Ever since I came here, I have been fascinated by the ornamentation of the older buildings of the city. The variety of it fascinates me, and also the ubiquity of it, the overwhelming ubiquity of it, the almost comical ubiquity of it. In thousands upon thousands of blocks, on just about any building you look at, sometimes in the most unexpected at out-of-the way places, there it is. Sometimes it is almost hidden under layers of paint that took generations to accumulate and sometimes it is all beaten and banged and mutilated, but there it is. The eye that searches for it is almost always able to find it. I never get tired of gazing from the back seat of buses at the stone eagles and the stone owls and the stone dolphins and the stone lions' heads and the stone bulls' heads and the stone rams' heads and the stone urns and the stone tassels and the stone laurel wreaths and the stone scallop shells and the cast-iron stars and the cast-iron rosettes and the cast-iron medallions and the clusters of cast-iron acanthus leaves bolted to the capitols of cast-iron Corinthian columns and the festoons of cast-iron flowers and the swags of cast-iron fruit and the zinc brackets in the shape of oak leaves propping up the zinc cornices of brownstone houses and the scroll-sawed bargeboards framing the dormers of decaying old mansard-roofed mansions and the terra-cotta cherubs and nymphs and satyrs and sibyls and sphinxes and Atlases and Dianas and Medusas serving as keystones in arches over the doorways and windows of tenement houses….. [They] have lasted for a hundred years or more in the dirtiest and most corrosive air in the world, the equivalent of a thousand years in an olive grove in Greece, and there is something triumphant about them…. Furthermore, they have triumphed over profound changes in architectural styles. I revere them. To me, they are sacred objects. The sight of a capricious bit of carpentry or brickmasonry or stonemasonry or blacksmithery or tinsmithery or tile setting high up on the façade of a building, executed long ago by some forgotten workingman, will lift my spirits for hours.
Mitchell wrote for The New Yorker from 1938 until he died in 1996. This passage is excerpted from a longer article that appeared in the Feb 11–18 issue. That's the annual one that used to run the original "Eustace Tilley" cover (right), but now does riffs on it instead. I loved the ingenious "spots" throughout the issue done by Jaen (left and below), but the cover left me cold. What do you think?