While most people are familiar with the massive celestial mural in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal (I’ve done two separate articles about it myself), most don’t realize the storied railroad hub is home to another vaulted work of art. Located in the Graybar Passage, between Grand Central Market and the Graybar building, 20 feet above commuters’ heads is an oft-overlooked painting devoted to Jazz Age industry and innovation.
On this new episode of “Bookworm History”, we’re discussing the man and the history behind the Diary of George Templeton Strong. Today, his diary is one of the most valuable primary sources for historians studying the American Civil War. Strong’s writings weren’t just limited to that conflict though. He wrote almost daily for 40 years, providing historians with a wealth of information about New York City in the nineteenth century! But who was the man behind the diary?
Arguably one of the most famous ceilings in the world, the mural high above Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse is as fascinating as it is awe-inspiring. While much has been written about it (yes, it is mostly backwards and no, no one’s really sure why Orion’s turned the way he is) one detail that seems to be overlooked is in hidden in plain sight, the proverbial fly-on-the-wall. Or in this case, a fly on the ceiling.
Even before Grand Central Terminal officially opened on February 2, 1913 New Yorkers were teased with descriptions of the starry mural that had been painted on its vaulted ceiling, with the New York Times telling of its “effect of illimitable space” and how “fortunately there are no chairs in the concourse or…some passengers might miss their trains while contemplating this starry picture.” While the effect the painting has on commuters today is the same, the mural has undergone significant change. In fact, it’s not even the same mural.
Con artists were no strangers to early New York City. At one time or another, nearly every major landmark in the city had been sold by a ‘matchstick man’ or grifter. Around the turn of the twentieth century one such fraud was successfully performed by two men who targeted an artifact of slightly less renown: The Great West Point Chain.
While doing work for a story I stumbled upon an article that appeared in the New York Herald-Tribune on October 26, 1930 with the headline “Sunken Fort Victoria, Menace to Navigation, is Blasted Downward Into Floor of Bay”. It’s not what I was looking for, but with a headline like that how could I resist?
The date was November 29, 1907. Ezra Meeker, a slight, elderly fellow whose unkempt beard was full of dust from the road, was waiting in the cabinet room of the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt. Just one month shy of his 77th birthday, Meeker had arrived in Washington DC by ox-drawn covered wagon all the way from Washington State. A man on a mission, he had already come a very long way. And he had even further yet to go.