Though Labor Day marks the end of summertime in the U.S., its actual purpose is to honor the contributions and achievements of American workers. And New York City offers some unique opportunities to commemorate the back-breaking achievements of workers through the centuries.
In fact, one of NYC’s biggest attractions is the site where one of the most iconic images of workers was ever captured. Rockefeller Center’s 69th floor observatory Top of the Rock provides panoramic views of the city from glassed-in outdoor decks. And it was while that same floor was under construction in 1932 that photographer Charles C. Ebbets snapped a picture of 11 workers eating lunch on a girder, legs dangling hundreds of feet over the streets below. The image has been reproduced millions of times and is even available as a popular poster. Keep it in mind as you marvel at the view from atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza at Top of the Rock; would you have the stomach to enjoy a sandwich 800 feet above 50th street? Or how about taking a nap break?
Meanwhile down in the lobby of 30 Rock, Jose Maria Sert’s recently restored 1937 mural “American Progress” elevates the workers on whose backs America became the most prosperous nation on the planet. An allegory for the building of contemporary America, “American Progress” includes statues of the muses of poetry, music and dance, their arms outstretched toward laborers in the center and Abraham Lincoln resting his hand on the shoulder of the influential American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. To learn more about this mural, and how it depicts the workers of the day, join the Rockefeller Center tour, which focuses on the stunning pre-War art and architecture you’ll find throughout the complex.
Meanwhile New York City’s arguably most iconic skyscraper, the Empire State building, was built by as many as 3,400 workers in just 15 months (ahead of schedule and under budget too: how often does that happen nowadays?). And when you look up this weekend in NYC, the Empire State Building be an all-American beacon guiding you to 34th Street, with its tower lit up red, white and blue.
Of course, though New York City was built by laborers, today the city’s workers toil in numerous industries — most famously on Wall Street. The CitySights NY Downtown Tour cruises through the Financial District, with experienced guides narrating as you go. Be sure to hop off and pose with the bronze bull located south of the Stock Exchange at Bowling Green (and maybe even give him a rub for good luck!). Or head to the Museum of the City of New York for its exhibit “Capital of Capital: New York’s Banks and the Creation of a Global Economy,” which traces the trajectory of the city’s banks from the founding of the Bank of New York by Alexander Hamilton in 1784 to their primacy in America today.
And while you’re downtown, it’s only a short walk or bike ride to the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridges in the U.S. At the time it opened in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was 50 percent longer than any other suspension bridges previously built at 5,989 feet spanning the East River. A feat of engineering and labor, as many as 27 people are estimated to have died during the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Today, it continues to be one of NYC’s most iconic landmarks — both a highly photogenic place to frame skyline pics of Manhattan, and an easy walk on the pedestrian pathway over the East River to Brooklyn. Join one of Bike and Roll’s Bike & Boat Tours to get up close with the Brooklyn Bridge, first following an experienced guide over the bridge’s wooden bike path, and then underneath the impressive structure aboard New York Water Taxi for photo opps you wouldn’t believe.
So what symbol of American industry in NYC is your favorite?