Beneath its noble arches Grand Central Terminal boasts more than a hundred years’ worth of secrets and mysteries.

For example:

►Grand Central’s 2,000-square-foot Whispering Gallery embodies a fascinating acoustic anomaly that invites sound to dance all along its ceramic surface, converting a whisper to a shout.

► Within Grand Central’s 49 acres of underground space lies a secret track and private elevator that were frequently used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to travel between the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and Grand Central, so that he could avoid displaying his wheelchair-bound, polio-wracked body to the public.

Such enigmatic elements are abundant in this grand transportation hub and we’re lucky to know of them even if not all of them are generally accessible (though most are).

Abundant also are old photos of Grand Central that captivate the modern imagination.

Surely you’ve seen photos dating back to the 1930s and 1940s, in which sunbeams spill through Grand Central’s massive windows, flooding sections of the Main Concourse in pools of light.

Unfortunately, these light shows reside permanently in the past.

Many have blamed the construction of the 26-story building at 120 Park Ave. (former home of the Philip Morris corporation) for blocking the colossal shafts of light that once bathed Grand Central.

Perhaps a more accurate explanation for why the natural light in Grand Central no longer appears the way it once did is also attributable to modernism, namely the widespread ban on cigarette smoking indoors.

The particulate matter suspended in the air as a consequence of cigarette smoke would have been substantial in Grand Central of old, as seemingly everyone smoked. Light pouring into the windows would have passed through this particulate matter, causing individual beams to become visible.

Though such spectacular visuals are no longer possible, the natural light in Grand Central remains intriguing. It’s far subtler than anything that commuters in 1941 would have witnessed, but at the right moment, at the right angle, Grand Central Terminal still proves wonderfully illuminating.

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Copyright © Jason D. Little. All rights reserved.

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