The Secrets of Grand Central

Not much, I’m talking to a wall, how about you? Shhhhh. Can you keep a secret? This is the whispering gallery in Grand Central Terminal in New York. It is an acoustical marvel that allows a person to whisper into the wall that bounces across a vaulted tile ceiling and you can hear the person at the other end about 30 or 40 feet away. It’s one of those great secrets of Grand Central Terminal.

I am Sam Roberts of the New York Times. Grand Central is celebrating its centennial in February. It opened in 1913. This was the gateway to the continent for so many people, so many ideas, so much culture. It just captures people’s imagination in ways that almost no other building in New York can. It is emblematic of New York because it created Park Avenue and it also created Midtown in New York. This is now the busiest railroad terminal in the world, the biggest in the world.

What’s so fascinating about Grand Central is that it’s also a building that contains many secrets. Everybody knows about the famous clock facing down Park Avenue from the front façade of grand central. You can actually climb up to a tiny little room of latters to access it. This clock, like all the clocks at Grand Central, is set by atomic weight, set by the national observatory and it is extremely accurate.

The train board, which lists when the trains are leaving, are always wrong. They actually leave about a minute later than the time scheduled departure on the train boards. It has the deepest basement in all of New York City. Deeper than the World Trade Center, deeper than the Federal Reserve Bank.

I am just coming out of a secret staircase right in the middle of the main concourse at Grand Central. In fact, it’s in the information booth. It leads not to the sewers, but to the lower level information booth. And of course, the biggest mistake in Grand Central is the ceiling. It was discovered by one commuter not long after Grand Central opened – the sky is backwards. An astronomer at Columbia University gave a chart to the painters but he probably thought that they were going to hold it over their heads to paint. In fact, they put it down and therefore what we have is a sort of heavenly view of the stars, a look at the stars from above, rather than a look at the stars from the main concourse itself.

Last year, 82 million passengers came through Grand Central. When the main terminal was opened in 1913, the projections were that it would be able to handle 100 million. It’s now on the verge of doing that, which just goes to show what a miracle— Grand Central  was an engineering miracle, a land mark miracle—when it was built a century ago.




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If only I wasn't stupid


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