I’ve talked about how my job has some nice perks before, but today I got to do one of the coolest things yet; go on a tour of Grand Central Terminal.
Did you notice how I called it a “terminal” and not a “station?” That’s because it isn’t a station. No trains pass through, it’s just the beginning and end of the line, which makes it a terminus or a terminal. Our tour guide really stressed that point.
We started out in the main area pictured above (but on the floor) and spent a while there while he gave us some background on the Terminal. For instance, did you know that the whole Terminal used to be covered in black dirt? I remember the ceiling looking very different when I was a child, but I don’t remember it all being black. In the late-90s they restored the whole space. Guess what the dirt was? Not diesel fuel like they first suspected…it was tar from cigarettes! How awful is that?
But it looks pretty great now. The Terminal actually extends all the way up to 95th St. in Manhattan and has 63 tracks and 45 platforms. There is a secret underground station in the Terminal that’s used for the president to make secret escapes (and was used regularly for the president in the days when train travel was more common). There’s also a secret staircase in the information booth that goes down to the second level. Plus the face of the clock on the top of the information booth is made of opal and is worth several million dollars.
Another cool thing is their recycling program. When they started having bins to recycle newspapers it immediately turned into one of the biggest recycling programs in the country. The first year they recycled several tons of newspapers, but then the next year the number went down. And they couldn’t figure out what was causing it. Then they realized that people were going into the recycling bins and taking out the newspapers to read! The New York Times got wind of this and provided Grand Central with different bins that are too tall and the opening is too small for people to reach into. Crazy, right?
Another cool thing we got to see was the lost and found. They have an 80% return rate for items which is really impressive (obviously). They catalog everything with when it was found, what train it was on, etc. and they keep most items for 90 days before selling them. Stuff like jewelry or photo albums are never sold, they’re kept forever. The guide actually told us people coming to claim jewelry 15 years later is really common. I guess grandkids will be looking at old pictures with their grandmother and notice a ring or something and ask what happened to it and the grandmother will say she lost it in the City and never looked for it and then the grandkids will go back and track it down.
They had a lot of phones and a lot of umbrellas. I don’t think I’d ever go back and look for an umbrella I lost.
These were my favorite, George Bush and Ray Charles dolls. There were also a lot of artificial limbs and crutches which the guide said are from veterans going to hospitals and then forgetting their new limbs or their crutches on the way back.
Then we went to a few places that are top secret and I can’t share online. Which is a shame because they were really, really cool. And I conquered my fear of heights.
But after that we went back to the top of the windows, where there are walkways, to take the pictures I put at the beginning of this post. It was an amazing view.
I knew a little bit about Grand Central prior to the tour (Jackie Kennedy being instrumental in saving it, etc.), but I learned so many interesting things. It was a VIP tour, but they also have audio tours and if you’re in NYC I would suggest doing those, it’s such an amazing place. Growing up on Long Island I always came and left NYC through Penn Station which is an absolute hell hole. They say that it was once more grand and beautiful than Grand Central but then it was torn down in the early-1960s to build Madison Square Garden and office buildings. Seriously, 1960s New Yorkers? What were you thinking?