If you were to ask my friends from our high-school class of 1969 about the Alfred E. Smith Building in Albany, New York, some of them might be able to tell you that this 34-story building is named after the four-term governor of New York State. Most of them, however, would only remember a funny incident that occurred there in 1965 when we visited as part of our eighth-grade trip. And I bet only one or two of them would know that the building is a testament to reading. Let’s start with the funny story.
On that beautiful, warm, spring day, the nuns at our Catholic school rented two busses and arranged for about 70 of us to make the 30-mile trip from Amsterdam east to Albany, our state capital. There, we toured the State Museum, the Senate and Assembly Chambers, and the Governor’s Office before eating our bag lunches in a nearby park.
Before heading home, though, we were also scheduled to ride the elevators to the Observation Deck of the Smith Building, the tallest building in Albany at that time (since surpassed by the 44 floors of the Erastus Corning Tower, named after the long-time Albany Mayor). Since many of us had never even been outside Amsterdam before, we couldn’t wait to look down over the Hudson River and beyond. Unfortunately, some of my classmates got quite a scare even before they entered the building.
Since our time to eat lunch took longer for some students, one of the nuns told the other nun to take a parent/chaperone and half of the group across the street to the Smith building: “We will wait here for the others and, then, meet you on the Observation Deck.”
Since I was in the first group, I was already admiring the view from the top when one of my more foolish, male classmates decided it would be funny to toss his uneaten, pre-packaged slice of cake over the railing and down to the street below. From way up above, of course, we couldn’t see where it landed, but we heard about its landing soon enough from the second group of classmates.
Apparently, just as that group was about to enter the building, that flying slice of cake exploded with a…