Revealed: New York City's Grand Central Terminal's best-kept secrets


A secret train platform, a hidden bar and a kissing room.

Each year over 21 million people visit Grand Central Terminal in New York City. On average, over 750,000 people pass through Grand Central Terminal every day, that's more than the entire population of Alaska! And the amount of people who visit Grand Central every day (not those catching trains) surpasses over 10,000. The terminal was designed in the Beaux-Arts style, and comes with a teal ceiling, complete with gold-painted constellations. Here are some fascinating secrets about Grand Central that you may not be aware of... 

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The Universe is Backwards

If you look up at the ceiling in the Main Concourse you'll be blown away by the absolutely-mesmerizing gold leaf zodiacs that adorn the cerulean blue ceiling in an arch. Around 2,500 stars are poking out of the constellations, but there's something a bit odd about the display. It's backwards. The universe was painted in reverse, with mirror images of the nighttime sky. Paul César Helleu is the designer behind this mystery, and the Post-Impressionist French artist has never explained why he created the universe in reverse.

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"Legend has it that the Columbia University astronomer, who sketched out the constellation for Helleu, had his maps upside down or that Helleu took his designs from medieval manuscripts that showed the heavens from a God’s-eye view beyond the spheres. “No one has ever been able to definitively find the answer to why it’s reversed,” says Brucker. “The Vanderbilts were surprised when they started getting comments and letters from commuters about the mistake. They later claimed it was painted deliberately from God’s perspective rather than having to admit to the evident error.” - Gotham Magazine

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Also, if you look closely at the mural you'll notice a dark spot in the night sky. You see, the entire building used to look that dark, from all the cigarette smoke and exhaust, so when they cleaned the building sometime during the 1990s they left one spot on the ceiling to show what the place used to look like.

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A Secret Passageway

"Track 61" in the terminal was used during WWII by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was paralyzed from the waist down, yet needed to be mobile during wartime. So, they created a secret platform under the Waldorf Astoria hotel, and this helped the President hide his paralysis (which was perceived as a sign of weakness in the mass media age). 

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"From here he could make it into his room where nobody could see him - particularly journalists who may have tried to break the veil of silence around his condition by taking pictures. Though the media generally agreed to avoid mentioning Roosevelt's paralysis out of choice, the arrangement was not unbreachable. Unfavorable outlets would on occasion draw attention to his illness, or publish pictures, much to the frustration of White House officials." - Daily Mail

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The Whispering Gallery

If you're looking for a romantic night out, hit up the Grand Central Oyster Bar, it's not only iconic, it's also home to an accoustical anomaly. The design of the ceilings, which are arched and constructed low, with glazed tiling, enable whispers to travel from one side of the room to the other. So, if you're a voyeur hoping to overhear a lover's clandestine conversation, sit back, order some oysters and a cocktail and enjoy. 

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"For a dramatic demonstration of the Oyster Bar’s acoustics without the overlapping conversations and noise-absorbing furniture, go to the similarly shaped hall outside the restaurant, also known as the whispering gallery. Head to one corner while a friends stands at the opposite corner, and you can carry on intimate and even whispered conversation across the hall. Countless marriage proposals have been done this way (some of them on YouTube) but it’s anyone’s guess if holy matrimony has ever been undermined by misdirected conversations in the Oyster Bar next door." - Gotham Magazine

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The Whispering Gallery is not only one of the most romantic spots in the terminal (it's used for quite a few marriage proposals), it's also rumored to have been used by jazz legend, Charles Mingus. According to NYCGo.com, Mingus is believed to have played under the arches.

A Hidden Bar

The Campbell Apartment is a very cool bar and lounge that was restored after it had been used as the office of John Campbell. He had a wine cellar, fireplace and frequently used the "office" for parties. After he died in 1957 the apartment was used as a police station (the wine cellar became a holding cell), then it was converted into a nightclub by Mark Grossich in 1999.

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It's also rumored to be haunted...

"But apparently spirits were not just confined to glasses, as employees and customers began coming across apparitions of men and women dressed in formal clothes of a bygone era, cold gusts from nowhere, and in one case, a woman who went into the bathroom in front of a line of guests and never emerged again—requiring a locksmith to open the bathroom, which was mysteriously empty. “We had paranormal experts come in a couple of years ago to see what they could find out, and they said they got high energy measurements here,” recounts Grossich. “My staff still occasionally feels someone pushing them from behind when there’s no one there, so who knows? Maybe Mr. Campbell is still hanging around. Somewhere like Grand Central is bound to have a lot of apparitions.” - Gotham Magazine

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The Kissing Room

At certain points in New York City's puritanical past, kissing and other forms of public displays of affection weren't very welcome. So, Grand Central created the Biltmore Room, just off the Main Concourse (there's now a Starbucks facing where it once stood). Here, wives and girlfriends waited for their loved ones to return from long-distanced train journeys, especially during WWII. It was also known as the "Romeo and Juliet Gallery," for obvious reasons.

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World's Largest Tiffany Clock

One of my favorite features though has to be the Tiffany Clock. This is the world's largest Tiffany Clock and is 13 feet in diameter. 

"When the Tiffany clock had to be restored, it took twelve years. That’s partially because the staircase that leads to the clock is so narrow that each piece had to be removed individually, write the restorers at Rohlf’s Stained and Leaded Glass. There was also extensive damaged since its installation in 1914, so the process involved both repair and replication, in the case of missing parts. Then everything had to be reinstalled piece by piece." - Untapped Cities

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SOURCES: 

Gotham MagazineNYCGo.comDaily Mail

Places explored in this article:

This was originally written for Roadtrippers, a great resource for anyone interested in travel.
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