Few of the teeming masses who frequent the 7 train would be truly interested in the fact that they are traveling on a National Millennium Trail, specifically “The International Express” as designated by President Clinton. They might feign interest at the news that Queens Boulevard is quite modern, having been conceived of and built during the early 20th century in concert with the “dual contracts” phase of New York City subway construction which unintentionally created this immigrant superhighway. The modern thoroughfare carries automotive traffic and, in Sunnyside, is bisected by a concrete clad steel truss viaduct which in turn carries locomotive service (IRT Flushing Line).
That’s not what this post is about, though — it’s something else entirely.
These shots were gathered nearby the 33rd/Rawson Street stop, showing the arches which distinguish the elevated tracks. Other sections of the tracks (Queens Plaza or Roosevelt Avenue and beyond) are naked steel, but this section in particular was built with the notion of controlling noise in mind. Aesthetic considerations also went into its design, and the vaults were intended to allow light and air to circulate beneath them while maintaining maximum support for the trains above.
They also do something else which is pretty cool.
This quality they offer was discovered by accident one day while walking with a couple of professor friends from nearby LaGuardia Community College. I was encouraging them into singing the chorus of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” with me and suddenly our voices came booming back to us from above, producing a pronounced echo as well. This is remarkable as this is a terrifically loud spot, with elevated tracks above and Queensboro’s constant stream of cars and trucks screaming along on both sides of the street. We clapped our hands, snapped fingers, jingled keys. Even the slightest sounds came rolling back.
We had wandered into a sort of whispering gallery on Queens Boulevard.
I’m no engineer, so I can’t speak intelligently about the Doppler effect, or the world of audio and acoustics. I can report, however, that Bohemian Rhapsody has never sounded so good as it does when sung on Queens Boulevard, beneath the International Express. Due to the echo, it makes one person sound like a chorus. If you’re in the neighborhood, try it for yourself.
Incidentally, the train station was opened for business here on April 21, 1917. April 21 is a propitious date in the historical record: It’s the anniversary of the founding of Rome by Romulus (in 753 B.C.), and it’s the birthday of the prophet Mohammed (in 571 A.D.) as well.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.