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10 Fun Grand Central Facts?And A Chance to Learn More

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In conjunction with Grand Central's centennial, two books celebrating the terminal's history were published, bringing to life the train station's past through old newspaper articles, archived photos, and personal accounts. Grand Central: How A Train Station Transformed America is narrative history written by the New York Times correspondant Sam Roberts, while Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark is a coffee table book compiled by the New York Transit Museum and Anthony W. Robins. Both books reveal little-known stories and hidden histories, and we've pulled 10 of the most interesting facts we learned about the terminal. Curbed is also giving away a copy of each book, so read on to find out how to win.

To win one of the books, write a short poem about Grand Central, telling us why you love the landmark. Send submissions to the tipline, and the winning poet gets his or her choice of book, while the runner up will get the other. Without further ado, ten fun facts from the books:

1) There are six secret staircases in the station [How A Train Station Transformed America], but the station was also designed as the first stairless train station in the world. From the New York Tribune, December 1912: "There is a whole story in the ramps, how the terminal engineers, not satisfied with the theoretical calculations, built experimental ramps at various slopes and studied thereon the gait and gasping limit of lean men with heavy suitcases, fat men without other burden than their flesh, women with babies, school children with books, and all other types of travellers. Upon the data thus obtained, they were able to construct ramps truly scientific and seductively sloped." [100 Years of a New York Landmark]

2) In the early days of Grand Central, before electric trains, the smoke and ash from steam engines caused safety problems in the tunnels. So to keep the smoke out of the tunnels, railroad engineers created the "flying switch" in which the locomotive would be detatched from the train cars at the very last second and deflected onto another track. The cars would fly into the station, unaided and the brake operator would stop them. "Amazingly, this procedure caused no incidents." [100 Years of a New York Landmark]

3) The terminal's seventh floor was home to an art school opened in 1924 (run by the sixth floor's John Singer Sargent-founded Grand Central Art Galleries). [How A Train Station Transformed America] One of the school's art instructors, the artist Ezra Winter, actually lived in a studio above the terminal. His home was so high up that "the terminal's electricians had to pass through it to reach the space above the concourse ceiling" in order to service the lights. [100 Years of a New York Landmark]

4) CBS broadcast from the station until 1964, and sometimes the trains' vibrations led to "fuzzy images" on TV. [How A Train Station Transformed America] CBS set up a giant monitor in the main concourse to broadcast major news events to New Yorkers. The studio saw the broadcasting of the soap operas "As the World Turns" and "Guiding Light," and coverage of the 1960 Olympics. CBS Evening News and The Morning Show also began here. [100 Years of a New York Landmark]

5) After CBS left, the space was turned into tennis courts by the Vanderbilt Tennis Club. By 1980, they were operated by none other than Donald Trump, who let famous people like Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall come play. In 2009, the space was converted into a break room for train conductors, but now they are once again tennis courts operating under the original name. [100 Years of a New York Landmark]

6) "A silver vase found on a seat wins the prize for weirdest abandoned item, hands down. Terminal officials say that it turned out to have been left deliberately by a widow whose husband claimed a few too many times that he came home late because he had been stuck on a train. The vase contained his ashes, and his wife figured leaving them on a train indefinitely was just retribution." [How A Train Station Transformed America]

7) In the early 1900s, Grand Central had Red Caps and Green Caps. Red Caps served as porters and baggage handlers, while Green Caps were essentially secretaries for travelers. From the New York Times, June 1922: "Should a commuter or a traveler from out of town desire to send a message to a friend or business acquaintance, the Green Cap will see that it is telephone for a small fee. Should the commuter want his wife notified that he will be home earlier or later than usual, the Green Cap will oblige. In fact, for a dime, the Green Cap will telephone that a commuting husband will not be home at all." [100 Years of a New York Landmark]

8) When the ceiling was cleaned during the 1990s restoration of the terminal, what was thought to be soot and fumes turned out to be tar from passengers' cigarettes. [How A Train Station Transformed America]

9) Starting on Christmas Day in 1928, an organist named Mary Lee Read began playing concerts in the main concourse throughout the day. According to a New York Times article from March 1937, "Officials of the New York Central Railroad have found that organ music acts as a sedative for nerves jangled by the process of catching a train. 'The effect on fractious nerves,' they said, 'is apparent. Frowns fade, tension relaxes, and all but the most case-hardened commuters step blithely to their trains.'" Read played the organ in Grand Central during the Christmas season for 29 years. [100 Years of a New York Landmark]

10) The carved sculpture on the terminal's 42nd Street facade was made by the French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan, who never stepped foot in America. The sculpture was carved in a studio on Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island), and it took five months. It stands 66 feet wide, 48 feet tall, and it weighs 1,500 tons. [100 Years of a New York Landmark]
· Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America [Amazon]
· Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark [MTA]
· Grand Central Terminal coverage [Curbed]