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Posts Tagged ‘national train day’

A visit to the secret library inside Grand Central Terminal History Photos

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Grand Central Terminal has plenty of secrets, though most of them aren’t quite secret, as they have been covered in the media in some shape or form. If you’re lucky enough to ever get on a VIP tour of the Terminal, there is one place that tour most likely will never go – the Williamson Library. That’s right – hidden within the walls of Grand Central Terminal, since 1937, is a library! It certainly isn’t flashy – and probably not tremendously interesting to anyone that isn’t a railfan – but one of the library’s prized possessions makes this one of my favorite Grand Central secrets.


Photograph of Frederick Ely Williamson, which appeared in Fortune magazine. Williamson served as president of the New York Central from 1935 – 1944, and founded the library.

Frederick Ely Williamson, the library’s founder and namesake, was born on June 14th, 1876 in Norwalk, Ohio, the son of a clergyman. A 1898 graduate of Yale University, Williamson got a job with the New York Central in September of that year, after graduation. His first job with the railroad was as a Mohawk division clerk in Albany, with a salary of seventy dollars per month. By 1917, he was an integral part of the railroad, coordinating the movement of war supplies on the eastern seaboard. When the government took over the railroads for the war, he became the general agent for the port of New York. After the war, he continued his employment with the New York Central until 1925, when he became the vice president of the Northern Pacific railroad, and president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.

By 1932, Williamson had returned to New York, and ascended to the presidency of the New York Central, leading the company through the end of the Great Depression. During World War II he was appointed a Colonel by the Army, and named supervisor of railroads in the Eastern region. Williamson served as president of the New York Central until August 14th, 1944, when he resigned due to poor health. Shortly afterward, Williamson died in New York on September 29th, 1944, at the age of 68.

Although that short biography details the life of an intriguing individual, it leaves out one major detail about Mr. Williamson – he was not just a railroad executive, but a big railfan. A member of the Railroad Enthusiasts of New York, he founded the library that was eventually named after him in 1937. The library has been under the care of the Railroad Enthusiasts of New York ever since, and its current membership contains plenty of railfans, old railroaders, and even some current Metro-North employees.

  
Behind one very innocuous-looking door lies another door, and the entrance to the library!


Panoramic view of the Williamson Library, decorated with lights for the holiday season.

Located above the Apple store, the Williamson Library is generally closed off to the public. Without a keycard for the elevator, you’d likely never make it up to the floor. Even if you managed to do that, the outside door is so plain and unremarkable you’d likely never even notice you’re standing outside a room full of history. Contained within the library is an archive of over 3000 railroad-related books, periodicals, and other literature. Visitation for research is by appointment only, and the room is otherwise used for New York Railroad Enthusiasts’ meetings. It is also home to various old artifacts, including the first version of Metro-North’s mascot Metro-Man, and a remnant of the original 20th Century Limited red carpet.


The prized possession of the Williamson Library – a remnant of the 20th Century Limited red carpet.

The 20th Century Limited, which traveled from New York to Chicago, is likely the most famous train to have ever used Grand Central Terminal. The height of fashion and luxury, it transported countless famous faces throughout its history. Lavishly appointed, the whole experience commenced with a walk down a plush red carpet. It is claimed that the phrase “rolling out the red carpet” entered our lexicon because of this famous train. After the 20th Century Limited was eliminated in 1967, the old carpet was no longer needed. Thankfully, some folks had the foresight to cut the long carpet into pieces, and save a few remnants for posterity.



Advertisements and photographs of the red carpet in action.

If you’ve been following our Grand Central centennial celebration on facebook, 100 for 100 (which you totally should be!), you’ll recall that I mentioned the 20th Century Limited’s red carpet just the other day. I know of at least two different remnants of the original carpet – the one found in the library in Grand Central Terminal, and another that stays with the restored former 20th Century Limited observation car, Hickory Creek. If you visited Grand Central during National Train Day, you likely saw a portion of the red carpet – this was the one that travels with the Hickory Creek, and not the one that resides in GCT.


The other known surviving remnant of the 20th Century Limited red carpet in Grand Central on National Train Day. Photo by Otto Vondrak.

Whether the library’s portion of the red carpet will make an appearance for the Grand Central Centennial remains to be seen, but I certainly hope it will. It is definitely one of my favorite historical artifacts hidden within the Terminal, and with the library, one of Grand Central’s more secretive “secrets.”

Random photos from a weekend full of trains… Train Photos

Monday, May 14th, 2012

I hope everyone had a spectacular weekend… Although I managed to get slightly sunburnt, we certainly had some lovely weather! Maybe you even partook in some of the events for National Train Day in Grand Central? I saw quite a few of you there, apologies to the folks I never got a chance to meet up with and say hi.

My weekend was quite full with Train Day festivities, as well as my first photographic foray to the foreign territory that is the Hudson Line. At Poughkeepsie I achieved the milestone of my 100th Metro-North station photographed. When you think about it, I mostly take pictures of stations, not trains (though stations do look better when there are trains present). But there was certainly an exception to that over the weekend, as I managed to snap quite an array of trains in various places along all three lines. Want to know how my weekend was? It is far easier to show you in photographs than it is in words – so here is a little bit of randomness from the past few days.

  
 
  
 
  
 
  

National Train Day – Are you going to be there? Train Events

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

If you are a railfan, most likely you’ve heard about the upcoming National Train Day festivities – provided you aren’t living under a rock or something. In the past, I admit that I’ve made a few cracks about this somewhat recently-established “holiday.” Amtrak declaring a particular day National Train Day almost seems to me as silly as Hallmark declaring a “send your loved-one a card or you don’t really love them” day (which in some circles may also be known as Valentine’s Day). Thankfully, the National Train Day celebration does in fact coincide with a bit of history – namely the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in the US on May 10th (and as everybody knows, the railroads built this country). But with events to be held in Grand Central Terminal this year, I’m thinking National Train Day is really going to be an awesome event, and certainly worth attending.

In addition to seeing some pretty cool trains (and I’ve heard some interesting rumors…), all the foamers can also foam at Rosario Dawson, whom the Twitterverse has reminded me is totally relevant because she was in some movie about trains (I guess Denzel Washington was already booked, and marginally less foam-worthy). So be sure to mark your calendars for May 12, the Saturday date for National Train Day’s celebration this year. Events will begin at 11 AM and carry on until 4PM. In addition to Ms. Dawson, Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary exhibit train will be making an appearance – chock full of historical memorabilia.

As I know many of you, my devoted readers, will certainly be attending this event, I thought perhaps a get-together should be in order. Anybody want to meet up, grab a meal afterwards, or something of that nature? Drop me a comment, or send me an email at info@iridetheharlemline.com.

Construction at New Haven’s Union Station begins today: Farewell to the Solari, Happy 90th Birthday, & National Train Day Train Events Photos

Monday, May 10th, 2010

A few months ago, news hit the newspapers and internet that the Connecticut Department of Transportation was going to be removing the Solari split-flap departure board at Union Station in New Haven. There was a bit of a fight about it though: people didn’t want to see the sign go. People tried writing letters… even I wrote a letter to the CDOT, which of course, was never answered. A Facebook group, called Save Solari, even rounded up 600 fans that wanted the sign to stay. Unfortunately, it seems that all those attempts to convince the CDOT failed. Construction on New Haven’s Union Station begins today. And Metro-North has confirmed on Twitter that it will include the replacement of the split-flap display with an LED sign. The construction also includes upgrades to the sprinkler and fire protection systems, heating and a/c improvements, rehabilitation of the elevators, reconstruction of the pedestrian tunnel, and upgrades to the PA system. The construction will happen over the next twelve months, at which point of this the Solari will be removed has not been mentioned. But apparently, it’s days are numbered.

News of the impending construction led me to finally take a visit over to Union Station on Saturday. Saturday was also National Train Day, though I wasn’t aware that there were even going to be events happening at the train station. In fact, I had been there for at least an hour before I even noticed. I heard the people talking in the corner, though when I went to go investigate, politician Ned Lamont was speaking. His groupies practically tripped over their own legs to get to me and give me stickers and other political propaganda. Which I had to reject several times, at which point I just left.

Later on when I was investigating the paper hats people were wearing, I noticed that there was a cake for Union Station’s 90th Birthday. You know about me and hats, like a moth to a flame. Over by the cake though, there was an agenda for the National Train Day events at the station, which is the only way I figured out that was going on. Ned Lamont was one of the listed speakers on that agenda. Though I didn’t listen to what he had said (me and politicians have a relationship completely opposite than me and hats), I just kept thinking he somewhat hijacked this odd “National Train Day” to promote his gubernatorial campaign. I am almost as skeptical of that as I am of the whole idea of “National Train Day” – a delightful marketing event by Amtrak. Conceptually it is cool, but the real idea behind it… well, it just feels as bogus as if Hallmark declared tomorrow “Give cards to all your coworkers day.”

Alright, that is enough drivel from me, what you really came to see were the photos, right?











Departure board, we’ll miss you! And of course, Happy Birthday Union Station. For more information about the construction, be sure to check Metro North’s site.