Building Pottersville

Written By: Charles Santorello

Do cultures dream?
Perhaps they do, especially if they exist on the 42nd parallel of the Northern hemisphere. The proof, of course, is barred by history in the storied rise of champagne empires from the swarthy beer pockets of its American creators. The Carnegie’s, Edison’s and Ford’s, whose ingenuity became legends of the land of opportunity, were also from the same European stock that the Great lady from the harbor beckoned to.
They also attracted someone else, called investors.
People with money, whose sole existence is to capitalize on someone else’s possible future earnings. They too, helped them to become the so-called, “Captains”, of their industry and the dream makers to their dreams.
What of the other leftover, “huddled masses” though. Like the ones that came to be all broiled and packed into such famous downtown dwellings as the Five Points, Hell’s Kitchen, etc. Was anyone interested in investing in their dreams? Well apparently someone did, for the “huddled masses” found a way out of those crowded tenement ghettos and violent filled streets, to become the future fore-bearers, and inheritors of the greatest example of upward mobility in the annals of civilization to eventually grow the counties of Queens, Nassau and Suffolk.
In the land of Milk and Money though, it still begs the question as to who did become the investors to the down trodden? Who were the benefactors to those who rose to become America’s “middle class”? Some say it was a man named Levitt. Others like to think that hard work by the “huddled masses”, made their dream into a reality. Sorry, but both haven’t the strength to stand up on their own as theories. So perhaps there’s another one, like the one put forth by Frank Capra in his film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Created and released in 1946 by Mr. Capra, the populist film maker, this reverse Dickins-(esque) tale about a man, whose life is generally good, suddenly comes to bad fortune during a Christmas season. As a result, he wishes his life void and contemplates suicide, but is saved by a spirit sent to show him the good purpose his life has served. As a result, this film became later known as a Christmas classic only, but there was a secret subplot always ignored by the public as this sleeper film turned into a Hollywood classic.
It was the example of George Bailey, the protagonist, as he becomes not only the principal owner of the bank his father owned but the benefactor to so many who would never be accepted by his nemesis, Mr. Henry F. Potter. He then becomes the investor that turned the “huddled masses”, into the huddled dreamers.
So there must have been a great benefactor or financial, good-deed doer, who helped all those immigrants that came to squalor in the Canary known as the Lower East Side; who came without a Lady Liberte’ to greet them in the 1830’s. For all the Irish immigrants saw was a wall of police, west of Centre Street; to remind them that all strolls uptown were off limits to all, except the laborers to the houses of Schermerhorn Astor, and Vanderbilt, etc. If they wished to travel further to dream, they would have to buy a boat behind the docks of the vast expanse of the East River.
Perhaps there was more than one, and the first might have been the city itself, which created an overhead passage to a far away shore only seen on clear sunny days. Its name was Brooklyn, and the invention that spurred them to find the fruits of their quest was a bridge named after their pursuit.
They walked, and they rode, and they funneled across it and from there, they began to realize that this side of the river offered a further path along that stretch of the peninsula. Places where others made a living from farming to whaling, and where independent artisans from blacksmiths to mill workers had daily lives free from the crowded tenements of their past existence. It was, however, also blocked by more stretches of snaking waterways that once again, was courtesy of their old ubiquitous tormentor, the East River.
Thus there arose, possibly, a second benefactor. He would even bear the name of a Biblical deliverer, and part those East River waters with more and better expansion bridges connected with twisting roadways and tunnels. His name was Moses and he blasted bedrock and sand, and moved mountain and man, until he achieved what no other public project official has done since, in the 20th Century.
From then on, the home of Long Island would not just be to famous individuals like F. Scott Fitzgerald, or to millionaires on the Gold Coast, or to the spacious estate of Austin Clark; (whom upon seeing the subway reach the shores of Main Street in Flushing, immediately posted his “For Sale” sign). After all, there was no wall of police for him, east of Harding Boulevard. Unfortunately, they would have to come to accept that, except for spending more money on large privacy walls and security, they would have to get used to seeing a lot of new neighbors.
The dreamers flourished though. They brought with them their own ancestral baggage of religion, cuisine, music and work ethic. They also brought their next generation of children and cars, and with the help of the city they wanted so hard not to live in anymore, sent those children(the cars they traded away) to a public school system that helped them achieve a future idyllic, suburb life that rivaled the affluent they could never get near.
Sandy white beaches, where their third generations grew picking up sea shells, and sand dollars, blue crabs by the bushels, and bay fishing at their leisure. More cars, and boats, and planes, and shopping malls, and the financial banks that suddenly realized how profitable it had become to cater to them. They had dreamed a dream they thought they had achieved, but,…… it was a dream sold them, not earned.
You see the huddled dreamers earned their dream. They sacrificed for it, like George Baily, and his father before him. They died in many of those tenements, or in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, or sent their sons to die in the European Apocalypse or the Pacific Theatre. They saved their pennies, their quarters, and their dollars.
The most important thing concerning money to them was not what they could buy, but what they could afford. Their dream was not the house they would buy, just that someone couldn’t tell them where they had to live.
When Frank Capra made his movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, he knew better than most, what it would take to make an American Dream. His film was a message to all those who had the power from within themselves to maybe, take a little less profit, skip a small contract “stipe”, or bend a small banking rule. Anything, to help those who deserved to dream like everyone else.
The dream of freedom.
That third generation though, it seems they forgot their ancestors’ dreams. For one day they awoke to resentment, intolerance, and despair, and when they got greedy enough, found out just how easy it was to shake hands with a “scurvy little spider “, named Henry F. Potter.