There’s a common misconception that ends up on a lot of “Secrets of Grand Central Terminal” lists (but not ours, of course!). It’s about the Redstone rocket, erected by the US military as a piece of showmanship to counter the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik. The Redstone was displayed in the terminal in 1957 for three weeks. This widely spread false fact is that the Redstone was so tall, it bore a hole through the top of Grand Central Terminal’s ceiling. The myth even goes as far to suggest that a hapless engineer didn’t do the math correctly. But this, as you can see in vintage photographs, was not the case.
The concourse is 125 feet high, and even this website which attempts to debunk the Redstone hole story gets this fact wrong. Regardless, the sister of the Redstone rocket still exists so can be measured, which according to this story about where it now sits in Warren, New Hampshire, is 70 feet. This Wiki of astronautics has the original Redstone at 69.32 feet. In 1957 The New York Times reported that the Grand Central rocket was 63 feet and the height was in the headline for the article. And a chart on Gizmodo, sourced from elsewhere online, has the later Mercury Redstone at about 83 feet, so the first generation Redstone at under 70 feet makes sense in the evolution of the rockets in this time period. All of this, still significantly shorter than the height of the Concourse.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Composite image from three newsreels. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
As for the myth, AMNY writes, “some genius didn’t think to measure whether it would fit in the concourse,” History.com writes, “someone forgot to bring a tape measurer,” and CNN writes, “So eager was the government to counteract anxiety around the Russian Sputnik launch, that it forgot to check whether the rocket would fit in the building.” Even PBS gets it wrong.
The Redstone coming down. Image via LivelyMorgue on Tumblr
The hole in the ceiling is real, but it was created to anchor a stabilizing wire. Jim Henderson, a retired telephone switchman in New York City, active photographer, and Wiki editor confirms, “Redstone was not that tall. The hole admitted a wire to stabilize the rocket.”
The hole is still there, in the concourse ceiling at Grand Central despite renovations. You just have to look for it.
Join us for our popular tour of the Secrets of Grand Central with Tamara Agins, author of our Secrets of Grand Central Terminal series and a project manager at the NYC Department of City Planning: