Silent Night – With a Vengeance!

Most beloved among the songs of the holiday season is Silent Night.   We know for sure that the original words to “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht”, were penned by Father Joseph Mohr in 1816 and arranged for guitar by Franz Gruber on Christmas Eve in 1818.   The song was performed later that evening by the two men at midnight mass at St. Nicolas Church in Obendorf Austria.

Joseph Mohr spent the next 30 years of his life in the clergy and died penniless with all his earnings donated to the care and education of children in the town where he lived.  Gruber was the schoolteacher, organist and church caretaker in Arnsdorf.  He also had the responsibilities of organist and choirmaster at St Nicholas Church in the neighboring village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg which is how he came to work with Joseph Mohr.  In 1835, Gruber moved his family when he accepted a position as choir director, singer and organist for the parish church of Hallein.   Among his responsibilities there was to manage the man church trust funds. Gruber passed at the age of 76 on June 6, 1863 leaving four children, one of whom, Felix Gruber, took over his responsibilities as choirmaster.

Most of the facts leading up to night where the song was arranged are lost to history.  There are tall tales that the song was arranged in a rush that night because mice damaged the organ.   There are also absurd claims involving railroad barons and priestly politics culminating in the first performance.   What is more interesting, I hope is the tall tale I want to present to you here tonight describing what happened over the next 170 years.

Following the first performance, the song went as viral as a Christmas song could in the 1819.  It is believed that organ repair man, Carl Mauracher, obtained a copy of the song and shared it during his travel.   The song found its way throughout Europe in the 1920s.  The version of the song most recognized today was published in 1859 by an Episcopal priest, John Young of the Trinity Church in New York.

What most people don’t know (mostly because I am about to make it up as I go along)  was that Gruber was determined not to die penniless as Mohr did. Gruber learned quite a bit about finance in dealing with the Church trusts.   All the internet money earned by the Gruber family from CD sales were funneled into German bearer bonds.   The problem with bearer bonds is that one has to have possession of the actual bonds to claim the dividends.  Unfortunately the Germans confiscated those bonds from Gruber’s great-grandson and they were used to support the Axis Powers during World War II (these bonds had a really long term, just go with it).  Most of those specific bonds were used to pay then Japanese ship-builder, the Nakatomi company.

Ultimately, the great-great-grandsons of Franz Gruber, brothers Simon and Hans Gruber were able to trace the bonds to the headquarters of the Nakatomi building in Los Angeles in 1988.  Hans lead a team of well-trained monks to take back possession of the family bonds.  Unfortunately, Hans’ team was defeated by meddling New York Police Detective John McClane  (who coincidentally worshiped at the Trinity Church in New York where the modern version of the song was coincidentally penned ).   McClaine brutally murdered Hans by dropping him to his death.

Hans Gruber - About to Sleep in Heavenly Peace
Hans Gruber – About to Sleep in Heavenly Peace

In 1995, McClaine hunted and directly orchestrated the helicopter crash of Hans’ brother Simon Gruber.  This execution took place Canada,  where McClaine had no jurisdiction.

So next Christmas when you and the family get together to watch that classic family Christmas movie,  Dïe Hard, remember to question the interpretation of events as they may have been skewed to making you believe a history that may or may not be true.   You know what they say, you can’t believe everything you see in the newspaper, the news, or your friendly neighborhood blog post.

Happy New Year

Silent Night – With a Vengeance!

Day 1 – New York

Day 1 was a travel day from California to Europe with a deliberately scheduled 13 hour layover in Newark airport. The great thing about these long layovers is that they often result in very cheap air fares, after all, what reasonable and rational person wants to spend 13 hours in Newark airport?

I slept about 3 hours total on the plane and soon as we landed I rushed to catch the train into New York. The morning was cold as day-old snow from the Polar Vortex covered the ground.  As I boarded the train at the airport, the conductor welcomed me back. It was a kindness that brought a smile to my face.

The Train Station at Newark Liberty Airport
The Train Station at Newark Liberty Airport

My dad didn’t get to the City until about 8am, which gave me plenty of alone time to walk around Penn Station and watch the city wake up.  Much like Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, early morning  is my favorite time of the day in New York City.  The City may not sleep, but it does make transitions, the most obvious and beautiful transition comes between 5am and 6:30am.

Time to Wake Up
Time to Wake Up

My Dad and I had breakfast at the  Tick Tock Diner on 8th Avenue.  Last time my dad and I were at the Tick Tock was July 26, 2003 at about 5am.  We ate a delicious breakfast while waiting for the 6:30am train to Long Island.  My Dad and I saw the Yankees beat the Red Sox the night before in Boston and we had to take an 11:30pm bus back to New York. I would have preferred to fly or take a train back, but only  the bus would afford me the time to see the 7:05pm game through to completion and get me back to JFK for my 9am flight back to California the next day.

Posing at the Tick Tock Diner
Posing at the Tick Tock Diner

I walked my dad all over the Boston Back Bay that Summer day.  We sat in the Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden and watched children, grown ups and dogs play in the fountains. We visited the BU bookstore and we walked around admiring the reflections of the old churches in the modern glass buildings. The baseball game was a classic, but I digress. Over the years my Dad has accepted the fact that when I show up in town, to just go with the flow.   There will be some excitement and by the time I leave, exhaustion.

Eleven years later, my dad doesn’t walk as well as he did when he was a spry 74.  Today’s visit involved more taxis and trains than walking.  Dad was in great spirits and he did well.

One Sexy Building
One Sexy Beast of a Building

After breakfast, we took a train downtown to meet the Freedom Tower and visit the 9-11 Memorial.   The Freedom Tower is one sexy 1,776ft tall sexy glass of water. The 9-11 Memorial was powerful with its fountains running into the ground where the towers once stood.  My father and I each to a turn at touching the “Survivor tree”,  the only tree in proximity to the falling towers which survived the day.   It is now thriving in the 9-11 Memorial.

After we left the memorial we took a cab to a little Tribecca bar for a mini tweet up which involved friends I’ve never met, fun, laughter, cheesecake  and my dad consuming his first two Long Island Ice Teas ever.  More laughter ensued.

Say Cheesecake
Say Cheesecake

As the time started to run short, we took the train back to Penn Station; however there was an extra 45 minutes.  Chaos junkie that I am, I decided to keep going all the way up to Central Park.  We walked through beautiful snow-covered park and sat on a bench for a while.  We sat and talked and laughed.  We also talked to a lot of people going by.  Dad pointed out all the people that were purportedly part of the Russian mafia. One of the park foundation emissaries chatted with us and he thought me might be locals by the way we were dressed, but he couldn’t quite tell.  He admitted that the only way you can really tell the locals is when they bring their dogs. I laughed.

Trouble
Trouble in Central Park West
Back in Newark
Back in Newark

As time genuinely grew short, we made our way back to Penn Station and parted company. It was good to spend a day with my dad with no other dynamics going on.  He was more carefree than I had seen him in a while.  It was good to see him moving well too.  It’s adventures like this that will sit in my heart all my days, like our 20 hour run to Boston.

I jumped the 3:40pm train back to the airport.  I thought about this visit with my dad and realized how the first 25 years of my life were really spent building memories with my mom and how the second half of my life has really been spent building memories with my dad.

Next Stop
Next Stop

When I arrived back at Newark, I slammed some sushi and used my AARP card to get a free Dunkin’ Donuts treat.  There are no unmixed blessing, but free donuts do make the whole turning 50 thing easier. The flight boarded and I settled in for a nap.  I wondered if my bag had made it on board and I was prepared in case it hadn’t.

Gonna Fly Now
Gonna Fly Now

It had been a good travel day. I couldn’t expect the next 13 days to go as well, but I hoped they would.

Trip Talley at the End of Day 1

Days Away 1
Hotels 0
Countries 1 (USA)
Planes 1
Trains/Subways 5
Taxis/Cars 1
Friends/Family Visited 2
Day 1 – New York