Next Year to be Last Year For Pratt Steam Whistles Tradition

Next year will be the last year for the annual New Year's Eve steam whistle show on Pratt Institute's campus, officials say. (Photo by Scott Lynch)
Next year will be the last year for the annual New Year’s Eve steam whistle show on Pratt Institute’s campus, officials say. (Photo by Scott Lynch)

The familiar sound of Pratt Institute’s New Year’s Eve steam whistles will ring in 2014 – and 2015 – but midnight on Jan. 1, 2016 will be unusually quiet on the Clinton Hill campus.

The steam whistle-blowing show – a tradition at Pratt for over 45 years, orchestrated by Conrad Milster, Pratt’s Chief Engineer – will end after next year, according to Amy Aronoff, a spokeswoman for the school.

“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,” Aronoff said in a statement. “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.”

The news comes in the midst of circulating rumors that this would be the last year for the whistles; last week, Milster taped a sign to the doors of the school’s engine room, informing passersby of just that.

Milster told The Nabe he hung the sign after one of his superiors – who he says often criticized his job performance – suggested that he begin phasing out the whistles, which he had been in charge of since the first show.

“I was getting my knuckles rapped about a whole bunch of things that I was doing wrong,” he said, noting that his superior had scolded him for failing to properly administrate a boiler repair, among other issues, and “hinted” that he should retire.

“One of the problems in modern management is that longevity is considered a negative factor,” said Milster, 77, who started working at Pratt in 1958. But Aronoff insisted that no one is pushing Milster out.

“Pratt Chief Engineer Conrad Milster has not indicated any plans to retire, nor has he been asked to do so by Pratt’s administration,” she said in a statement.

After speaking with two other superiors, Milster had agreed to hold the steam whistles show this year, where he planned to announce that this is the last one.

Now, upon hearing the administration’s decision, Milster said he won’t have to make any such announcement.

“If [Pratt officials] have officially said that this is my decision, it will not be the last one,” Milster said. “I [hung the sign] on the assumption that this would be the last year. I will take that sign down.”

Milster said he expects 400 to 500 people to show up at this year’s steam whistles event. As usual, he and his staff will bring the 150-pound steam pump from the boiler room out onto the campus’ mall area. The staff will start blowing the pumps at midnight, creating a “visually spectacular” display, Milster said.

“This is something that Conrad pays for out of his own pocket,” said Frank Sokolow, one of Milster’s friends. “There is no benefit for Pratt to stop it.”

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