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A Walk Through Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' New York

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A Walk Through Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' New York


A Walk Through Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' New York

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The film version of Ayn Rand's 1957 novel "Atlas Shrugged" is now in theaters. And a new generation of conservatives is finding her laissez-faire philosophy bracing. Rand lived in Manhattan, and many of the fictional sites in "Atlas Shrugged" are based on real places.

NPR's Margot Adler recently got a tour.

MARGOT ADLER: Frederick Cookinham, a middle aged guy, grey hair, grey beard, stands outside Grand Central Terminal during evening rush. He's holding a sign: Ayn Rand Walking Tours. He actually has five different Rand tours.

I met him last Saturday in the pouring rain. No one showed up, but I took the tour anyway. He pointed out where Rand lived, where her publisher had an office, her favorite buildings, her favorite architect. He looks down Park Avenue.

Mr. FREDERICK COOKINHAM (New York City Tour Guide): Grand Central Terminal, that becomes the Taggart Terminal in "Atlas Shrugged," which means that the building there with the green mansard roof. That is the New York Central Building, so that becomes the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad Building.

ADLER: So we are standing in...

Mr. COOKINHAM: The lobby of what is now the Helmsley Building, but this building was built in 1927 as the headquarters of the New York Central Railroad.

ADLER: It's here that the heroine of "Atlas Shrugged," Dagny Taggart, has her office, he says. "Atlas Shrugged" is really a mystery in which leading industrialists and inventors disappear in protest against what they see as a collectivist bureaucratic society.

In one scene, Taggart discovers a strange cigarette with a gold dollar sign on it. No such cigarette exists in the world. Cookinham touches an old wooden newsstand counter, now a security desk in the building. It's the newsstand where she tries to find out where the cigarette is from, he says.

Back in the rain, Cookinham points out a bleak little alley. It's where Taggart's ramshackle office is located when she leaves her railroad company and builds the John Galt Line. He begins to read from the novel.

Mr. COOKINHAM: (Reading) The windows of the offices of the John Galt Line faced a dark alley. Looking up from her desk, Dagny could not see the sky, only the wall of a building rising past her range of vision. It was the side wall of the great skyscraper of Taggart Transcontinental.

We're standing under it right now.

(Reading) She sat, looking across at the open cavern of the Express and Baggage Entrance of the Taggart Terminal.

Right over there.

ADLER: The next day is unexpectedly beautiful. I go back on the tour, and there are people: Judi Chambers from Ontario, Kathy Bliss from California, and Zach Fivenson from Chicago.

Ms. JUDI CHAMBERS: I've just finished reading "Atlas Shrugged" six months ago. I couldn't put it down.

Ms. KATHY BLISS: I attempted it once. I found it dated and dreadful, and I totally disagree with all of her political views.

Mr. ZACH FIVENSON: I'm a huge Ayn Rand fan, and actually I do really, you know, believe in a lot of the Objectivist philosophy of, you know, individualism versus collectivism.

ADLER: Cookinham doesn't want to talk politics. Although he is a follower of Ayn Rand's philosophy, what he wants to emphasize for the tourists is history and literature.

Mr. COOKINHAM: They don't know that she lived in New York. They don't know that she came from Russia. They don't know that she was Jewish and her real name was Alisa Rosenbaum.

ADLER: Walking through Grand Central, we come to the tracks. Rand took a private tour of the railroad, even drove a train for her research. Some of the tracks are abandoned in the novel, given economic collapse. And somewhere on those abandoned tracks...

Mr. COOKINHAM: In some dark place, on a pile of burlap sacks, Dagny and Galt have their sex scene.

ADLER: As someone who has taken commuter trains out of Grand Central time after time, I may never think of those tracks in quite the same way.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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