Ayn Rand: Top of the World in New York

As the 21-year-old Ayn Rand prepared to sail to New York City in 1926, a cousin said to her, “When they ask you in America, tell them that Russia is a huge cemetery and we are all dying slowly.” New York was nothing but lights on the horizon to Rand then, but she would sit through silent films several times just to get a glimpse of it. To the aspiring writer leaving a country to which she would never return, the tower-studded silhouette of New York represented the philosophy that made the motor of the world move.

Somehow the Empire State Building, long since surpassed as the world’s tallest skyscraper, still epitomizes New York’s thrusting, hubristic nature, not to mention Ayn Rand’s vision of Manhattan as the motor of the world.

New York symbolized what Rand idealized in her novels—man as a creator—and the city fostered invention and ingenuity. Looking toward a corrupt world, the New York skyline stood against the Atlantic as a proud achievement boasting of what could happen when men played their proper role. New York showcased the magnificence of the Empire State Building, the George Washington Bridge, and the RCA Building, structures that surpassed anything ever built.

It’s hard to believe today that New Yorkers almost let Grand Central Terminal be demolished, as the old Pennsylvania Station had been. The main concourse of the grand old lady never fails to thrill.

It’s said that some people in New York spend most of their lives in their co-ops and apartments, rarely venturing out to see a show or shop on Fifth Avenue. It’s enough to be where the heart of the world beats a few floors below. It’s enough to live on an island with a harbor graced by the magnificent statue of a lady called Liberty that assures them hope is great, that the game is fair, and that the little, congested, condensed bit of real estate called Manhattan is a place where men and women aren’t subservient to anything but their own wills and abilities. For some it’s enough to just be in the city of life.

Literary Trips: Following in the Footsteps of Fame
Edited by Victoria Brooks
362 pp., Greatest Escapes, 2000
Excerpt text © 2000 Eric Miller