Cool and Useless GCT Trivia!
On the ceiling of the Main Lobby there is a small piece of Cold War New York history. At one time, in the 1950s, the U.S. felt insecure enough about its weapons that it felt that it would improve morale to display an entire Redstone missile in the Main Lobby. It almost fit - they had to cut a small hole (less than 2 ft across) in the ceiling to let the tip of the nose cone through. Since then, the hole sat up there, a small dark enigma taunting the tourists and winking slyly at us Natives In The Know. I went through GCT a few days ago, however, and found that those bastards had fixed the hole! Horrorstruck, I searched frantically for ten minutes, straining my neck and eyes, before...success. The repair is visible.
Where? Start at Pisces (the fish, people) and slowly move your gaze from the middle of its back 'up' in relation to the fish. About ten yards away there is a small black circle, now filled in with blue. That's all that's left.
By Request, some more bits of GCT
If you're curious about Grand Central, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you invest the time and small money required to attend one of the walking tours of the structure. When I went, the Municipal Art Society offered walking tours starting at the Grand Concourse information booth. There was one tour per week, starting at 12:30 pm on Wednesdays, and you could just walk up if there were less than six people in your party. There is a suggested donation that's probably around $15 by now per person, worth every penny.
They'll tell you fun things. Some of them I've been asked to mention.
Cornelius Vanderbilt wasn't actually a Commodore. He was a businessman who started off as a ferry captain in New York Harbor in the early nineteenth century, and worked his way up into ownership of an enormous steamship line and branched out into other businesses. One of those businesses was that of railroads; he had a reputation as a ruthless dealer for his relentless manipulation of railroad stocks - one of the 'robber barons'. He purchased the New York Hudson River Railroad in the 1860s. When tracks were laid down the New York side of the Hudson River, an enormous freight depot was constructed at Hudson Street to handle the traffic. Atop this building was a gigantic frieze in bronze depicting the achievements of the Great Man's life. As it was the butt of many New York jokes, a second similar display planned for the new Grand Central Terminal (built in 1871) was never completed.
Grand Central was rebuilt completely in the first years of the twentieth century, as more modern locomotives (which didn't emit gigantic bellowing clouds of steam) were brought on-line. Finally, the current incarnation took advantage of this; opening in 1913, it was (and is) mostly underground where the trains could now operate without choking themselves. As rail freight into the City was in decline, the Hudson freight depot was closed in the 1920s, finally being demolished sometime in the mid 1930s. The statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt, though, which had graced the center of the somewhat megalomaniac display atop that building, had been put into storage as bits of the depot were sold off. In 1929, all four tons of it was installed in its current location, looking out over Park Avenue South, despite the fact that Vanderbilt was not involved in the final iteration of Grand Central. There it remained, growing steadily grimier as the destroyers of Railroads - automobiles - farted exhaust over it and pigeons, New York's great levellers, shat on it.
Finally, in the recent multi-year restoration of Grand Central the outside of the building was cleaned up, and at the same time the Commodore received his own refurbishment. He now stands proudly, albeit somewhat diminished if one has seen pictures of the original 150-foot frieze he once centered. His influence on the building is visible inside, as well; over the departing track entrances are small friezes with the Vanderbilt 'V' which incorporate acorns into their design elements. These are to represent the Vanderbilt family motto, which (as far as I can discern) was something along the lines of 'mighty oaks grow from small acorns' but naturally phrased more elegantly. And in Latin.
The Whispering Gallery
Although it doesn't look like an intentional feature, the gallery directly in front of the Oyster Bar has a curious property. The acoustics of the space are such that if you stand next to one of the support pillars in the corner, at the edge of the parabolic ceiling, place your head directly next to the pillar and speak upwards, the sound will be conveyed all the way across the open space by the ceiling angles. Even if you whisper, it can be heard in the opposite but similar position, across the room. Try it sometime. It works.
- Municipal Art Society walking tour guide
- Personal experience and observation
- The New York Times' "The Curious Travels of the Commodore" (Christopher Gray: March 19, 2006 ed.)