Whispering galleries and benches are well-documented phenomena (science!), but it’s something that still gets even jaded New Yorkers excited. We present here not only the well-known spots but also some lesser known ones to brighten up your day – make sure to bring a friend or make a new one.
1. The Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Terminal
The most well-known whispering spot in New York City is in Grand Central Terminal, under a Guastavino-tiled ceiling in front of the Oyster Bar. As we mention in our popular Secrets of Grand Central article and tour, nobody knows whether this whispering gallery was built this way on purpose but it has provided endless amusement for residents and tourists alike.
2. Columbia University’s Whispering Bench
This stone bench at Columbia University, located just next to Low Library across from St. Paul’s Chapel (another Guastavino creation), was donated from the class of 1886 on its 25th reunion. As Untapped Cities editor Samantha Sokol describes, “It’s amazing when you’re sitting in it, the acoustics are totally different. It sounds like you’re in a tunnel, or your ears are clogged. My friend and I had a quiet conversation on opposite sides of the bench. Once I stood up, I couldn’t hear a thing she was saying.”
The text carved into the bench reads, “TO FELLOWSHIP AND LOVE OF ALMA MATER. Class of 1886 Arts, Mines, Political Science; 25th Anniversary.”
3. Central Park’s Whispering Bench in Shakespeare Garden
Finding the Central Park Whispering Bench is a particularly fun adventure. Start at the Swedish Cottage, off the 79th Street transverse and head up into the four-acre Shakespeare Garden, with its landscaped, meandering upwards paths. Your prize, when you get to the very top, is the whispering bench. The garden is planted with flowers and plants mentioned in the works of Shakespeare, and scattered throughout are bronze plaques with quotes from pieces by the Bard.
Check out 12 places in NYC to find Shakespeare.
4. Butler Library Whispering Gallery
Butler Library, the main library at Columbia University, is also home to a whispering gallery of its own in the lobby under the dome of the main staircase. While you’re visiting Butler, don’t miss the mantle in front of which Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Raven, which was in storage until Untapped Cities writer Benjamin Waldman uncovered it.
5. York Street Subway Station
On the platform of the F train subway station at York Street, there’s a spot where you’ll accidentally hear conversations from a few meters away. Though not one of the more architecturally refined “whispering galleries,” the acoustics here are just as surprising.
6. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Whispering Benches
Photo by Nicholas Santasier, NSantasier Photography. Used with permission.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has two limestone whispering benches in the Osborne Garden that flank the fountain. The garden is three acres in size and Italianate in design, built between 1935 and 1939 by workers dispatched through the Works Progress Administration and Civil Works Administration. The fountain is 17 feet in diameter and the garden was intended as a “showcase for ornamental plants,” writes the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
7. Whispering Column of Jerash Flushing Meadows Corona Park
This final entry does not have the acoustic aspects of a whispering gallery, but was once part of one. The Whispering Column of Jerash, that dates to 120 A.D. at Flushing-Meadows Corona Park is considered to be the second oldest antiquity monument. The oldest is Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park. The Whispering Column of Jerash was once part of the Temple of Artemis, a Roman temple in Jordan. It was known to have the qualities of a whispering gallery. As the New York Public Library writes, “When you stand in the middle of the temple and whisper, the sound of your voice reverberates.” The 30 foot column was presented to the City of New York for the 1964 World’s Fair by the King of Jordan and received by Robert Moses.
Many other buildings have whispering galleries and benches – it just requires a certain acoustical design. What other places have you found? We’ll add them to this list!