100 Facts For Grand Central Station's 100th Birthday
How It Works:
71. The information booth in the center of the main concourse is staffed by workers who are expected to memorize the train schedules, so they can easily and instantly respond to the most popular question: "When's the next train?"
72. However, they also know tons and tons of other facts. The Atlanta Constitution wrote in 1930, "Sometimes the clerks at the information booth at the Grand Central station wonder themselves why they don't go mad. Folks ask the silliest questions. 'Where could I have a live turkey stored until Christmas?' 'I'm going to Chicago the day before Christmas. Will the train get there in time?' ...These, explained W.P. Walsh, in charge of the Grand Central information service, are some of the reasons why it requires about three years to train a good information man."
73. The train schedule, which was once kept on a chalkboard, was replaced by an electric one in 1967.
74. In the 1920s, baggage was sorted on a series of subways below the station. The Engineering News-Record explained, "Subways for the handling of baggage, mail, and express below the lower level are the lowest elevation of any of the terminal passageways....Here all of the baggage, mail and express received and sent out of the terminal is transferred to and from the individual tracks."
75. Unusual items that have turned up in the Lost & Found include a kitten, a wooden leg, a lunch that would be claimed later in the afternoon by a forgetful businessman, and a marriage license.
76. In 2002, the Times completed a detailed investigation into the Grand Central Lost & Found. They found that, "in a typical year about 3,000 coats and jackets; 2,500 cellphones; 2,000 sets of keys; 1,500 wallets, purses, and ID's; and 1,100 umbrellas find their way into the Metro-North Lost and Found in Grand Central Terminal. That, along with stranger items like a basset hound, $9,999 in cash stuffed into a pair of socks...two sets of false teeth and a $10,000 diamond ring, make the task of sorting and returning as much as possible a formidable one."
77. The Times also discovered that the computerization of the lost and found system resulted in almost twice as many items finding their way back to their owners.
78. The stationmaster is the man in charge of Grand Central's operations and supervises a 160 person staff.
79. His office has switched locations several times during the station's existence and is currently near track 36.
80. The timetables used by train operators usually show trains departing a few minutes later than the time given to the public. This allows tardy travelers to make their trains.
The Close Calls:
81. Because Grand Central was the third station built on the site in the forty years, nobody thought the building would be around for very long. The Times reported that "people are asking, quite naturally, whether the great railroad station that is open today for the first time is the final, permanent structure, adequate to accommodate whatever future development may come."
82. The Times didn't stop predicting Grand Central's demise -- in 1954, the paper said the station "looks as though it was built for the ages, but people probably felt the same way about the Grand Central Depot that it replaced. Apparently, we begin to get restless about these buildings every forty years or so."
83. Their predictions weren't unfounded. In 1956, the owners of the building commissioned blueprints for a tower that would outstrip the Empire State Building as (at the time) the tallest building in the world.
84. The tower was designed by I.M. Pei and, had it ever been built, it would have been named the Hyperboloid.
85. Then everybody started talking about ripping down Carnegie Hall and Pennsylvania Station, and people flipped out. Carnegie Hall survived, obviously; Penn Station became Madison Square Garden. You can't win 'em all.
86. In the process of flipping out, the city established a Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965 that protected Grand Central from its imminent destruction.
87. In the 1970s, Grand Central suffered from disrepair and neglect. A former employee, Harry Kelly, told CBS News, "I could maybe see the wall, but everything was diesel. You'd be choking. This whole area would be black with diesel smoke."
88. The owners of the building wanted to tear it down and replace it, but Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis spearheaded a campaign to save Grand Central.
89. The station received a facelift that included cleaning the ceiling's beloved mural, which had been blackened by smoke.
90. A plaque inside commemorates Jackie O's efforts in saving the station.