Grand Central Station Arrives
Technically it is named a terminal, though
more colloquially referred to as a station, or simply Grand
Central. But by any name, it turns one hundred on February
2nd. And by any name, how sweet it is! And the day before
will kick off a series of celebrations and new features, that
will continue throughout the year.
And to put a signature on this occasion, a
logo was designed using its famous concourse clock set at
7:13, or 19:13 in military time, reflecting the year of its
opening in 1913.
Journalist Sam Roberts, whose book Grand
Central: How a Train Station Transformed America —due
for publication last month— wrote a long piece for The
Times recently, which spoke to the gargantuan undertaking
Grand Central was, from its inception to its completion over
a decade later.
There are references to the arduous process
of demolishing existing structures, the massive acreage required,
the engineering problems that had to be solved, the horsepower
needed to make it all go, the astronomical expense of it all,
Not surprisingly, all that resulted in the
largest train station in the world in terms of number of tracks,
platforms and an area that covers 48 acres. But
that is not what makes it "the world’s sixth most visited
tourist attraction, with approximately twenty-one million
visitors annually." (Travel & Leisure survey,
I suspect the lure for those visitors, as
it is for me, would probably be something along the lines
of: That a place of such grand utility, can also
be a place of such grand artistry and aesthetics.
In the words of historian Jill Jonnes, it
is “a great Doric temple to transportation,” which
was modeled on the public baths built in Rome 1,700 years
earlier, and architecturally defined as being in the Beaux-Arts
style. And if God is said to be in the details, the details
here then speak of something divine.
It starts with a classical façade embellished
by statuary such as the
mythological figures of Mercury, Hercules and Minerva, an
American eagle perched atop a white ball, and a clock which
contains the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass,
to name a few particulars.
And upon entering the building, one is struck
by the beauty in that pinkish granite, the star constellations
built into its ceiling that at certain times will light up
and twinkle, those windows in the shape of bishops’
miters, that might form diagonal shafts of light on a sunny
day— again, just to name a few.
Even the hustle bustle of crisscrossing people,
seems as if some sort of performance art within in this “poem
in stone,” as its brochure unabashedly proclaims it.
As a frequent visitor, one who has no need
of long distance commuter trains, I might pass through on
the way to one of the connecting subway lines, or to meet
a friend by that signature clock, or to stop off at one of
the forty retail stores on the premises, or simply to rest
with a glass of wine at Michael Jordan’s on the eastern
balcony, and take it all in.
On the western balcony a new Apple store has
appeared. And it works surprisingly well here, I regret to
admit. And with Apple, if you build it they will come. And
in this case, they join the 750,000 that already pass through
some point in the terminal complex daily.
December 9, 2012 10am; Opening Day of the Grand Central Apple
Sadly, we don’t build anything like
Grand Central Station anymore.
Today’s economics, the demand for speed
in construction, the taller-is-better philosophy (FEBRUARY,
2010 Muse-letter), the obsession with minimalism in all
modern design—all seem to work against a marriage of utility
and grand art. Which should then at least lead us to revere
the historical and magnificent structures we do have. As they
do in Europe. Instead, we have become exceedingly comfortable
with the idea of disposability.
If God indeed is in the details, I wonder
who then is in all those plain, endless, sheets of glass that
seem to mark every new structure in our cities?
Perhaps Jackie Onassis said it best, when
Grand Central was being threatened with demolition (imagine?!)
in 1975, and she became the face of the preservation campaign
to save it:
it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of
all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left
of all her history and beauty…
care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore
it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this
is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that
we won't all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass
Unfortunately, the new World Trade Center,
though well intentioned, exemplifies one of those glass boxes
of which she speaks. And to be perfectly honest, the tragic
Twin Towers lived in that uniform world of those other boxes,
the ones made of steel.
What would have happened, had those preservation
efforts for Grand Central been in vain? For an answer to that
question, one look no further than Penn Station, torn down
in 1964 and rebuilt and adjoined to Madison Square Garden.
A simple before-and-after picture comparison speaks volumes.
As Kurt Vonnegut might say, “And so
it goes.” But with Grand Central Station turning 100,
it goes well.
Quote of the Month
Safety: Obama's vs. Ours
Guns are now ‘ablaze as you knew they
would be, on such a volatile issue regarding what action to
take in the aftermath of the latest massacre, that being Newtown.
As of this writing.
There has always been mudslinging in politics,
especially around election time (DECEMBER,
2011 Muse-letter), but in this case, “bullets”
are being slung in lieu of mud. Mud is messy but can easily
be washed off. Bullets on the other hand…well, you get
This became especially apparent in the ad
run by the NRA last month, which brought the Obama children
into the fray, while calling their father an “elitist
Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the beloved
34th President of the Unites States, who knows something about
secret service protection, responded succinctly in a piece
she wrote in The Washington Post.
“… any thinking person has
to be disgusted by the NRA ad…suggesting that the
president is an “elitist hypocrite” because
his children have the benefit of armed protection at school
and the nation’s children as a whole do not. This
is absurd. The nation’s children are not individually
at risk the way the Obama children are.”
And she more or less concludes on…
“This brilliantly diabolical non
sequitur hurts more than the president and his family.
It hurts our democracy by twisting the nature of the public
Actually, if you carry the NRA logic a little
further, Obama is even an “elitist hypocrite”
for having himself protected, whereas you and I have
to fend for ourselves with our own Uzis.
On a philosophical level and as enunciated in our constitution,
and in accordance with most religious tenets, yes, we are
all equal. Yet in the flesh and blood of a real world comprised
of leaders and followers, are we really? And should we all
be considered to be on the same playing field?
One reader last month wondered why the lives
taken at Newtown were any more important or special than those
taken in other massacres. Though the question for me wasn’t
really “why?” (twenty children killed maybe?)
but rather, thankfully, it struck a nerve and finally opened
up an issue in much need of attention.
Is there nothing special about the Presidency,
and therefore he (and one day she) and family should be a
target for venomous sniping, with all logic—not to mention
respect for the office— be damned?
Is there any doubt that the assassination
of JFK, had more impact on the nation (and the world) than
that of the police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald about
forty-five minutes later?
I would imagine 99.9% of Americans could not
give you his name. Though that will probably change this year
as the 50th anniversary of that gruesome day arrives this
November, and will once again be looked at in great detail,
now in the context of a half-century gone by. (His name is
J.D. Tippit. And I didn’t have to Google it.
Fifty years later, that day lingers).
The wounding of Ronald Reagan—and I’m
going to go out on a limb here— is much more important
than would be that of Ronald McDonald.
The potential impact of the assassination
or abduction of a President, or anyone in his immediate family,
should seem obvious. And therefore the need for special protection
and concern should follow. Yet, when you see an ad like that,
you realize that it actually does need to be addressed, because
there are those out there with a rather truncated view on
reality, to be kind. And their misguided “thinking”
can be dangerous.
Further, when the President and his family,
or more broadly the Office of the Presidency, is addressed
with such contempt— despite a democratic political process
which voted this president in—twice— then we really
have lost our way.
And you can’t help but wonder, when
did all this begin? When was the tipping point exactly?
Certainly there was a focus on the gun issue
in ’68 what with Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy
having been assassinated within a couple of months of each
other. But I don’t recall any vitriolic exchanges at
the time anywhere near what we see and hear today. And the
issue quietly went away.
But now this kind of discourse is the norm.
And as we are talking about guns here, and in this climate,
and call me paranoid, but I have concern for Obama’s
This is what President Kennedy saw in the
Dallas Morning News while having breakfast in his
hotel room on the morning of November 22, 1963.
This is typical of the things Obama could
have seen on line this, or on any other, morning.
With all the hype of another stolen election by the traitor
known as Barry Soetoro aka Obama, what was not reported was
the fact that he was formally charged in the state of Tennessee
as a traitor and for high treason.
Infowars, November 10, 2012
As an historical note preceding
this poem, the first President Inaugurated on January 20th,
after a change made by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution,
was Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. Prior to that, it had
been on March 4th. This poem was written over fifteen years
March 4, 1881
When men of mien wore muttonchops
and you were the belle of the inaugural ball
James A. Garfield flirted with you.
The twentieth President of the United States
said how lucky a young man I was as he swept you
clear across the floor. The minions parted.
Your goldenrod gown was a whirl of taffeta,
as the eyes of a nation and spouses were upon you.
Lucretia in her gown of lavender lace
that in time would fade to an oyster white—
now on display at the Smithsonian as I speak—
smiled, fulfilling, the vow of First Ladies.
And I played my good-natured card to
I remember the applause when your grand waltz was over.
And how later in the backroom over a snifter of brandy
and the good coarse smoke of fresh-cut cigars
the theme was reprised of your beauty…my lucky
His assassination soon after would wound you forever.
Word of the Month
Whenever I come across a word
that doesn’t know when to quit, and has consonants banging
off each other like bumper cars, it seems to be rooted in
the German language. No offense intended here, just a personal
In reading a book review in
The New Yorker last month, one sentence jumped out
in particular: “It’s a large, captivating, amiably
peopled bildungsroman, apparently, the first in a
I wondered immediately if
the peopled bildungsroman in the second part of the
trilogy, would be equally as amiable.
Then I went to www.dictionary.com.
And here’s more than anyone will want to know about
The next time I’m in Barnes & Noble, I will be sure
to ask a clerk where the Bildungsroman section is.
(Note to the grammar police: I confess to having ended
two sentences in this Muse-Letter on “is.” Look,
it is what it is.)