by Carlos Melia
If there is something that always intrigues and interests me about iconic landmarks and destinations, is to dig deep into their apparent facade and learn about the myths and legends behind them. You saw my recent post on Buenos Aires, from my visit last week, and now New York. Invited to join this exclusive group of luxury concierges of Manhattan, by my friend Michael Romei, I took part of this exclusive behind the scenes 3hs tours of Grand Central Terminal and Beyond. The tour was conducted to detail and perfection, by Docent-in-Chief Daniel Brucker, who not only is an erudite in the subject, but also is known and referred as “The Keeper of Grand Central’s Secrets”.
Grand Central Terminal is “the world’s number six most visited tourist attraction”, bringing in approximately 21,600,000 visitors annually. The first tip to learn about Grand Central, is that it is a “Terminal” and not a Station. Grand Central is the point the end and the beginning of the rail line into and out of New York City. Our tour guide, made strong emphasis on this, and demanded respect alluding Grand Central Terminal, is the biggest train terminal in the world.
From there on, we immersed into a behind the scenes and secrets tour, which took over 3 hours. I must say it felt like just one. We started with a brief introduction. while seating at the stunning and breathtaking Vanderbilt Hall. This room is very important, and you will be able to read the plaque placed there. The Grand Central was the first building in the United States to be saved under the Landmark Act by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In 1975, when Grand Central was threatened with demolition, Jacqueline Onassis lent her support to the preservation cause.
Facts: Grand Central Terminal is the biggest terminal in the world. New York’s biggest basement. The entire population of San Francisco passes by and uses the GCT everyday (750K people). 700 trains daily. 44 platforms with 67 tracks. 99% punctuality. 80% Lost and Found rate. 1200 passengers per train formation.
Have you ever tried the Whispering Gallery? There is a section of the Terminal on the lower concourse, next to the Oyster Bar and Restaurant. The acoustics of the low ceramic arches, covered of Guastavino tiles, can cause a whisper to sound like a shout. I looks like I am confessing, but no. This is how it works. Stand at opposite corners with a friend. Let your friend whisper something, facing the wall. You will hear it loud and clear on the other opposite corner, you were right next to them.
The Grand Central Terminal Clock, is a stunning true jewel. Urban legends say, it is worth between 10 to 20 million dollars. Each of the four clock faces is made from opalescent glass; the story that the faces are made of opal and that both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have estimated the value.
The ceiling over the Main Concourse, one of Grand Central Terminal’s most famous features, displays a massive celestial piece of art. This remained covered for many many years, with grime and dirt, result of millions of cigarettes smoked by waiting commuters. However, if you look carefully, you will notice the great mistake made by the artist. The zodiac on the ceiling is depicted backwards. The Vanderbilt, never recognized this mistake, claiming the painting was made as if God would be looking from the skies.
Also if you look carefully, next to Pisces you will find a hole in the ceiling. This hole was pierced by a Redstone rocket, which was place on display at the Main Concourse to show Americans and the world the supremacy over the Soviet Union and the Sputnik Satellite.
But this was just the beginning of our behind the Scenes and Secrets for Grand Central Terminal. Till this point, we had seen same as any other regular visitor. But of histrionic guide, had a few more surprises of us, which are only accessible to a few.
First we went down to New York City’s deepest and largest basement. There we saw and learnt about the very soul and power of this iconic station. We explored the tunnels under GCT, with rock formation that date 600 million years. Did you know that the Grand Central Terminal and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, are linked by a secret train platform and track “Track 61″ ? which allowed VIPs to enter the hotel in a more private manner, and was always fueled and ready for the use of presidents. Even Andy Warhol was popular for throwing parties in this train, called “The Underground Party”.
From there we move to the higher floors of the Terminal, where we visited the “Situation Room” and the “Headquarters of Operations”.
But I must say, that the most exciting part of our tour was reaching the highest point of the building, and seeing Grand Central Station at full splendor, from the city windows of the ceiling. What I called “the eye in the sky of Grand Central Station”. Little windows located right on top the 100 years sign.
What an amazing way to explore Grand Central Terminal, and learn more about such an iconic building, which in many ways has transformed the life of Americans and most closely New Yorkers. After over 3 hours walking along, up and down, was time for lunch. For this which better option than walking to the lower level and enjoying some great fresh dishes at the OYSTER Bar & Restaurant (I strongly recommend the Manhattan Clam Chowder, and the Tuna Steak, with a chilled Chimay Belgian beer).
Hope you enjoyed my report. I do not want to say much, not to spoil your own experience. Once again BIG THANK YOU to Michael Romei, Les Clefs d’Or organization and Metro-North Railroad.
Till next adventure in full luxury. Follow my next to Riviera Maya, Mexico. Rome, Florence and Venice, Italy. Scotland.
Carlos Melia is a Travel Expert, Blogger, Niche Marketing Consultant, Jetsetter, and Bon Vivant, who travels around the world discovering what’s new and cool in Luxury Travel and Hospitality. His reviews on hotels, restaurants, destinations, and attractions, based on his own experiences as an OUT Gay Traveler can be found a www.carlosmeliablog.com