Tonight, starting at around 11:00 p.m., Pratt Institute's Chief Engineer Conrad Milster will once again invite anyone and everyone to come play with his magnificent collection of steam whistles on the lawn outside the school's boiler room. It will be the 50th consecutive year that Milster and dozens/hundreds (depending on the weather) of Brooklyn locals will blast in the New Year with these loud-as-hell beauties. It will also be the last.
After a half century, Milster and Pratt have mutually agreed to end the New Year's Eve ritual, for non-antagonist reasons involving staffing (the school is technically closed for break, so everyone here is always volunteering) and money and just general fatigue. "I love doing this," said Milster, "but am looking forward to a New Year's where I can relax." So this is it folks, your last chance to experience one of New York City's greatest under-hyped traditions.
The steam whistles themselves are amazing, featuring both historic pieces Milster salvaged from ships—the Normandy, the Lansdowne, the Liberty—trains, and factories, as well as a couple he made himself. The loudest sound you will ever hear in your life, if you're lucky, is when you're standing up close and the whole row is blowing. Combine that with blinding steam (and, possibly, numbing cold), and the experience is like whatever the opposite of a sensory deprivation tank would be.
Milster also breaks out his handmade calliope, which he built over the course of an entire year for the 1999-2000 new millennium celebration. The calliope has a keyboard, placed at a non-ear-splitting distance away, and all are welcome to try it out. The steam whistles, too, can be blasted by whoever is willing—and as the semi-stealth champagne flows, more and more people step up to pull the rope.
The boiler room building—which, by the way, is like a steampunk's wet dream—is open during the event for warming up and hanging out and petting the famous Pratt cats. But other than making tons of noise and massive clouds of steam, it's all very bring-your-own entertainment.
Find the steam whistle celebration tonight on the Pratt campus, located at 200 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn.