Grand Central Terminal, 1944. (Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York)

Update: More Grand Central behind-the-scenes here.

Did you know that when you see a Grand Central train platform in a movie or television show, it is almost definitely Track 34? And were you privy to the secret spiral staircase in the main concourse's Information Booth? Do you know what all those acorns around the Terminal mean? Below, some secrets and fun facts that the MTA's Dan Brucker has shared with us, about the world's largest train terminal, which is located right in Manhattan.

THE INFORMATION BOOTH
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(Photo by Gary Burke)

  • Inside the Information Booth is a secret, spiral staircase that leads to the Lower Level Information Booth.
  • The Information Booth in Grand Central receives more than 1,000 questions an hour.
  • The Information Booth clock has an often-quoted value in the tens of millions of dollars due to its history, artistry, fame, and jeweled faces.
  • On top of the clock on the Information Booth, there is an acorn. And all throughout the Terminal—engraved in the marble and on every lighting fixture are acorns and oak leaf clusters. It’s the Vanderbilt family symbol: “From the acorn grows the mighty oak.”
  • Every clock in Grand Central—whether an antique 1913 clock, or the digital time readouts in our Operations Control Center—is set every second by the atomic clock in the Naval Observatory in Bethesda, Maryland (which is set by the vibrations of a cesium atom). That means that the 1913 four-faced clock atop the Information Booth is accurate to with one second every 1,400,000 years.

IN NUMBERS

  • Every day, more than 700,000 people pass through Grand Central. That’s the entire population of the state of Alaska. It’s the population of the City of San Francisco.
  • The Terminal covers 49 acres—from 42nd Street 97th Street. And that encompasses 33 miles of track.
  • Every day, 10,000 people come into Grand Central just to have lunch—NOT to catch a train.
  • Compared on a square foot basis, Grand Central is one of the most successful shopping center in the USA.
  • Grand Central is the world’s largest train terminal with 45 track platforms and 63 tracks. During the height of the morning rush hour, trains platform there every 58 seconds.

DESIGN
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(Photo by icoNYCity)

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GCT's naked bulbs. (Photo by Wally G)
  • All light bulbs in all lighting fixtures are naked and on full display. It was a way to boast that this Terminal was ALL electric. A mighty achievement back in 1913.
  • The grand staircases in Grand Central were modeled after those of the Paris Opera House.
  • All levels, floors, and track platforms can be reached by elevators or ramps—with never a need for a staircase. Such a design was necessary because train passengers travelled with steamer trunks and train cases—necessitating this massive luggage to be wheeled on ramps or lifted in elevators.
  • The glass catwalks in Grand central are considered one of the first and finest examples of 20th century architecture. They provide ventilation, illumination, and transportation from one office tower to the next. Hence, it premiered the idea of form following function—the signature of modern architecture.
  • The statuary surrounding the clock on the south face of Grand Central consists of Mercury, Hercules, and Minerva. They represent the railroad via their godly claims to speed, strength and intellect.

LOST & FOUND

  • Grand Central’s Lost and Found receives more than 2,000 items a month—and 80% of them get back to their owners. It’s the best recovery rate of any Lost and Found in the world.
  • The Lost and Found has received items that include everything from an urn of cremated ashes to a barking basset hound—and both returned to their owners.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN
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From Revolutionary Road

  • Since 1930, almost every movie showing an arriving or departing train is shot in Track 34. It’s one of the few platforms that have no columns.
  • Alfred Hitchcock was enamored with Grand Central and filmed here often with such stars as Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant—and always made Grand Central look Grand, shooting the Terminal in Technicolor and the ultra-wide screen process of RKO Radio Pictures (which owned the Radio City Music Hall) shot more movies in Grand Central than any other studio—decorating the Terminal with such notables as Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers, Shirley Temple, John Wayne, and Jennifer Jones.
  • The first time Grand Central was shot in Technicolor was in 1953, when Fred Astaire got off the 20th Century Limited, and danced up Track 34 in the MGM movie “The Band Wagon."
  • Irving Berlin’s famous song “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was written for a 1930 movie of the same name—part of which was shot in Grand Central.
  • The CBS television and radio studios used to be located on the third floor of Grand Central. Hence, it was an everyday occurrence to see Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, and Edgar Bergen along with Charlie McCarthy coming in and out of the Terminal.

MISC.

  • Grand Central is a terminal—not a station. Trains terminate here. It’s a terminus.
  • The basement in Grand Central is the deepest basement in New York City. In fact, one can sink a ten-story office building down through the Main Concourse floor, and NOT reach the basement floor of Grand Central. (UPDATE: See more photos from inside the basement, which the Nazis tried to infiltrate.)
  • Grand Central has the largest newspaper recycling program under one roof in all of the USA. More than 4 tons of newsprint are recycled every day.
  • When new automobiles were exhibited in Grand Central on turntables—long before its restoration—the two models that were most often shown (and whose brands originated in 1897 and 1902), no longer exist: Oldsmobile and Rambler.
  • Besides trains, the most used mass transportation system in GCT is its elevators. The eight passenger elevators make thousands of trips a day. What’s more the elevators have been restored to their 1913 elegance.

Previously, we uncovered a few other bits of history about GCT:

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(via Grand Central Terminal)

  • There used to be a movie theater in Grand Central.
  • These 13 pillars in the woods in the Bronx were used to determine which stone Grand Central would be built out of.
  • The ceiling has a lot of secrets... and a little dark patch you can still see, purposefully left unwashed, and formed by over 100 years of dirt and cigarette smoke.

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This is in the sub-basement, known as M42. This area holds the current converter grid, and more historic machines being preserved. (Sam Horine/Gothamist)