The largest train terminal in the world, Grand Central is more than a simple station terminal. It’s an iconic, beautiful part of New York, a must-see for anyone visiting the city, and a building that is living history. And one part of that history is particularly stellar.
Standing on the balcony of the Main Concourse, it’s easy to become hypnotized by watching the coming and going of the Terminal’s activity, people coming to and fro on that marble building. But looking up, visitors could be introduced to a whole new mesmerizing experience: the ceiling at Grand Central Terminal is its own attraction, a beautiful barrel vault ceiling dotted with stars and constellations - and just like a star map, this ceiling has many, many stories to tell.
About the accuracy of stars In grand central
Perhaps it was a poetic sentiment, inspired by the countless stories and poems written about the stars, perhaps it was the millennia-old usage of stars as navigation, direction, and measuring tool, that led to the constellations in the ceiling of Grand Central’s Main Concourse was a prime feature of the Terminal from the beginning.
The mural etched on the ceiling of Grand Central purports to be a zodiac star map from March through October, golden thread on an aquamarine background. Around the constellations, dozens of tiny electrical lights were installed to add more oomph to the painted stars, at the insistence of artist Paul César Helleu. On the ceiling’s art also worked Brooklyn’s Hewlett-Basing Studio, Warren & Wetmore architects, and even an astronomer from Columbia, Dr. Harold Jacoby.
Despite this, and the excited buzz around the unveiling of the ceiling in 1913, a commuter soon noticed the sky wasn’t fully correct: a few constellations were painted backward and upside down. Kind of embarrassing for the moment, but when asked about the wrong depictions of the starry sky at Grand Central, officials didn’t seem to mind too much, and even replied that the constellations were like that because "they were from god’s perspective."
The ceiling we see in Grand Central today is actually a replica of the original one. Opened to many an awe-struck passerby in 1913, by 1920 the ceiling was severely water damaged. It was replaced with false ceiling plaques and painted over to mimic the design of the original mural - stellar inaccuracies remaining intact.
About the hole in grand central's ceiling
How about that non-conspicuous black hole sitting beside the Main Concourse ceiling’s 2,500 stars?
That’s a lasting memory from the United States' role in the space race of the ’60s will forever be marked… by that one tiny hole in the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. Right beside the Pisces constellation, a little dark mark can be seen.
The etching was made because in 1957, to alleviate anxieties after the launch of Sputnik, a Redstone Rocket was put on display right on Grand Central Terminal in New York. Since it was so tall, it needed to be stabilized by wires connected to the ceiling, so a hole was punctured near the Pisces to accommodate the wires.
The rocket was on display for three weeks, but the hole in the ceiling remains as a curious historical oddity.
the 'square' found on the grand central ceiling
During World War II was what many call the Terminal’s “darkest days” and they were that in more ways than the metaphorical: to prevent the building from being targeted by enemy aircraft, the windows were painted black, the whole station obscured. There were big, overbearing advertisements on all of the walls, and the ceiling was caked in dirt, grime, tar, and nicotine smoke - the result of decades where smoking indoors was allowed.
Yes, that’s right, the entire ceiling was the color of that single dark patch! By the 1990s, the mural wasn’t even visible anymore.
A deep process of renovation was started in 1996 by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and it cost nearly 200 million dollars. The process of cleaning the roof - the “fake ceiling” from the 20s was maintained, due to the health hazard in tearing the boards down- was slow, careful, and painstaking, removing a century of grime with cotton swabs. The mural was restored to its former glory - backward star maps and all.
Workers agreed to leave that rectangle of dirt up on the edge of the ceiling as a memory of the state the Grand Central was in before the renovations. Everyone is glad that the restoration initiatives were successful, indeed.