8 Hidden Secrets in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal has the distinction of being one of the few New York City landmarks that regular New Yorkers actually frequent, after all some 750,000 people pass through the station daily! But amid all the hustle and bustle of commuting, New Yorkers and visitors to the city alike can lose sight of Grand Central’s unique features and attractions. So the next time you’re passing through the Big Apple’s most glamorous train station, take a moment to pause and appreciate these eight hidden gems:
Grand Central is nothing if not a noisy place, but at the Whispering Gallery—an otherwise inconspicuous space in front of the Oyster Bar & Restaurant—you can communicate at the level of a whisper. When two people stand facing diagonal arches and whisper, they can hear each other as if they were standing next to each other. This 2,000-square-foot acoustic wonder is one of the station’s most famous (and romantic!) attractions.
Officially known as the Campbell Apartment, Grand Central’s “hidden bar,” tucked away near the Vanderbilt Avenue side of the station, once served as an office space for railroad tycoon John W. Campbell during the 1920s. Now fully restored, the space calls to mind the romance and swank of a bygone era (much like Grand Central itself).
While you can’t technically see Grand Central’s Track 61, knowing it’s there will no doubt enrich your visit to the station. Located behind a locked door on 49th Street, the now-defunct track was once served as a direct subterranean route from Grand Central to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Among the luminaries who enjoyed such a privileged commute?! Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Grand Central is a place where time is of the essence, so it makes sense that it should boast such a beautiful four-sided clock (fun fact: it’s a common meeting place for New Yorkers!). Beautiful, and pricey: The gold-colored clock, which is situated directly under the station’s famed ceiling, is thought to be worth $10 to $20 million, according to estimates provided by auction houses. At New York’s most famous train station, time really is money!
Rebuilt in the 1930s, the astrological ceiling of Grand Central’s main thoroughfare is one of its most dazzling sights. With depictions of constellations scattered across an azure background, the ceiling conjures images of the night sky, lending the interior of the station a beauty and openness that you’ll be hard-pressed to find at any other commuter hub. But that doesn’t mean the architectural wonder is without flaws: After the ceiling was built it was discovered that its depiction of the night sky was backwards. While some believe that painter Charles Basing was holding the depiction the wrong way when replicating it, Cornelius Vanderbilt claimed that the mural was intended to depict the way it looks from heaven rather than earth.
Grand Central’s ceiling also contains two features that tell us a lot about the history of the station. The first is a tiny rectangular patch, located near the outstretched claw of Cancer, that has never been (purposefully) cleaned. Its sootiness, in comparison to the relative pristineness of the rest of the ceiling, telegraphs both the age of the station and the unhealthiness of New York of yore. As it happens, most of the 100 years of dirt is a combination of accumulated nicotine from cigarettes, cigars and pipes.
The second piece of Grand Central history contained in the station’s ceiling is a small dark hole located near the depiction of Pisces. The hole dates to 1957, when the U.S. government installed a Redstone rocket into Grand Central to be put on display, as way of exhibiting showiness to counter the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite. The hole was created to make way for stabilizing cables (a common misconception is that it was too tall and pierced a hole in the iconic ceiling); it now stands as a testament to both the station’s longevity and its central place in the American imagination.
Tennis courts at Grand Central Station?! You better believe it. The station’s “secret” tennis center reopened as the Vanderbilt Tennis Club a few years back. Tucked away on the fourth floor of the station, the recreation area would probably elude most harried passers-by, but anyone with an hour or two on their hands is able to play for $200-$280 per hour depending on the time of day and the day of the week.