The Top 10 Secrets of Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal-Aerial-View from Glass Walkways-NYCView of Grand Central Terminal from atop the glass walkways in the windows

Grand Central Terminal still stands as one of New York City’s most beloved landmarks, but its history is also a glorious story of creation, decline, and rebirth – much like the story of New York City itself. Originally built by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Grand Central Terminal opened on February 2nd, 1913 atop a previous version, Grand Central Station (also built by Vanderbilt for his New York Central Railroad). The station replaced an even earlier building, Grand Central Depot, built in 1881.

From the very beginning, Grand Central Terminal was intended to benefit both public and private interests – an arrangement that continues to this day. An extensive rehabilitation project in the 1990s restored Grand Central Terminal to its original glory, while the addition of retail and restaurants have made it a popular destination for both tourist and residents alike.

Despite its renown, Grand Central Terminal still holds many secrets and fun facts you may not know:

10. No one knows if the “whispering gallery” was built to whisper on purpose

Nestled between the Main Concourse and Vanderbilt Hall is an acoustical architectural anomaly in Grand Central Terminal: a whispering gallery. Here, sound is thrown clear across the 2,000 sq-foot chamber, “telegraphing” across the surface of the vault and landing in faraway corners. The real secret of the Whispering Gallery is that no one knows whether it was constructed with the intention of producing the acoustic effect that has made it so famous.

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11 Responses
  1. High up on the ceiling is a small hole, which no one would ever notice or think to question. In fact, however, it is there because of a NASA promotional program in the late 1950s, when the government was trying to raise awareness and support for America’s space program, which brought a rocket to the concourse. However, the measurements of the rocket turned out to be wrong, and it was six inches too tall for the the ceiling. So this six-inch hole was punched in the ceiling to accommodate the rocket.

  2. Can you add a comment about the iron mice crawling up the ropes on the outside of the station. They’re hard to find but very interesting.

  3. How is it that Cornelius Vanderbilt made such a claim about the backwards constellations when the constellation piece was not completed until 1913 and Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1877?

    • michelle young Reply

      Hi Caroline, you’re right. It was someone in the Vanderbilt family and we’ve updated the article.

    • You have to take into consideration that Grand Central Terminal was the brain child of William Vanderbilt and Cornelius Vanderbilt II. The elder [Cornelius] Vanderbilt was a pioneer in railroad transportation as a whole and founded the New York Central Railroad. The original Grand Central Station was opened in 1871 just 6 years prior to his death. Also in perspective it was not a Vanderbilt that noticed that the constellation ceiling was painted backwards, it was an angry commuter that entered the Terminal the night that it was opened Midnight February 2nd, 1913. It was also in the vision of Paul Hellieu the ceiling’s master painter to show it in a “heavenly state” or “God’s view from above.” You will find this and more interesting facts in Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a Landmark by Anthony Robins and The New York Transit Museum.

      • I always heard that it was an inadvertent screw up because the supervisor of the paint job had the celluloid map of the night sky on the wrong side. The “God’s view” thing was a publicity stunt to avoid having to incur the expense of repairing the ceiling.

  4. Mauricio Rousselon Reply

    Just came back from a week long vacation at NYC and we missed all of this! Next time, GCS will see us exploring it.

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