Kreizler and I are old men now, and New York is a very different place — as J. P. Morgan told us the night we visited him in his Black Library, the city, like the country generally, was on the verge of a tumultuous metamorphosis in 1896. Thanks to Theodore and many of his political allies, we have been transformed into a great power, and New York is more than ever the crossroads of the world. The crime and corruption that are still the firm foundations of city life have taken on ever more businesslike trappings — Paul Kelly, for example, has gone on to become an important leader of organized labor.

You are probably not in a position to know, Doctor…that we are at a crossroads, both in New York and in the country as a whole. This city is changing. Dramatically. Ph, I don’t simply mean the population, with the influx of immigrants. I mean the city itself. Twenty years ago, New York was still primarily a port — the harbor was our chief source of business. Today, with other ports challenging our preeminence, shipping and receiving have been eclipsed by both manufacture and banking. Manufacture, as you know, requires workers, and other, less fortunate, nations in the world have provided them. The leaders of organized labor claim that such workers are treated unfairly here. But fairly or no, they continue to come, because it is better than what they have left behind…We are not obligated to provide everyone who comes to this country with a good life…We are obligated to provide them with a chance to attain that life, through discipline and hard work. That chance is more than they have anywhere else. That is why they keep coming…We shall not be able to offer such a chance, in future, should our national economic development — which is currently in a state of deep crisis — be retarded by foolish political ideas born in the ghettos of Europe…Any events which can be prostituted to serve the purposes of those ideas must be suppressed.

A hundred times I have thought: New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: it is a beautiful catastrophe.

I was privileged to consider him a friend and I am grateful that I had a few more times to be with him, on Tuesday and again last night, before he finally left New York for someplace better – although he’d probably argue that’s not possible.

The essence of civilization is that you can walk down the street without having to look over your shoulder.

Manhattan at night

[Photo by Toki ITA licensed under Creative Commons.]