Image via Wikimedia Commons, Chrysler Corporation and US Army
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 sites which attempt to debunk the Redstone hole story get 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. According to NASA, the later Mercury Redstone, which “took the first American to the edge of space,” was 83 feet tall, 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.
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 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.
Want to find out what other Grand Central myths we’ve busted? Learn the real value of the iconic Grand Central clock that is allegedly worth $20 million, and find out where you can actually find FDR’s private train car (hint: it’s not in Grand Central!)
Bust more myths and uncover more secrets on our upcoming Secrets of Grand Central tour!