The title of my book The Better Angels comes from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address given on March 4, 1861.
At the time of the inauguration, seven southern states had already seceded. Within weeks shots were fired at Fort Sumter beginning the Civil War. The last paragraph of Lincoln’s address, a plea to preserve the union, is as follows:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must
not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of
affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and
patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land,
will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will
be, by the better angels of our nature.
who would become secretary of state, had suggested that the last line refer to
the “guardian angel of the Union,” but Lincoln decided on “better angels of our
nature.” The historian Ronald C. White Jr., in an opinion piece for NPR, says Seward’s
term was impersonal. Lincoln’s brilliant revision made the plea “deeply
White is correct. Lincoln’s appeal is to each individual listener. He pleads for each person to act–to join the chorus of the union. The speech would have had a different, and lesser, impact if it simply referenced hope for aid from a guardian angel. It is a reminder that history is not just a listing of famous people and events. History confronts and envelops all of us. We are all participants.
One mysterious morning I arrived at Grand Central early. One scene in my book is set in the whispering gallery (right in front of the Oyster Bar), so I had to stop by. It’s part of my Grand Central routine now–visit the whispering gallery. I was shocked to find I was the only one there. For just a moment or two, I was the only person in the whispering gallery, in Grand Central Station, in the middle of New York City, the busiest city in the country. It was magical. I had just enough time alone to take this one picture.
gallery is one of many wonders in Grand Central Station. (I know, the real name
is Grand Central Terminal, but everyone seems to call it Grand Central Station
anyway.) The current station opened in 1913 and is the third of three that have
been located at that site. The first was constructed in 1871, just six years
after the end of the Civil War.
So how—and why—does
a whispering gallery work? If you stand facing the wall in any of the four
corners, and whisper, your words will be carried to the corner diagonally
across from you and can be heard by someone in that corner. It doesn’t matter
if there are crowds of very noisy people in the gallery. Your whispered words
will come through. Also, two conversations can go on at once when people are
standing in all four corners. The signals won’t get crossed. The science of a
whispering gallery has to do with the way sound waves (called whispering
gallery waves) are carried along the surface of a circular wall or overhead in
a gallery shaped like an ellipse (a regular oval).
The curved ceiling in the Grand Central whispering gallery is constructed of Guastavino tile, named after the Spanish building engineer Rafael Guastavino who invented this type of interlocking terracotta tile for use in arches and architectural vaults.
Most sources I’ve looked at say the space was not designed to be a whispering gallery. It was simply a “happy accident.” I love the fact that there is no big plaque or poster explaining what happens there. You just have to learn about it by watching, or reading, or being told by someone else. Maybe in a whisper.
Thanks for visiting my site. I’m Bette Bono, author of The Better Angels, a time travel-history-mystery-romance-adventure with a female senior citizen protagonist.
What’s this blog about? My novel mixes many things I love and so does this blog. Here you can find posts on books, writing, history, mystery, time travel, adventure, romance, senior citizens, and superheroes. (Those last two or three topics are definitely not mutually exclusive.) So check out the categories listed to the side. (If you’re on your phone, the categories may appear at the bottom.) I hope you find something to interest and intrigue you. Enjoy!
What’s the novel about? Aggie May, newly and unhappily retired, fears dementia when she begins to see visions from the past. Then she gets a recruitment visit from Abe Irving of the American Association of Remarkable Persons (“the other AARP”) who explains she has developed the ability to travel through time. Soon Aggie joins other “Remarkables” on a mission to 19th century New York City in an effort to locate a missing photographic portrait of Abraham Lincoln created by the Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. While learning the rules and limits of time travel, Aggie faces the possibility that she may have both extraordinary power and extraordinary vulnerability. Aggie and Abe, two stubborn and independent people, must struggle to come to an understanding over how and when to take risks, including emotional risks.