Wednesday, 11 March 2009


Hotel Pennsylvania - 401, Seventh Avenue, across the street from Pennsylvania Station and Madison Square Garden.
The Manhattan Room in this hotel was a favorite with the big bands of the thirties and forties with the hotel's phone number being immortalised by Glenn Miller in his song "Pennsylvania 6-500." Many big band names played here, including the Dorsey Brothers, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
Edwin H Land publicly demonstrated his "instant" picture camera on February 21, 1947. The sad-eyed inventor was his own subject in an 8-by-ten-inch print developed just 50 seconds after it had been exposed, to the astonishment of the winter meeting of the Optical Society of America.

On November 19, 1953, this hotel, during this period called the Statler, would be the site of a mysterious tragedy not fully explained for 22 years. On that night Frank Olson (above) a U.S. Army scientist and germ-warfare specialist, jumped through a glass window and fell ten stories to his death. It was reported as a suicide. In 1975 it was finally revealed that Olsen's death was the result of a CIA experiment to study the effects of the drug LSD. The scientist, who was working on the project, code-named MKULTRA, was an unwitting guinea pig after the drug was slipped into his drink. It was also revealed that the spy agency used prisoners and patrons of brothels set up and run by the agency to test the drugs effects.

Bad trip: Artist's portrayal of the suicide of Frank Olsen jumping from his hotel room window, 9 days after the CIA gave him LSD. Foreground, Dr Robert Lashbrook, the CIA scientist who brought Olsen to New York to seek treatment (Illustration by Haruo Miyauchi.)

The future of Hotel Pennsylvania is currently in doubt as the owner would like to demolish it and replace with an office tower. The debate rages on with nothing as yet decided.

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