Stephanie Schwenn Sebring

Using Heritage To Your Best Advantage

Local History Provides a Link to Your Readers

Grand Central Terminal Celebrates 100 Years

Grand Central Terminal Celebrates 100 Years

Through my work for MPI, a credit union client recently included this excerpt from the New York Post in their winter newsletter. It speaks of the storied history of NYC, specifically, Grand Central Terminal. What a fascinating piece! I gained a new respect for the landmark, which turned 100 years old and is used by about 100,000 commuters every day.

KUDOS to the credit union who opted to include the story! It’s a unique way to engage the reader and increase readership, while paying homage to a local landmark. Here’s the excerpt:


New York Post | Sunday, January 6, 2013 | Cynthia Fagen

Beautiful carvings on the exterior

Beautiful carvings on the exterior

Grand Central Terminal has been the gateway to the city since it opened at 12:01 Feb. 2, 1913 and the first train left the station – the Boston Express No. 2 – a century ago.

Everything about the terminal is massive, starting from the entrance on 42nd Street. A 13-foot-wide clock, bedecked with the world’s largest display of Tiffany glass is surrounded by a stunning 48-foot-high limestone sculpture of three mythological figures, Minerva, Mercury and Hercules.

It took 10 years to build this sprawling, 48-acre hub, at the cost of $2 billion in today’s dollar. To lay 67 tracks and build 44 platforms, 3 million cubic yards of earth and rocks had to be excavated.

It is an urban cathedral, New York City’s front door, where, in its first days, red carpets literally were rolled out for train passengers.

grand-central-terminal entryIt’s been ranked by Travel and Leisure magazine as the world’s sixth-most visited attraction. And it keeps growing. By 2011, its ridership surpassed 82 million. On its hundredth birthday, it is heading toward 100 million commuters.

There are 4,000 bare light bulbs illuminating public areas of the station. Leaving the bulbs bare was a way to impress the public of its modernity. In 2008, it took six people to switch all the incandescent bulbs to fluorescent.

There are acorns everywhere in the terminal, carved into archways and walls. Because the Vanderbilts had no official family crest, they adopted the acorn as their own, with the motto, “From the little acorn a mighty oak grows.”

A view of the glorious ceiling

A view of the glorious ceiling

Grand Central’s concave 128-floor high ceiling is a view of the heavens from Aquarius to Cancer in an October sky, consisting of 2,500 stars, 59 of them illuminated.

There’s a five inch hole in the ceiling just above the constellation Pisces that dates back to 1957, when the US and the Soviet Union were in a space race. The US transported a 5-ton, 63 foot long Redstone missile by flatcar from Detroit. A hole was cut in the much higher ceiling in order to install a cable to keep the rocket from tipping over.

Ninety feet below the Lower Level is a secret room called the M-42. It’s also the deepest basement in New York City. During World War II, it was rumored that Nazi saboteurs had wanted to destroy the rows of transformers in that room that powered the trains to halt the deployment of American troops riding the rail to deployment overseas.

The system’s 795 miles of track are controlled from a command center on the 6th floor and for security backup there is another command center at an undisclosed location.

In 1971, hundreds of people lined up for hours to place a bet on the county’s first off-track betting parlor. The slogan: “Nothing Brightens the Rat Race Like a Horse Race.”

Two years later, the city’s first ATM was installed at the Chase Manhattan Branch beneath the giant Kodak Colorama screen.

There’s a special rail spur directly under the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. A secret train stored there was used by dignitaries who stayed at the hotel.

In the mid-1800s, cities kept their own times – so while in New York it might be 12:12, in Boston it would be 12:24, 12:07 in Philadelphia, or 11:17 in Chicago. It was the railroads that pushed for a national standard and four time zones – if for nothing else than to avoid collisions.

Finally, it was agreed that on Sunday, Nov. 18, 1883, everyone would follow the same clock. (Weirdly, some communities resisted standard time, thinking it was a railroad plot.)

In 2011, there were 24,691 items turned into the lost and found. More than half were returned. Some unusual lost and found items include a pet beagle, artificial limbs, $9,999 stuffed into a pair of socks and a silver urn deliberately left by a widow whose husband lied too many times about coming home late because he was stuck on a train. She decided to let him ride the rails for eternity.

Mary Lee Read began as the terminal’s organist in 1928 and played at the east end of the Philosopher’s Gallery. The day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, she played the National Anthem and the entire station came to a halt. Commuters missed their trains. She was forbidden from playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” after that.

This article, authored by Cynthia Fagen, was featured in the New York Post on January 6, 2013. Read more at:

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