The steam whistles at the Pratt Institute will blow once more tomorrow night, welcoming the new year with their sustained, deafening cries. What better way to ring in 2014 than with permanent hearing loss?
Pratt's Chief Engineer, Conrad Milster, will begin assembling and testing the whistles—between 12 and 15 altogether, with one calliope—tomorrow afternoon. The assembly process isn't complicated, he said, but it is cumbersome: The pipes that feed the whistles are comprised of six pieces, and each piece weighs around 250 pounds. The whistles themselves are between 20 and 150 pounds each.
Milster has been operating the whistles himself for the past 47 years, though they've been a part of the Pratt fabric for much longer—photos of the devices around campus date back to the 1890s, and the whistles were blown at the conclusion of each commencement ceremony until it was moved to Radio City Music Hall five years ago. (Now, he said, students must settle with a recorded video.)
Until today, Milster, assumed tomorrow would be the last time his beloved whistles would blow, after he was told by a university administrator—the same administrator who memorably tried to oust the steam plant's collection of cats earlier this year—that the tradition would no longer be permitted to continue. Milster, who has worked at Pratt since 1958, was disappointed by the directive, particularly since he's been battling the flu since last week and likely won't be able to appreciate the event as fully as he'd like.
It turns out, though, that the order came not from the university, but just one facilities manager; the administration itself has somewhat warmer feelings toward the tradition (which, Milster notes, is a personal interest and wholly independent from his job at the university). The below statement was released by Pratt this afternoon:
Pratt Chief Engineer Conrad Milster has not indicated any plans to retire nor has he been asked to do so by Pratt's administration.
The administration has decided that next year will be the final year for the New Year's Eve steam whistle tradition if Mr. Milster chooses to organize it again.
Pratt shuts down its campus operations from Christmas through New Year's Day, which makes it difficult for the Institute to provide adequate resources to staff the event appropriately each year.
Milster confirmed that he'd happily continue the tradition next year, but admits that he won't be brokenhearted to put it to rest after that.
"I'm going to miss everything, but maybe it will be nice to have a New Year's where I can just sit down and relax," he said. "It's quite hectic."
The whistle will wail on the main lawn of Pratt's Brooklyn campus beginning at the stroke of midnight, and will continue for around 30 or 45 minutes, depending on turn out. You can pre-game with this video from 2012: