Arguably one of the most famous ceilings in the world, the mural high above Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse is as fascinating as it is awe-inspiring. While much has been written about it, one detail that seems to be overlooked is hidden in plain sight, the proverbial fly-on-the-wall. Or in this case, a fly on the ceiling.
Even before Grand Central Terminal officially opened on February 2, 1913 New Yorkers were teased with descriptions of the mural that had been painted on its vaulted ceiling, with the New York Times telling of its “effect of illimitable space” and how “fortunately there are no chairs in the concourse or…some passengers might miss their trains while contemplating this starry picture.” While the effect the painting has on commuters today is the same, the mural has undergone significant change. In fact, it’s not even the same mural.
Meeker and his team stopping in Columbus Circle as he drives down Broadway
On September 18, 1907 New York City was treated to a spectacle most of its residents had only read about in the pages of dime novels. Ezra Meeker, a 76-year-old pioneer, drove his ox-drawn covered wagon all the way down Broadway and over the Brooklyn Bridge. Starting his journey in his hometown of Puyallup, WA, he had driven his rig 3,000 miles to mark and memorialize the Oregon Trail.
Thirteen Links of the original Great Chain at West Point. Image via Wikimedia Commons user Daderot
Con artists were no strangers to early New York City. At one time or another, nearly every major landmark in the city had been sold by a ‘matchstick man’. Around the turn of the twentieth century one such fraud was performed by two men who targeted an artifact of slightly less renown: The Great West Point Chain.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
While nowadays it seems a foregone conclusion that the United States capital city is Washington DC, for the first 100 years of the country’s existence it was hardly so defined. The location, 10 square miles straddling the Potomac River with portions in both Maryland and Virginia, was established in 1790 with the Permanent Seat of Government Act (recently dramatized by the song “The Room Where It Happens” from the musical Hamilton). But this didn’t satisfy all Americans. Over the course of the young country’s first century, the idea of moving the capital would come up three more times.
SS Willochra, later the RMS Fort Victoria. Image via Wikipemedia Commons
On October 26, 1930 this headline burst from the pages of the New York Herald-Tribune: “Sunken Fort Victoria, Menace to Navigation, is Blasted Downward Into Floor of Bay.” In a word: WHAT?!
The “Fort Victoria” in question was a ship (which makes the headline only marginally less amusing), a passenger steamer that began life in 1912 as the SS Willochra owned by the Adelaide Steamship Co., of New Zealand. By 1929, after changing hands, it was known as the SS Fort Victoria and was being used to carry tourists between New York City and Hamilton, Bermuda.