If you haven’t heard already, I have a pretty big article in April’s Railfan & Railroad Magazine, featuring my explorations of the railway in Chornobyl’s Exclusion Zone. On April 26th, the 29th anniversary of the Chornobyl Disaster, I’ll be showing my photos from that adventure at Whippany, along with some copies of the magazine. So be sure to check out the April edition of Railfan & Railroad (which if you’re a subscriber, started mailing last week), and come out and visit Whippany for their 50th anniversary, and my showing of photos on Sunday, April 26th!
These days almost everyone has a camera – whether it be a point and shoot, an SLR, or just the stock camera that came with your cell phone. Despite all the criticism of people these days and what they’re photographing, part of me thinks that the people of the future who consume all their nutrients in pill form might find today’s photos of food taken by hipsters rather quaint. The fact remains that what is commonplace today may be noteworthy and historic tomorrow. Time has only proven this true – Boris Klapwald’s snapshots of Grand Central Terminal were boxed up and forgotten for nearly fifty years, until discovered by his daughter. She brought them to the MTA, and they were exhibited in the Terminal through Arts for Transit. Street photographer Vivian Maier was practically unknown until her largely undeveloped film was put up for auction after her death. Her discovered photos have since been exhibited around the world, and is the subject of a documentary. Although the good majority of the photos captured these days aren’t much to write home about, it is undeniable that we are well-documenting our world, and the things future generations will most likely interpret as just plain weird.
Though cameras were far less common in the past, there were many photographers that froze glimpses of what was then normal life. I’ve posted about the Depression-era photographers of the Farm Security Administration before – despite the name, the project yielded thousands of photos that had nothing to do with farms, but instead featured normal Americans living life – including two of the most iconic photographs of Grand Central Terminal. A similarly iconic photo of Chicago’s Union Station also came out of the project, captured by photographer Jack Delano. Delano’s railroad-specific work in the Chicago area is currently on display at the Chicago History Museum, which I recently got the chance to check out.
Before I continue with a long series of photos and videos from the Alaska Railroad, I figured it would be fun to quickly introduce everyone to the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, located in Fairbanks, Alaska. Located in Pioneer Park, the museum operates a historic 1899 steam locomotive a few times a year for visitors. Built in 2005, the museum consists of a shop for the locomotive, and a smaller section for displays, all of which is staffed by volunteers. The museum was one of the very first stops for the NRHS convention, and the historic locomotive was operating all afternoon, and a night photo session was held in the evening.
Pioneer Park, where the museum is located, is a bit of an interesting spot in Fairbanks. The grounds were first established in 1967 for the Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition, which celebrated the centennial of the Alaska Purchase. Later the 44-acre historical park became known as Alaskaland. It was eventually renamed Pioneer Park, lest you think it some type of amusement park with roller coasters (Alaska has none, unless you count the hill named roller coaster on the Dalton Highway).
So before we depart Fairbanks on a journey down the Alaska Railroad, let’s take a quick minute to check out Pioneer Park and the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, and a short video from my GoPro camera which was mounted on their historical locomotive.
For the folks subscribed to the site via email, you must visit the site to view video features.
For some quick Friday fun, I have a lovely video taken at the Lake Shore Railway Museum in North East, Pennsylvania from a few weekends ago. Cedar Point was not the only place where I got to mount a GoPro camera on a train… I’m like an addict that can’t stop. I love trains, I love every kind of train, but I can’t put my camera on every train. (Though I may certainly try)
In other news, if you’re on Instagram and you’re not following us, you totally should be. Besides interesting photos of Metro-North trains taken on my day to day commute (and beyond), there are plenty of other railroad-related locales that have shown up in our photo feed. Here are a few from the Lake Shore Railway Museum… besides having some historical locomotives and cars, the railroad line behind the museum is quite active, and you’ll see both CSX and Norfolk Southern passing by all day long.
Right before Grand Central’s Parade of Trains I got an email from Polly Desjarlais, one of the educators at the Transit Museum. The museum was looking for a copy of a nice ticket to duplicate and hand out to kids at the Parade, and there’d even be a costumed conductor to punch those tickets. Since there would also be a coloring book page of the 20th Century Limited, they were really looking for a ticket from that specific train. Unfortunately, my collection did not include a ticket from the 20th Century. Not only that, I had never even seen a ticket for it, whether in real life or otherwise. In the end, the museum ended up duplicating one of my many commuter tickets, and thus quite a few little children at the Parade of Trains “found themselves” on a Harlem Division train bound for Hartsdale in August of 1943.
Though I may be a little late to the party, I did finally acquire a ticket from the 20th Century Limited. Too late, unfortunately, to use for the Parade of Trains, but perfect timing to share with all of you. And because nobody wants to ride the 20th Century Limited on an empty stomach, here’s a small little collection of menus from the train. Enjoy a quick look back at life aboard not only Grand Central’s most famous train, but one of the most notable trains in American history.
Any good reader of this blog is familiar with Sadie the Subway cat, former resident of the Transit Museum, though now retired. One of the last times I recall seeing Sadie at the museum was the morning before I interviewed Howard Permut. Apparently I wasn’t too worried that a little bit of fur on my clothes would be a faux pas when interviewing the president of Metro-North (albeit not as bad as actually using the term “Brokeville” while referring to a particular model of Metro-North’s rolling stock). Nonetheless, it seemed like Sadie was in a rather sociable mood, and was intently focused on disturbing a class touring the museum (as you could likely imagine, all the children’s attention turned from the lesson to the furry visitor, sorry Polly!). I picked Sadie up and carried her to another of the museum’s display trains, but she would have none of it, and walked back to where the kids were.
Most longtime visitors to the Transit Museum have at least one Sadie story. The first time I visited the museum I encountered her sitting in her favorite perch in the money car. I was certainly surprised to see a cat. It was definitely unexpected, but in a good way. A lot of good things are unexpected.
So what’s up with all the Sadie memories? Our favorite feline will be featured in the August edition of Cat Fancy magazine. I recounted a couple of my memories of her for the article, and it also gives a nice mention of I Ride the Harlem Line. You may also recognize the photos, which were featured on the site many months ago.
Sadie is, of course, enjoying retirement, and her new favorite perch – a window above Brooklyn. Thinking back to the aforementioned last time I saw Sadie at the museum, I recall that sandwiched in between my visit to the museum and my interview was a quick trip to the Transit Museum’s archives. Located in the bowels of the MTA’s Brooklyn office building, the archives contain a plethora of artifacts related to the subways, and even of Metro-North. Found within is archivist Carey Stumm.
I’m not sure what exactly I pictured in my head for the Transit Museum’s archivist (perhaps an elderly librarian type?), but Carey was certainly not what I had imagined. Far from elderly, Carey is a kind soul whose favorite items in the archives’ collection include the Myrtle Avenue El, and the Putnam Division. I definitely did not expect that.
As you’ll read in the magazine, Carey is now the guardian of Sadie. It seems appropriate that two of the unexpected, lovely things about the Transit Museum are now together. Rest assured that everyone’s favorite subway kitty is in good hands.
Last Friday the MTA held a celebration for Grand Central’s Centennial, which expectedly turned out to be a widely attended day-long event. One of the main events was a rededication ceremony for the Terminal, held that morning. There were a wide array of speakers at the ceremony, including Mayor Bloomberg, Cynthia Nixon and Caroline Kennedy. Peter Stangl, the first president of Metro-North also spoke, as did Howard Permut, current president of Metro-North.
The West Point Brass and Percussion Band also performed, which seemed quite appropriate. According to historical accounts of Grand Central’s opening, the first song to ever be played in the Terminal was the Star Spangled Banner, which was not yet our national anthem at that time, on the east balcony. The band’s placement right below the east balcony as they played the song seemed rather appropriate, and probably the closest we’d get to reenacting what happened on February 2nd, 1913, at 12:01 AM. Also a fitting mirror was a presentation of a key to Mr. Permut by members of the Vanderbilt family – similar to the presentation of keys to Terminal Manager Miles Bronson one hundred years ago.
The only unfortunate thing to note is that much of the celebration was focused on the VIPs, as opposed to the lowly commuters that actually use Grand Central. (And for the record, no, running this blog did not qualify me as a VIP – I asked and was rejected. An “actual” member of the “press” granted me a pass in their stead. Thanks Steve!) VIP guests to the event got a special program and booklet, which are visible here:
Two poems were written about Grand Central by poet Billy Collins. The long poem was illustrated in one booklet, and the short poem appears on this "Poetry in Motion" poster. The posters were not handed out at the event, but have been sighted on trains.
The text on the inside of the booklet was the longer poem that was read by Billy Collins during the ceremony. The shorter poem, which he also read, appears in the program, and on trains thanks to Poetry in Motion and Arts for Transit.
If you’re not familiar with Collins, he is a New York native that was both New York State Poet Laureate, and Poet Laureate of the United States… which in the poetry world is kind of a big deal. While I’m sure plenty of poems have been written about Grand Central, Collins’ poems may be the most high profile written about our lovely Terminal.
As of right now, I have little to say about the Transit Museum’s show “Grand by Design.” Unfortunately, a hundred years wasn’t quite enough to finish up the exhibition, and it seemed that things were missing. The fact that Cornelius Vanderbilt was not mentioned or pictured seemed like a mistake of monumental proportion. Apparently it turned out that Mr. Vanderbilt was supposed to be on that nice blank spot we’re all pointing to in the photo above. I was also disappointed that there was no mention of William Kissam Vanderbilt either – he was really the only Vanderbilt that had a direct influence on the construction of Grand Central. (If the Vanderbilts are still confusing you, it means you haven’t yet read this.) But in all honesty, I may have just been depressed that Anderson Cooper did not attend the event – he is a Vanderbilt, after all.
Another event that happened on Friday regarded the new United States Postal Service stamp, picturing Grand Central, illustrated by Dan Cosgrove. If you were one of the hundreds of people that failed to get the Grand Central centennial cover and stamp on Friday, you can purchase them directly online. Word was that within fifteen minutes they ran out of envelopes for the stamps. The whole purpose of the event was to get the stamp on the special envelope and get it postmarked… so I feel bad for all the people that waited in that line to get just the stamp, which could be purchased at any post office. If you’re looking to grab the covers with the February 1 date stamp online, the USPS site offers two versions for purchase, one with a color postmark for $21.10, or a regular first day stamp for $20.39.
Back on topic, the entire event was a big birthday bash for Grand Central. And no birthday celebration would be complete without a little music…
Sarah Charness played the electric violin, and later Melissa Manchester sang. Manchester also shouted “I love you, gorgeous!” at the sky ceiling, which might be cute, had I not been thinking about this.
The gorgeous cake was made by Eric Bedoucha of Financier Patisserie – a delicious confection modeled after the Information Booth’s clock. It was supposedly saved for the VIP dinner to be hosted at the Oyster Bar that night… which in itself is another mirror to actual events, as the first VIP dinner happened February 1st 1913 at 8 PM.
That about sums it up for the Centennial. With the ceremony past, I figured I’d leave off with a quick recap of all fifteen articles I wrote about Grand Central over the past hundred days.
- On the Hunt for Grand Central’s Acorns – Hidden throughout the Terminal are hundreds of acorns, the symbol of the Vanderbilt family.
- Celebrating Grand Central Terminal’s Centennial: The 100 for 100 Project – An introduction to our 100 historical photos per day project.
- The Hoax in the Information Booth – You may be able to buy an Apple in Grand Central Terminal today, but one fruit seller got scammed into thinking he could sell apples from the Info Booth in 1929.
- Grand Central Theatre and the Other Sky Ceiling – There is actually a lesser known sky ceiling in Grand Central, a leftover of the 242 seat theater that once called Grand Central home.
- Grand Central’s Biltmore Room – the “Kissing Gallery” – Yes, there were actually rules regarding kissing and public displays of affection in Grand Central Terminal!
- A visit to the secret library inside Grand Central Terminal – Not only does Grand Central have a library hidden inside, it also possesses a prized historical artifact.
- The life of a Grand Central commuter – Photos from the Farm Security Administration – Photographers of the FSA didn’t just capture farms, they captured everyday life… including a commuter from Westport that traveled to Grand Central daily.
- The Mystery of Grand Central’s Suburban Concourse – Photographic evidence I discovered seems to show that Grand Central’s lower level track numbers were changed at some point in history.
- New York’s Other Great Station – Photos of Penn Station, and musings on its influence over Grand Central.
- James P. Carey, Grand Central’s Entrepreneur Extraordinaire A profile and some history regarding James Carey, Grand Central’s barber with a keen sense for business.
- Sending Postcards from Grand Central – A collection of over 30 postcards of the Terminal from the past hundred years.
- The Coolest Place in Grand Central: The Clock Tower – Some history and photos about the clock and sculpture on Grand Central’s facade.
- A Hundred Years of the Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal Restaurant – An interesting look at the history, and menus, of the Oyster Bar restaurant, Grand Central’s longest established tenant.
- Recap of the Grand Central 100 for 100 project – The 100 historical Grand Central photos we featured over the course of 100 days.
- Happy 100th, Grand Central Terminal – an infographic featuring a timeline of Grand Central, and 10 interesting facts about the Terminal you probably didn’t know.
Happy Birthday, Grand Central!
Despite all of the interesting places I’ve visited and featured on this site, by far one of the most popular subjects I’ve ever posted about is Sadie the Subway Cat. We first featured Sadie back in 2010, and had a nice photo feature on her earlier this year. Sadie is the resident cat at the New York Transit Museum, or rather, she was, up until recently. For all the Sadie fans out there, I figured I’d pass along the news that she has recently retired… and she seems to be enjoying her time as a retiree! Sadie worked at the Transit Museum for the past five years. The Transit Museum has stated that they are undecided as to whether they will be getting another cat.
We’ll miss you, Sadie! Enjoy your retirement!
Imagine the year is 1894. You are about to embark on a journey to Buffalo on the finest railcars of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. Your seat is of the softest plush, the curtains are of silk, and the car’s wood paneling is made of the finest oak and mahogany. At the front of your train is the legendary locomotive 999, the fastest on wheels. Though she once was clocked at speed of 112.5 miles per hour, she’ll likely average around 60 miles per hour on your journey to Buffalo. This is the Empire State Express, and I’d like to welcome you aboard!
Similar to the lovely etchings by the American Bank Note Company I shared with you a few weeks ago, (as well as the views of what some of the fancy railcars looked like), today’s little tour is comprised of more views of some lavish train cars, again illustrated by the American Bank Note Company. All of the images depict life on the Empire State Express in the early 1890’s, and they provide a lovely little tour of what trains were like in the golden era of railroading. So are you ready? Let’s go take a look at the Empire State Express.
No fancy train would be complete without a Buffet, smoking, and library car. This car featured movable easy chairs, couches, tables, a writing desk, and shelves filled with books and current newspapers. You’d also find a buffet, also stocked with with wines, liquors and cigars. At one end of the car there was even a shaving room with barber. A designated sleeping car had a saloon on one end, finished in mahogany. The plush chairs could be converted into double beds at night, with partitions for privacy. A compartment car had elegant private rooms with sliding doors, each with a lavatory, hot and cold water, and lit by a gas chandelier.
Not everyone could afford the fancier rooms on the train, and thus would find themself in the passenger coach. Seating a maximum of 76, the passenger coach had a bathroom at each end, one male and one female. Seats were richly upholstered with spring backs. Although not the height of elegance, compared to the private rooms on the train, the coach was still trimmed in mahogany and had large windows and gas chandeliers. On the flip side, for those well-to-do folks that had the money and weren’t afraid to flaunt it, there was also a private Wagner Palace car available. Able to accommodate 6 to 16 people, it featured a sleeping area, pantry, kitchen, and, of course, quarters for the servants.
One of the most important cars on the train was the dining car, which could serve up to 30 people at a time. It contained movable leather chairs, and there were five tables that could accommodate four people, and five more tables for couples. The kitchen contained all the newest appliances, and all meals were 1 dollar each. Finally, at the end of the train was an observation car. Similar to the drawing room car, it contained a parlor, smoking room, and bathrooms. The rear end of the car was paneled in glass, providing a lovely vantage point for the journey up the Hudson River and beyond.
The Empire State Express may be long gone, but the 999 engine is still “alive and well” – as anyone who has visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago certainly knows. The museum is definitely one of my favorites, and I always love to visit whenever I’m in the windy city. After leaving service the 999 traveled around the country for all to get a glimpse of it – even making an appearance on the Harlem Line at Chatham. The legendary locomotive finally arrived in Chicago in 1962, and a formal ceremony was held on September 25th where New York Central president Alfred Perlman presented the 999 to museum president Lenox Lohr.
Museum president Lenox Riley Lohr accepts the donated Empire State Express 999 from New York Central president Alfred Edward Perlman. Photograph from the December 1962 edition of the New York Central Headlight.
The 999’s first move to Chicago, after it was donated by the New York Central to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry in 1962. [image source]
Empire State Express 999 being moved inside at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. After arriving in 1962 the 999 was exhibited with two other trains outside the museum until 1993. The Pioneer Zephyr was also brought inside the museum a few years later. The final of the three, the million-pound Santa Fe locomotive 2903, was donated to the Illinois Railway Museum.
When I was in Chicago a few months ago I visited my old friend the 999. The “Queen of Speed” is doing quite well, and is visited by more than 1.48 million people a year. Although she’s not pulling the fancy railcars of yesteryear, she is at least well-loved at the museum.
Last Sunday I had a very enjoyable time taking photos at the Railroad Museum of New England, and figured I would share some of the photos from the day. Last weekend the museum played host to Flagg Coal 75, affectionately nicknamed Hank. The weather wasn’t the best last weekend, especially on Saturday, but this weekend’s weather is supposed to be a lot better. And that is perfect for you – as Hank will be visiting for a second and final weekend. You still have a chance to see steam on the Naugy this season!
The RMNE has a fancy-pants website (not some circa-1998 design abomination) and it allows you to purchase tickets online. So if you ask me, you should be on that site right now buying a ticket for a ride this weekend. Tickets are still available for Friday’s rides at 2 and 4, and rides on Saturday and Sunday at 10, 12, 2, and 4. You’ll have a lot of fun. Trust me.