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Pratt Institute

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Private college founded in 1887

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Jim Mcauliffe

For Pratt students, a calm place to relax or think peacefully. A great place for a party. A great place for a Baptism.

Beth Bingham

Each year at midnight on New Year’s Eve, a great mix of students and neighbors gather on the lawn of Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus to ring in the holiday with the annual steam whistle spectacle. The cacophonous event takes place at the magnificent 19th century East Building, which houses the school’s power plant.

Every year since 1965, the chief engineer of the building, Conrad Milster, hauls out his collection of old whistles, rigging them to the massive steam engine still operating in the building. The whistles are lined up on the lawn with ropes attached to the levers that open the valves of the noisemakers. Everyone is invited to grab a rope and make a huge sound. Each whistle makes a distinct noise and when blown together they create a dense cloud of steam that rolls through the crowd. The steam veil is so thick that in temporary bursts one loses sight of friends standing less than 2 feet away.

Revelers are also invited to tour the historic engine room, the domain of chief engineer, Conrad Milster, and the dozens of cats that he cares for there. Inside they learn about the engineering marvel that makes the steam display possible and hobnob with the famous “Pratt cats.”

The New Year’s Eve steam whistle experience at Pratt is so unique and rich. It is an interactive event where the public engages with a historic building and its rare machinery. It is also a time when the school and the surrounding communities come together.

This New Year’s Eve party is only possible because of the well cared for steam-power engine room. The mechanics of the fully operating building and its long-time steward, Conrad Milster, are the real stars of the show here. (December 2008)

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