones are the kiosks actually allow you to make phone calls for free.

Library Payphone Booths
Library Payphone Booths

While at the library, we visited a couple of exhibits (Gottesman Hall: Treasures, the Polonsky Exhibition and another one on the arctic). The Treasures Exhibition displays some 4000 years of history telling stories of people through many different eras through writings, artwork, recordings, and more.

Entrance to the Treasures Exhibit
Entrance to the Treasures Exhibit

I will now describe some of my favorite displays.


As astronomy is one of my favorite subjects, it was really neat to see the display called “Transparency of the Moon” is a glass plate Gelatin silver transparency. This picture was taken from negatives produced at the Lick Observatory in Mount Hamilton, CA in the year 1896. This picture was obtained from the University’s 36 inch equatorial refractor telescope. This picture was intended to be published in the book, Observatory of the Atlas of the Moon by Edward S. Holden. This book was an attempt (one of several at the time) to furbish a lunar atlas. However, as Holden was putting together the glass plates (he completed 19 of 60), he came to the realization that his publication was far behind others and stopped production. Therefore, he presented this transparency to the library. This transparency, which includes craters and cracks, was critical to scientific study and research of the Moon’s surface features and geographical composition.

The Moon
The Moon

The next display I saw was this drawing of the Comet of 1881 which was drawn by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, a French astronomer and composer. This drawing was drawn as seen by the naked eye but some of the finer details of the comet were added in when Trouvelot viewed the comet through his telescope. This was just one of about 7000 illustrations created by him. In addition to being an artist, Trouvelot was an astronomer who published 50 scientific papers and who discovered veiled spots on the Sun in 1875.

The Great Comet of 1881
The Great Comet of 1881

Next, we visited The Awe of the Arctic exhibition.

The Awe of the Arctic Exhibition Entrance Sign
The Awe of the Arctic Exhibition Entrance Sign

At the arctic exhibition, I enjoyed seeing a map of the Arctic, learning more about the Greenland explorers, and women expeditions in the Arctic.


Map of the Arctic
Map of the Arctic

This map was reproduced from Sir Allen William Young, a British explorer, who took two voyages to the Arctic in 1875 and 1876 (called the two voyages of ‘Pandora’) in 1875 and 1876. Pandora being the name of the ship. I find this exhibition fascinating because these voyages were taken in the summer and the illustration shows Arctic sea ice. The Arctic Ocean is projected to be ice free in the summer anywhere from later this decade to the 2050s due to Global Warming. For reference purposes here is what the Arctic Ocean looked like in September 2012 when it reached its minimum extent during the satellite record (which dates back to 1979).

Image Source: US NOAA Climate Website
Image Source: US NOAA Climate Website

The below picture illustrates the different groups of people who inhabited Greenland from the now extinct Tuniit (existed from 2500 BC to somewhere between 1000 to 1500 AD) to the European explorers of the 16th Century).

Description of Greenland and Svalbard
Description of Greenland and Svalbard

This picture describes the history of women exploring the Arctic. Only recently has Western Culture become open to the idea of arctic women explorers. It used to be that Arctic exploration was perceived as inappropriate for women. However, even with these prejudiced attitudes, there were some uniquely privileged women that explored the Arctic in the 19th and early 20th Centuries which you can read more about below.

Western Women in the Arctic
Western Women in the Arctic

After leaving the arctic exhibition, we proceeded to leave the library. Returning back to the weather conditions, the sky opened up and it was pouring rain. I brought my umbrella and walked through the heavy downpour on my way to Grand Central. Interestingly, after boarding my train I spent about 30 minutes on the train until I got off at my outdoor stop in Pelham. Not only was it not raining in Pelham but it did not appear to have rained in Pelham as the pavement was dry which shows how localized weather can be.










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