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Inaccessible New York: Behind The Scenes At Grand Central Terminal

March 30, 2013 10:00 AM

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M42 SUB-BASEMENT

190 feet below the lower level, which is itself three stories below street level, is a space that you won’t see on any map. It’s called the M42 sub-basement.

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

During World War II, from end to end of a space the size of the main concourse, were massive AC to DC rotary converters which provided power to the terminal.

AC-DC rotary converter in M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

AC-DC rotary converter in M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

This power station was vital to the war effort and were it taken out, it would have crippled 80 percent of troop and materiel movements in the northeast.

AC-DC rotary converters in M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

AC-DC rotary converters in M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Adolf Hitler even sent four Nazi spies to infiltrate the rail system, but authorities found their luggage and tracked them down. Two were executed and two were spared. They were released from prison in 1956.

AC-DC rotary converters in M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

AC-DC rotary converters in M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

These are the circuit breakers.

Circuit breakers in the M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Circuit breakers in the M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Take a look at the size of some of the tools used down there. The big ones are roughly two feet long.

Giant tools in the M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Giant tools in the M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

In 1913, there was a nascent “computer” system built to keep track of the location of trains in the tunnels going in and out of the terminal.

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

In 1922, the system was made obsolete by voice-radio communications, but it was decided then to leave it as it was for generations to come to see.

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The ticker tape is still loaded.

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

M42 Sub-Basement at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

LOST AND FOUND

According to Metro-North Railroad, their lost and found is the most successful lost and found in the world. They have an 80 percent return rate.

Lost and found at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Lost and found at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Every item is bagged and tagged, with all of the details.

Lost and found at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Lost and found at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

They get everything there, including model train sets.

Brucker said that if there is no name on an item, such as a backpack, they will search through it. If, for example, they find a stack of business cards, they will call the numbers on those business cards asking if the people know someone with a backpack like that.

Lost and found at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Lost and found at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Brucker said that they get over 300 cell phones a month, for which they claim a 100 percent return rate. They will charge up the phones and, if they can’t find information on the owner, they will call numbers in the contact list.

He also said they often find artificial legs. The railroad serves a number of veterans hospitals and some of the veterans aren’t used to the new limbs. So, they use their cane or crutches to get off the train and forget their new legs, Brucker said.

Sometimes people even leave their dogs on the train.

They keep items for 90 days. What isn’t reclaimed is sold to a salvation-type luggage store, for which they usually get about $40,000 a year.

Lost and found at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Lost and found at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Brucker said that once a little old lady who had lost a hand-engraved sterling silver urn came to the lost and found. She gave the number of the individual train car and claimed her item, but returned five minutes later.

The woman explained she’d had a less-than-successful 50-year marriage, and her husband would disappear at night, Brucker said. In the morning, the husband would call from the office and claim he had fallen asleep on the train, which was locked in the yard. So, he said he had to stay there for the night. As Brucker told it, the woman said she knew her husband hadn’t spent his nights in the train yard.

So, when he died, she had him cremated, left his ashes in that sterling silver urn and put them aboard his regular train. She then wrote down the car number and let them sit in the lost and found for three weeks before reclaiming them, Brucker said.

WHISPERING GALLERY

Next to the Oyster Bar is the Whispering Gallery, one of Grand Central’s many secrets that are actually out in the open. By looking at it, you might now know that it’s anything special. But it is.

Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

If you stand in the corner and someone stands in the opposite corner, despite the ambient noise, you can hear each other simply by whispering.

Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

THE ROCKET HOLE

If you look up at the October Zodiac ceiling of the main concourse, by Pisces the fish, you’ll see what looks like a badly patched hole. But that hole has a story.

Rocket Hole in the ceiling of the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Rocket Hole in the ceiling of the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

In an effort to convince the public that it was necessary to spend billions of dollars exploring outer space, in 1957, a Redstone rocket was put on display in the main concourse.

It was six inches too tall for the ceiling. So, they had to punch a hole in the ceiling to allow the rocket to stand. Now that hole serves as a piece of history and is used for rigging equipment during film shoots.

Speaking of the zodiac, did you know that the entire star field is backwards? That’s because of an error by the muralist, Brucker said.

When the Vanderbilts, who ran the New York Central and Hudson River Railroads and built the terminal, learned of the mistake, what did they do? They didn’t have it fixed, for it would have been costly and embarrassing, Brucker explained. When asked they said it was done on purpose to show the stars from God’s vantage point, Brucker said.

NEWSPAPER RECYCLING BINS

You’ll find many newspaper recycling bins around the terminal.

Newspaper recycling bin at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Newspaper recycling bin at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Paper recycling bins were first installed with no fanfare about two decades ago. The first day, they had five tons of paper. Six months later, they expected to have more, but, in fact, they had less – only four tons.

What happened? It turned out that people were reaching into the bins and taking the discarded newspapers and rereading them, Brucker said.

Well, a certain newspaper got wind of this and was none too happy and demanded lids be installed to prevent what the railroad called “secondary recycling.” The railroad refused to spend the money. So, that newspaper now maintains the bins, with lids (but without a logo), and has a contract to do so in perpetuity just to prevent people from getting free newspapers, Brucker said.

THE OPAL CLOCK

The opal-sided clock atop the information booth has been valued at between $10 and $20 million, Brucker said.

Opal-sided clock in the main concourse at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Opal-sided clock in the main concourse at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

All of the clocks in the terminal in the terminal are set by the Naval Observatory. That means the clocks are accurate to within one second every 1,400,000 years, Brucker said.

DEPARTURE BOARDS

All of the times on the departure board are a bit misleading, Brucker said. The actual departure time for every single train on Metro-North is one minute behind the published schedule. This is so that when riders start running for their trains, the conductor can tell them to slow down and get safely aboard without worrying about being late.
Departure board at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglalss / CBSNewYork)

Departure board at Grand Central Terminal (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Brucker said Metro-North, as a result, has the least slips, trips, and falls of any railroad in the United States.
Do you have any other “inaccessible” spots you’d like Evan to check out? Share your ideas below. 
You can also follow Evan Bindelglass on Twitter @evabin.
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