Our cross country trip besides being thoroughly enjoyable was also somewhat educational, particularly as it helped me develop an appreciation of the vast wealth of the Rockefeller family. At the time of this trip I knew that the Rockefeller name was synonymous with vast, Croesus-like wealth. I also knew that the Rockefellers had an unsavory reputation, acquired during the period they were accumulating that wealth, and that there was a public relations firm ensconced in the entire 60th floor of the Empire State Building doing nothing but repairing that reputation. Actually, I’m not sure of that, as I never checked it out, but it makes a good story. Nevertheless, the family that owned the land on which both Rockefeller Center and Columbia University were built was certainly wealthy. During our cross country trip I had occasion to come into contact with more of that wealth.
For some reason we wound up in Chicago. I think there was a science museum there that we wanted Jennie and Josh to experience, and we were also interested in visiting a famous comedy club flourishing in Chicago at the time. The science museum was hands on and fun. I also had a good time at the comedy club (I think it was the Second City), where a waiter refused to believe Linda was old enough to order an alcoholic beverage. She carried no proof of how old she was, and when the waiter tried to get me to confirm her claim of being old enough and the mother of two children, I told him that she was constantly trying to order alcoholic beverages in bars, although not old enough to do so legally. Linda was 29 years old at the time, and carried a grudge for a long time about that one.
We also caught a glimpse of the University of Chicago. It stood in the middle of an urban wasteland, the kind of landscape reminiscent of Berlin right after World War II. As we drove by this urban disaster area, our cab driver casually mentioned, after pointing out the University, “ and all this land belongs to the Rockefellers,” and this vast blight extended as far as the eye could see.
We had a similar experience when we stood atop the mound or ridge on which stood Tuzigoot Pueblo, in Arizona. Surrounding the pueblo was nothing. Miles of nothing but wasteland in all directions as far as the eye could see. And again, our guide said, “and all this land belongs to the Rockefeller family.” I was duly impressed. The same thing occurred in San Francisco, down at the Embarcadero. Again our guide pointed to the fact that all this land really belonged to the Rockefellers.
I had always been aware of Rockefeller wealth, but the immensity of only a partial view of it as real estate holding was somewhat overwhelming, and this was without awareness of the Seal Harbor estate, or of Kykuit. As Mel Brooks noted a long time ago, it’s a good thing to be a king.