As the saying goes, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Hoaxters are everywhere, looking to sell anyone gulliable enough the Brooklyn Bridge. But if you’re truly lucky, you might get an offer to buy Grand Central’s Information Booth! Too good to be true? Most definitely!
Over its nearly 100 year existence, Grand Central Terminal has quite a lore – including several hoaxes and complete fabrications – from ghost horses, to FDR’s secret platform, and even an expensive whopper regarding the sale of the famous Information Booth. As the story goes, two wealthy Italian entrepreneurs – Tony and Nick Fortunato – were swindled into thinking that they would be the new proud owners of some prime commercial space – the Information Booth at the center of Grand Central’s main concourse. All they needed to provide was a year’s rent up front, and the space was theirs – ready for them to move in with their profitable fruit stand.
Getting rid of the information booth sounds pretty crazy, but the two men were told that the railroad was closing the booth, and instead all questions would be directed towards the ticket sellers. The brothers came up with the money and presented it to a “representative” of the “New York Central Holding Company” – a check for $100,000 in total. On the day they were to move in – April 1, 1929 – the Fortunatos, and the laborers that accompanied them to work on the stand, had to be forcibly ejected from the Terminal. As expected, the scammers had skipped town, and were never caught.
While there isn’t too much information regarding this hoax, besides some random hoax sites on the internet, and a newspaper article from the 80’s, I’m inclined to believe the story – notably because the New York Central Railroad itself mentioned it. Appearing in a brochure about Grand Central published by the railroad in the late 1960’s, the story is described as follows:
Back in 1929 Tony and Nick Fortunato were victimized by swindlers to whom they gave a certified check for $100,000 as a year’s rent, in advance, for the information booth beneath the Golden Clock, their purpose being to turn it into a profitable fruit stand. But when they brought carpenters and lumber into the Concourse to remodel the booth, the hoax was revealed. A long and intensive search by detectives failed to locate the “con artists.” The Fortunato brothers never did get back their money.
Whether the story is true or not, it is another intriguing bit about the Terminal we all know and love.