It seems that every great structure comes with an equally great story. The Flatiron probably has enough for several buildings. One particular tale stuck out to me because it gives us insights beyond what the iron and masonry can provide. When built in 1902 the Flatiron was one of the tallest buildings in New York but it was the wedge-like triangle shape that was the source of alarm. It seemed to defy gravity and perplexed and captivated the public. Complicating this precarious perception was the geography of the Flatiron site. The northerly down-winds gust violently over Madison Square and down Broadway (pictured left) and Fifth Avenue (pictured right) on either side of the building. Though physically an impossibility the fear was real that the Flatiron would simply blow over.
However, it was these very winds that became the attraction more than the building itself. Hoping to get glimpses of passing women’s dresses being caught in the whirling winds the men of New York gathered. In their endless efforts of dispersing the loiterers the police began using the oh-so-appropriate old-timey phrase “23 Skidoo” (presumably referencing the Flatiron 23rd street address). It’s thought that this term eventually gave rise to our modern day command “scram.”
I’m not so sure that such a story would materialize the same these days but it does give us a little window into a century’s old social sensibilities. And light-hearted and even charming ones at that. After all, even though they talked and dressed funny they were still just people like us.