Skip to main content

From The Great Gatsby: Nick Carraway's Walk, A Slideshow and A Map

The Great Gatsby
Note: The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Lurhmann, opened in theaters on May 10, 2013. The post below dates from the summer of 2009.

The New York zeitgeist this summer seems interested in revisiting F. Scott Fitzgerald's acclaimed masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, first published in April 1925. Director Baz Lurhmann has bought the rights to make a new film version, the radio program Studio 360 featured an in-depth look at the acclaimed novel, and even the Mannahatta/Manhattan exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, the one that investigates the island's verdant Eden, prominently features a quote from the book on the wall. One reason for the resurgent interest is Fitzgerald's vivid portrait of New York culture during the Jazz Age, a time that invites a comparison with the city's most recent boom years and its subsequent loss of relative affluence. Beyond this interpretation and the literary ones mentioned by your high school English teacher, the book makes a good summer beach novel, with its breezy Long Island setting, reckless drivers, and endless cocktails. So much for Prohibition.

When he's not pulled into Jay Gatsby's magnetic vortex, Nick Carraway, the book's narrator - a budding 29-year-old bond trader (surely he would be a hedge funds guy in a contemporary remake) and a Yale man, spends most of his summer of 1922 working in the city. Toward the end of Chapter 3, he explains, "Most of the time I worked. In the early morning the sun threw my shadow westward as I hurried down the white chasms of lower New York to the Probity Trust." Much like the author Fitzgerald, Nick is the kind of walker-voyeur type who watches the world with dispassion but with a keen sense of observation. He spends lunch with coworkers dining "in dark, crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee."

Nick's description of his evening routine is brief, but his words are geographically specific enough to follow in a real life New York context:

"I took dinner usually at the Yale Club—for some reason it was the gloomiest event of my day—and then I went up-stairs to the library and studied investments and securities for a conscientious hour. There were generally a few rioters around, but they never came into the library, so it was a good place to work. After that, if the night was mellow, I strolled down Madison Avenue past the old Murray Hill Hotel, and over 33rd Street to the Pennsylvania Station."



On a recent summer evening much like the narrator describes, I traced Nick's walk from the Yale Club to Pennsylvania Station. Circumstances of weather and the long days of summer sunsets over the Hudson do not change, but the built environment has changed greatly from 1922 to 2009. The specters of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, two towers constructed in the years following the novel's publication, followed me on my walk, as if they were looking over my shoulder. And while I tried to erase these immense stalkers from my virtual sight in order to imagine Nick's walk, I also faced the challenge of adding to my imagination two monumental buildings that he saw and that are no longer there - the Murray Hill Hotel, a grand rococo hotel dating from 1884, and Pennsylvania Station, the glorious Beaux-Arts monument from 1910 by McKim, Mead and White.

The reserved and handsome Yale Club still stands, just west of Grand Central Terminal at 44th and Vanderbilt. Arriving for the walk via the 6 train, I quickly fell into the mood of the Jazz Age upon seeing professionals of our era sipping, as advertised, "Cocktails from another era" at The Campbell Apartment. At the Yale Club, a light was on upstairs, as if Nick was still there studying his investments, and a short time after an alum emerged from the gilded-hued revolving door of the Vanderbilt street entrance. I walked the block west to Madison and proceeded south, noticing that the land slightly declined with these blocks. Those familiar with the novel will be amused by the presence of so many optical shops along the way. Shades of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg!


View From The Great Gatsby: Nick Carraway's Walk in a larger map

The Murray Hill Hotel, the 600-room hotel that once stood at 112 Park Avenue at East 40th Street, was modern for its time and popular with the city's elite at the turn of the century. The wealthy residents of Murray Hill convened in the lobby to smoke cigars and drink coffee. One notable habitué was J.P. Morgan, the powerful financier, who died in 1913. Walking south on Madison, Nick would have strolled past Morgan's home and library at the southeast corner of 36th Street. With just the mention of Murray Hill, Jazz Age readers of The Great Gatsby would have understood Fitzgerald's implicit reference to the world of the old rich. Jay Gatsby, by way of contrast, was nouveau riche.

Turning on 33rd St. and walking west gradually opens a sportier and a shadier world - Jack Dempsey's Pub, followed by peep shows and a neon sign advertising "Live Girls." The route opens onto the crossroads of Herald Square to the north and Greeley Square to the south. A statue there of Horace Greeley, editor of The New York Tribune, invites another literary connection to Fitzgerald's novel. Greeley's most famous dictum, "Go west, young man!" echoes the novel's western-versus eastern moral and cultural themes.

Reaching 7th Avenue, Nick would have passed on his left The Hotel Pennsylvania, a great columned hotel built in 1919 by the Pennsylvania Railroad and designed by McKim, Mead & White. Like the demolished Penn Station across the street, one that gave way to the eyesore known as Madison Square Garden, this structure, too, faces an uncertain future. Leave Nick here to catch his train, and walk one more block west to 8th Avenue to see the enormous Corinthian colonnade of the James A. Farley Building. New York's main post office, another monument by McKim, Mead & White, was built in 1912 and when opened in 1914 was known as the Pennsylvania Terminal. Plans are on the drawing board to convert this space into a new entrance for a renovated train station, but the complexities and debate over the Garden's future has left development of this area of the city in limbo. While we continue to debate the uses of real estate, Nick Carraway has probably slipped off to West Egg. Who knows? He may have already gone home to the Midwest by now.

Additional Notes:

• See images of Penn Station, a glorious Beaux-Arts monument from 1910 by McKim, Mead and White, on this page at NYC-Architecture. Read about Penn Station's destruction as featured on an episode of Mad Men in this post on WOTBA.

• Read about walks near Penn Station in the post, From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Distance and Time in Manhattan.

Images in slideshow by Walking Off the Big Apple from Monday, July 6, approx. 8:20 p.m. - 8:45 p.m.









Popular posts from this blog

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

Early Voting in Washington Heights, and A Walk

Early voting for the 2020 federal election in New York began on Saturday, October 24 and continues through Sunday, November 1. The weekend was overcast and autumnal, with the bright yellows of fall on display. In New York City, thousands of New Yorkers turned out at the 88 early voting locations and waited in long lines, many stretching around the block.  A line to vote in Washington Heights. The line stretched around the block multiple times. Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn were two of the well-known sites, but most voting places were typical neighborhood places such as schools, churches, and hospitals.   The scene outside the entrance to the Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion, one of the early voting locations in Washington Heights. In Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, two early voting locations were within a short walk of one another, causing some confusion for voters emerging from the 168th Street subway station. The Columbia Universit

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers. Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.   Grand Central Terminal, 9:40 am. Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been fr

The Season of Owls

 A walk in Inwood Hill Park. The days following the holidays and the first of the year make a good time to check in on life in the winter forest. I have a forest just down the street from me in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. There, a vast old growth forest still stands. A Barred Owl faces the setting sun in Inwood Hill Park in Northern Manhattan. A few weeks ago, someone on a local Facebook page posted a snapshot of a Barred Owl, and I was keen to go looking for it in the park. I didn't find the owl on the first day, but the next day I saw it. A handful of birder enthusiasts were already on the scene and kindly pointed it out high up in the pines. What a beautiful creature!  A stand of White Pines provides the habitat for the Barred Owl. The owl is in this picture. I know, hard to see.  Since my first owl visit, everyday life during the otherwise dreary post-holiday doldrums has taken on a finer aura. I have returned several times, each taking a different path up to the o

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City. View of the Hudson River from the Keeper's House The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington. Recommended purchase - a map det

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements. UPDATED October 10, 2020.  Many favorite local destinations have now reopened.  Hand sanitizer dispenser at the Marble Hill station of Metro-North's Hudson line Openings  - General Information and Popular Destinations    • Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map  (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. Starting September 30, NYC allowed indoor dining at 25% capacity. • As of September 25, outdoor dining in NYC has been extended FOREVER. • The  9/11 Memorial  reopened on Saturday, July 4. Visitors must wear masks and keep social distancing practices. • (update) Libraries: NYPL. T he library will allow a grab-and-go service at 50 locations.   • Governors Island reopened July 15 with advance reserved tickets.  • The High Line  reopened on July 16, with several rules and limitations in place, including timed entry passes - available July 9. Entra

Walking It Off: Coping with Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

When I began this series, “Pandemic Posts from the Pause: New York City in the Age of Coronavirus” in March of 2020, I could see the first young greens of spring from my window. New Yorkers were told to stay home then and away from others. As someone who enjoys walking in the city, I knew that I would need to sacrifice many things this year. I was not going to give up walking. I quickly figured out that I could safely go to Inwood Hill Park near my house and wander the trails in the old forest. In March, I could breathe in the spring air away from others. There was little else to do during those early days of the “pause.” New Yorkers suffered greatly at the beginning. In a few months we were able to get the numbers down and to manage some semblance of human interaction, at a distance and masked.  Now, with the beginning of the holidays, the city and nation faces the existential threat of the virus’s return, the political assault on democratic norms, and the ongoing threat of the clima

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors.  New landscaping in Battery Park At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020.  Shade plants like hosta thrive in Battery Park. The Statue of Liberty is in the distance. With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out.  Statue Cruises is still sailing. It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and

Facing the Dark Ages

A close look at The Met Cloisters Update: The Met Cloisters reopened on September 12, 2020. See the museum's website for ticket information. The Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 82-year-old home for its medieval collection in Fort Tryon Park (known as The Met Cloisters in recent years, the result of rebranding), dominates Northern Manhattan like a mystical fortress, like some object of a mythical quest. From nearly any direction, it’s easy to see the tower with its sandy-colored walls, double-arched windows, and Mediterranean style tile roof. Walking south on Broadway north of Dyckman Street , the way of everyday serfs and pilgrims going to market, the otherworldly sight of the imposing structure can transform an otherwise pedestrian journey.  View of The Met Cloisters from the northeast Culture and architect critic Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), reviewing the museum’s opening in 1938 for his regular column in The New Yorker, didn’t care much for the tower, but that was his

A Morning Walk from Penn Station to Times Square

Penn Station to Times Square New York City entered a new phase of the reopening on Monday, but you would never know it from a morning walk in Midtown on the day after.  At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, an outsize reminder of the public health crisis from Montefiore Medical Center After running an errand near Penn Station, I decided to take a walk up to Times Square and Broadway before heading home from 59th Street and Columbus Circle.  34th Street looking east toward the Empire State Building I wasn’t altogether prepared for the sights and sounds of this time and this place. Like many other New Yorkers, I have rarely left my neighborhood for the past four months.  8th Avenue at W. 38th Street After exiting a quiet Penn Station near 8th Avenue and W. 33rd Street at what would normally be the end of rush hour, I found myself suddenly dropped into a city (mostly) bereft of crowds.  A few commuters near Port Authority and The New York Times building, 8th Avenue and W. 40th Street Yet, I had