And Atlas Shrugged: More New York Stories

By: pattihenderson

Nov 21 2010

Category: Weekend Adventures

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Focal Length:70mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:Canon EOS 7D

This post is dedicated to a very talented young writer named Jaylyn Harrower from my hometown, Forest, Ontario.  While I was away in New York last month each evening I posted a few of the snaps from my adventures on Facebook.  One evening after getting back from a trip to “The Top of the Rock” and an evening stroll around the Rockefeller Centre itself, I posted the shot above of Atlas, found outside of the International Building.  Always inquisitive, Jaylyn commented on this shot, providing me with research behind the statue, which of course, inspired this post.  So you ask, why is there a statue of Atlas outside of the Rockefeller Centre?  Here’s what Jaylyn and I found out…

The iconic 4 storey high sculpture was built by Lee Lawrie and Rene Paul Chambellan in 1937, depicting the Ancient Greek god Atlas bending under the weight of the world.  When I happened upon Atlas, I was actually standing in awe of the impressive St. Patrick’s Cathedral (and admittedly, New York’s other religious Mekka, Saks Fifth Avenue 🙂 and had not expected to find the sculpture I had seen in all of my NY guide books.  Not unlike its contemporary, the  Rockefeller Centre, Lawrie’s statue is a tribute to Art Deco and truly reflects the era in which it was built.  The Depression had left an indelible mark on the city of New York and it is not a stretch to imagine that although controversial at the time, the idea of bending under the enormous weight of the world would resonate with many who passed by its giant bronze feet.  Why controversial?  Well, some folks at the time thought that the statue looked a little too much like Mussolini, or as painter James Montgomery Flagg declared, Atlas “looks too much as Mussolini thinks he looks.”    To learn more about the development of this statue, please check out this article written on January 11, 1937,  in Time Magazine just prior to the placement of the statue at the Rockefeller Centre.

The controversy did not end there.  The statue of Atlas soon became the muse, so to speak, of clever author/philosopher Ayn Rand’s classic novel, Atlas Shrugged.  While researching this post further, I got quite caught up and lost in the story of Ayn Rand and her controversial novel.  Suffice to say, I could write a novel about this novel.  Since this is a blog and NOT a novel, I will quickly make the link between the title of this post, the statue, and the title of Rand’s novel.  What if you were carrying around the weight of the world on a daily basis? What would happen if one day you decided it was no longer worth the strain? What if you literally shrugged?  Where would the world go and what would be the consequences?  If I have piqued your interest and you want to find out more about the novel and the times that helped forge it, please start here.

Next weekend I will continue the New York Stories, and will delve further into the humble beginnings of the Rockefeller Centre.  Until then, have a great weekend, and even better week ahead! Don’t shrug!


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