Inaugurated in 1913, Grand Central Terminal with its 44 platforms and 67 tracks is still the largest train terminal in the world.
The iconic Grand Central Terminal in New York may look like a station, but it actually isn’t. This enormous junction is the end stop for every train that enters, hence its official name ‘terminal’. Inaugurated in 1913, Grand Central Terminal with its 44 platforms and 67 tracks is still the largest train terminal in the world. A terminal riddled with symbolism and hidden treasures. And although some of these treasures aren’t accessible to the general public, most can be explored with a self-guided tour or an audio guide.
The famous tall windows of Grand Central Terminal are not what they seem. Inside the window glass are walkways that serve as a bridge for the office workers of the terminal. This way they don’t have to cross the busy Main Concourse to get from one side of the building to the other. Pay close attention and you will see the occasional silhouette go by.
The Main Concourse is the throbbing heart of Grand Central Terminal. Most tourists just pop in for a quick photo and then leave. But there is so much more to see if you know where to look. Around the building you will find images of oak leaves and acorns: the symbol of the Vanderbilt family who financed the construction of the terminal.
Meet me under the clock
Film fans will probably be familiar with the phrase: “Meet me under the clock’’. Everyone in New York knows where to go: under the clock of the information stand in the centre of the main hall. Featured in countless Hollywood films, the clock is worth an estimated 20 million dollars. Each clock face is made from pure opal. Another fun fact: a hidden spiral staircase underneath the information stand leads to the floor below.
But the Grand Central Terminal Clock isn’t the only time-telling device with a story to tell. The large departure boards in the Main Concourse provide a neat overview of all train departure times. Or so you would think. However, none of the times listed are exactly correct: the trains always leave one minute later than listed on the board. This allows most people to catch their train. Instead of conductors yelling at rushing passengers to hurry, you will often hear the opposite on the platforms of Grand Central Terminal: “Slow down!”
The clock on top of Grand Central is the largest Tiffany clock in the world. This enormous timepiece has a diameter of four metres.
M42: Nazi target
More than 100 metres below Grand Central Terminal lies M42. This area is not shown on any map or blueprint of the building, and until the 1980s most people didn’t even know this place existed. During World War II, this underground space housed the transformers that supplied power to the train system of the Northeastern United States. This was the network used by the allied forces to transport troops and supply weapons. Up to 80 percent of the weapons transported relied on the electricity generated by M42.
A former employee of the terminal informed Adolf Hitler about the existence of M42, which made the power supply a Nazi target during World War II. Sabotage didn’t even have to be very sophisticated: simply dumping a bag of sand into the transformers would be enough to cripple the entire network. Hitler sent three spies to New York City but the FBI got wind of the plans and arrested the trio in time.
The most legendary track of Grand Central is Track 61. Here stands the rusty train carriage that in the 1930s transported President Franklin D. Roosevelt unseen to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, located right next to the station. Roosevelt had polio and his health deteriorated over the course of time. He didn’t want the people to see this. That is why he was taken in his car by train to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
There his car was hoisted out of the large sliding doors on the side of the train carriage and driven into the elevator. This elevator would take him straight into the Waldorf garage. Although the track looks abandoned and unused, rumour has it that it’s still used to transport presidents and other celebrities in and out of New York City without being spotted. Whether that’s true? Who will tell…