On February 2, the busy beaux arts edifice marks 100 years.
The Big Apple’s third most visited site, Grand Central now attracts some 21 million tourists annually. But the picture wasn’t always so rosy; with train travel on the decline post WWII, the future of the terminal appeared to veer off the rails.
Preservationists, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, successfully stepped in to save the historic hub from certain destruction.
God’s View: William K. Vanderbilt commissioned a zodiac painted on the domed ceiling, but muralist Paul Helleu painted it backward and suggested that it portrayed God’s perspective of the universe.
Aw, Shucks: The Oyster Bar, a New York landmark since 1913, opened just three weeks after the station’s debut. The restaurant provided a place for long-distance travelers and commuters to slurp oysters.
Secret Rendezvous: The city’s most famous meeting point — “under the clock at Grand Central” — conceals a spiral staircase used by staff to move between the information booths on the main and lower levels. The clock itself is worth millions.
Acoustic Trickery: Grand Central has a “whispering gallery” on the lower level just outside the Oyster Bar. People can stand in opposite corners and telegraph their voices to each other.
Fake Out: To get you to the track on time, the schedule board moves departure times up by one minute.
Hidden Track: Beneath the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is a hidden platform and railcar built for dignitaries who could privately access the hotel by an elevator. Gen. John Pershing was the first to use the station in 1938. Franklin D. Roosevelt used it to conceal his inability to walk unassisted due to polio.
Have You Seen My Jacket? Riders who lose something on the Metro-North Railroad can report it online; the Lost & Found room returned 13,126 items to their owners in 2011.
Rocket Science: In 1957, NASA displayed a Redstone rocket in the great dome to counter fears of Sputnik. A hole was drilled in the ceiling to tether the tip of the rocket next to the constellation Pisces. It is still visible.
Secret of the Stairs: Which of the two grand marble staircases is original? The ornate acorn and oak leaf carvings of the west staircase — symbols from the Vanderbilt family crest — distinguish the old staircase from the simpler east steps, built in the 1966 restoration.
This article, written by Margie Goldsmith, appeared in the February/March issue of National Geographic Traveler.