Travel

02.01.13

Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years, 100 Facts

From a secret trap door to a Nazi target, the hundred things you never knew about our favorite train station.

1. Grand Central Terminal opened its doors at midnight on February 2, 1913.

2. The terminal has 44 platforms.

3. And 67 tracks.

4. It was the third station built at 42nd St.

5. It was preceded by Grand Central Depot (1871) and Grand Central Station (1900), both of which were demolished.

6. Construction cost $2 billion (adjusted for inflation).

7. 150,000 people walked through the doors for its inauguration.

8. Now, 750,000 visitors pass through daily.

9. To commemorate the centennial on Friday, shops and eateries will price their goods as if it were 1913.

10. That means 19 cents per shrimp.

11. And a 6-cent loaf of rye bread.

12. And a 10-cent shoeshine (better leave a nice tip).

13. For the celebration, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins was commissioned to write an ode to the monument.

14. Caroline Kennedy will give remarks.

15. Her mom, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, spearheaded an initiative to save GCT from demolition in the 70’s.

16. It had been slated for replacement by a Marcel Breuer skyscraper.

17. Perhaps the terminal’s best-known feature, the celestial ceiling of the main concourse depicts the zodiac.

18. The view is of the Mediterranean winter sky.

19. The stars number 2,500.

20. Unfortunately, the view is backwards.

Video screenshot

Grand Central has appeared in many movies throughout the years. Take a look.

21. Some say that’s because it’s from God’s vantage point.

22. Restorers completed a 12-year project in 1998 that cleaned decades of grime from the ceiling.

23. That grime came from the cigarette smoke of millions of commuters.

24. The restoration team left one black patch, so we can all appreciate the difference.

25. There’s also a small hole near Pisces, where a rocket was hung in 1957.

26. That Redstone rocket was meant to boost American morale after the Soviets launched Sputnik.

27. The Vanderbilts built and owned the station for a time, as part of their New York and Harlem Railroad.

28. Acorns and oak leaves are carved in stone throughout GCT.

29. These were the adopted symbols of the Vanderbilts, as “from an acorn a mighty oak shall grow.”

30. Proud that it was the first all-electric station, architects filled it with light bulbs (a novelty at the time).

31. In 2008, workers began the switch to fluorescents.

32. This saves an estimated $200,000 per year.

33. It took six full-time employees to swap out all 4,000 bulbs.

34. Back in the day, it was railroads like the Fast Mail, the Wolverine, and the Twentieth Century Limited that serviced the station.

35. Now all you’ll see is Metro-North Railroad.

36. An East Side Access project is underway to bring Long Island Railroad to GCT by 2019.

37. That means more angry commuters weaving around tourists posing for pictures by the clock in the main concourse.

38. That clock has four faces made of opal, estimated at a value of $10-20 million.

39. A secret trap door in the kiosk below the clock leads to a spiral staircase down to the lower level info booth.

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Today: People walk through Grand Central Terminal on January 31, 2013 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty)

40. Another clock, outside on the 42nd St. facade, is the world's largest example of Tiffany glass.

41. It has a diameter of 14 feet. 

42. If you're lucky enough to gain access, you can look through that glass from a tower inside the station. 

43. Outside, on the roof, the clock is flanked by more Beaux Arts touches: statues of Hercules, Mercury, and Minerva.

44. These figures were designed in France and sculpted in Long Island City.

45. They weigh 1,500 tons and measure 66 feet long. 

46. A cast-iron eagle with a wingspan of 13 feet, originally from a tower of Grand Central Depot, came back to roost on the Terminal in 1997.

47. The sub-basement (known as M42) housed rotary power converters targeted by the Axis in WWII.

48. Why? Because a bucket of sand thrown into the super-hot rotary would have turned to glass and halted trains. 

49. This would have stopped thousands of American troops from deploying from the Terminal.

50. M42 connects to a secret underground platform at the Waldorf Astoria.

51. It also harbors an old, rusting armored train.

52. FDR used this train and this platform to enter the hotel in his wheelchair unseen.

53. Andy Warhol held an underground party on the Waldorf platform in 1965.

54. The Oyster Bar has been a Grand Central staple since the terminal’s opening.

55. Its vaulted ceilings are tiled in the Gustavino style.

56. The same tiles are used in the “Whispering Gallery” outside the restaurant.

57. This creates an acoustic phenomenon: murmur something into one corner, and a friend standing in the opposite corner will hear you loud and clear.

58. The station’s Park Avenue Tunnel extends 55 blocks underground, from 42nd St to 97th St.

59. Renovations in the 90's required that the original Tennessee marble quarry be reopened to build a staircase on the east side of the concourse that would match that on the west side.

60. This replaced a baggage room where travelers could store their luggage for 50 cents as of 1986.

61. Holden Caulfield kept his bags in one in Catcher in the Rye: “So what I did, I told the driver to take me to Grand Central Station. It was right near the Biltmore, where I was meeting Sally later, and I figured what I'd do, I'd check my bags in one of those strong boxes that they give you a key to, then get some breakfast.”

62. Croatian nationalists planted a bomb in one of the lockers on Sept. 11, 1976. It was improperly disarmed, resulting in the death of an NYPD officer and 30 injuries.

63. In 1986, the MTA removed all lockers from Grand Central to reduce the risk of bombs.

64. As The New York Times wrote, however, “advocates for the homeless said… that they believed the lockers were being removed to discourage the homeless, not the lawless.”

65. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, one NYPD sergeant’s beat was the tunnels of GCT.

66. His sole assignment: to manage the homeless population there.

67. Commercial billboards, once iconic, have also disappeared from the main concourse since the 80s, including a Kodak Colorama display, a mainstay for 40 years.

68. Also: a Newsweek clock, whose face read “Nobody gets you into the news like Newsweek.”

69. A large American flag has hung in the main concourse since several days after the attacks of 9/11.

70. Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote the song “Grand Central Station” after 9/11. It’s based on an iron worker from Ground Zero who would bring any and all souls to the terminal after each shift.

71. Thirteen years after his famous 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, Philippe Petit danced across a wire stretched over GCT's main concourse.

72. The departure display board in the concourse was originally a row of flip panels that would update mechanically.

73. It was later replaced with LCD screens.

74. The departures are always listed as one minute earlier than their actual time.

75. This gives commuters running from the subway an extra blessed 60 seconds to reach their platforms.

76. Attached to the terminal is the 42nd St. station of the New York City subway.

77. This platform used to be part of the Interborough Rapid Transit, or IRT.

78. So many of the conductors were Irish immigrants that the IRT was colloquially called the “Irish Rapid Transit.”

79. The station is now serviced by the 4, 5, 6, and 7 trains, as well as the shuttle to Times Square.

80. It’s the second busiest station in the system.

81. The Grand Central Art Galleries lived on the sixth floor beginning in 1923.

82. It was founded by an artists' collective that included John Singer Sargent, Walter Leighton Clark, and Edmund Greacen.

83. A year later, they founded the Grand Central School of Art.

84. At its peak, it enrolled 900 students.

85. The school closed in 1944.

86. In 1958, the Galleries moved to the Biltmore Hotel.

87. For the centennial, the New York Transit Museum will present a multimedia exhibit "revealing how the iconic building, on the verge of changing the way New Yorkers travel over the next decade, shaped modern New York and determines its future."

88. The museum's 11th Annual Holiday Train Show is currently on display. 

89. A television series, Mama, was broadcast from a studio above The Oyster Bar beginning in 1949.

90. Movies and TV shows have regularly featured Grand Central scenes over the decades, from North by Northwest...

91. To Mad Men’s Pete Campbell, who complains in 1967 that commuting from GCT to Cos Cob is like “an epic poem,” the trip took about an hour and cost less than three dollars.

92. Now it takes 45 minutes and costs 12 dollars.

93. In 1978’s Superman, Lex Luther’s lair is located under the terminal.

94. The 2007 pilot of Gossip Girl introduces Serena van der Woodsen, “spotted at Grand Central, bags in hand.”

95. 93% of GCT commuters are college graduates.

96. Their mean household income is $95,800.

97. Their median age: 41.

98. About 19,000 items wind up in the lost and found each year.

99. Of those, more than half are reunited with their owners.

100. “In Grand Central you cannot shilly shally or dilly dally. Everyone rushes and dashes and zips and zaps and whizzes like crazy and oh what a dizzy and delightful place.” Parting words from Maira Kalman’s children’s book Next Stop Grand Central.