If you plan on visiting the Holiday Fair in Grand Central, as you peruse the varied items for sale you’ll pass an old plaque listing over a hundred names dating from the ’20s to the ’60s. Though you’d likely pass right by without another note, the plaque holds over a hundred stories of courage – of people risking their lives to save another’s. For the act, their name was recorded for posterity on the walls of the Terminal, on the west wall of what is now Vanderbilt Hall. Though I had certainly seen the plaque bearing the title of “Honor Roll” before, I too hadn’t thought much of it, until I learned the stories of the acts that led the names to be recorded fairly recently. I consider it yet another interesting secret hidden within the walls of Grand Central. As an amateur historian, I have a wealth of knowledge regarding Grand Central (in fact, some of you have written to me mentioning you saw me in the recent documentary Grand Central: An American Treasure), but with a place so historic and important, there will always be things to discover.
The concept of the plaque you’ll find today in Vanderbilt Hall dates back to the ’20s, and Vanderbilt heir and railroad executive Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (son of William Kissam, great-grandson of the Commodore, and the last Vanderbilt to work for the New York Central Railroad). Vanderbilt’s idea was to award a medal to employees of the railroad that had exhibited an act of extraordinary heroism. The idea led to the formation of a committee to review nominations of heroism, which would be forwarded to the railroad’s vice-presidents and president for final decision. Recipients would be awarded a bronze medal – The New York Central Medal of Valor – designed by sculptor Robert Aitken, presented in a leather case, along with a special pin that could be always worn on the lapel, and have their names recorded on the “Honor Roll” plaque. Awards would be presented yearly, with the first awarding in 1927, when fifteen men were honored by New York Central Railroad president Patrick E. Crowley. At least 114 people were presented with the medal, including one woman, and one man who received the award twice.
Though the award was only established in 1927 (for acts performed in the 1926 calendar year), men like Henry Nauman of Hammond, Indiana were likely the reason for its founding. Nauman was the 1924 recipient of the Carnegie Medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund after saving a woman that had walked under the crossing gates and in front of an approaching locomotive. Nauman, the crossing watchman, ran the 25 feet to the woman and pushed her across the track, preventing her from being hit – an act for which he received the Carnegie Medal. No stranger to courageous acts, Nauman again acted when a woman stepped under the lowered crossing gates and in front of an oncoming train. Nauman attempted to pull her to safety, but they were both hit by the locomotive. Sadly, the woman died from her injuries, while Nauman had to have his crushed leg amputated. However, for his courageous act, Nauman received the railroad’s new Medal of Valor, and the Carnegie Medal again – the first man to receive that award two times.
Back in February of 1986 I had not yet reached my second birthday… I’m not too familiar with the milestones of an aging child, so for all I know I could have still been wearing diapers at that time. Metro-North, founded in 1983, was a fledgling organization. Though we may be similar in age, Metro-North didn’t seem to have much of a “diaper wearing” stage. In terms of the Harlem Line, they hit the ground running – beginning major renovations to the line. The tracks were electrified from North White Plains to Brewster North (Southeast), and over 10 million was spent on upgrading Brewster yard (aka Putnam Junction) and shop. Metro-North was also trying to reach their customers – printing several guides to explain to riders what they do, and give a brief tour of the system.
I’d like to have one of these in my backyard. The loco and the castle.
Since SmartCat debuted about two weeks ago, I’ve still been working on adding plenty of new material for you all to peruse. Two of the newest things found in the catalog are two brochures Metro-North released in or around 1986. One was a guide to the Metro-North system, the other a Grand Central and Customer Service guide.
Just spotting the little things that have changed over the years is quite fun. It was a time where terrorism was not as much of a concern, and the Terminal had a room where you could temporarily store your bags. And people weren’t quite so health conscious either – Harlem and Hudson trains each had one car reserved for smokers, the New Haven Line had two. Vanderbilt Hall was still a waiting room, and many of the updates – including the other stairwell in the main concourse, and the cleanup of the sky ceiling – in Grand Central had not yet been made. Amtrak trains still stopped at the Terminal, and places like Crugers and Kent Road were still stops listed on the system map.
The old Omega departure board can be seen in one of the brochures. It was replaced by an LCD Solari board in the late 90’s.
You should definitely check out SmartCat if you haven’t already, or if you want to jump right to the aforementioned brochures, you can use these links:
As an addendum to this post, as I’ve gotten a few messages regarding adding things to SmartCat, I would absolutely love user submissions. If you have anything that you think would be archivable, whether it be a timetable, postcard, ticket, etc… send me a message. I’d love to add it!
Hope everybody out there is enjoying this snowy Wednesday… Actually, who am I kidding? I’m sick of the snow, and I think most train riders will agree with me on that one. Let’s take your mind off of that with some photos from the squash tournament in Grand Central. The whole idea of constructing a glass cube for the purpose of playing squash in a railroad station is a bit amusing to me. But at the same time it feels like an appropriate nod to history. The tournament is sponsored by J.P. Morgan, a modern banking company originally named for John Pierpont Morgan. Morgan was a banker, as well as a financier of railroads.
The Tournament of Champions is held yearly in Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall. Although tickets are sold for seats, there is standing room for visitors or commuters waiting for their trains to watch as well.
Did I ever mention that sometimes I wonder if I picked the wrong profession? I enjoy graphic design but advertisements? For things like Christmas? Bah humbug, I hate Christmas. Well, no, actually I hate being told that I am required to purchase extravagant gifts for a particular person. Honestly, I’d much rather give someone a for no reason other than this reminded me of you present. But yet, here I am, working on last minute ads for Black Friday…
Just this once though, just for my lovely readers, I will pretend that I enjoy the holidays, and fill you in on all the train and holiday related good stuff on the Harlem Line and in the city.
Discounts to see the Christmas Spectacular or Wintuk
In case you missed last week’s Mileposts, those interested in seeing the Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, or Cirque du Soleil’s Wintuk can get a discounted ticket thanks to Metro-North. In addition to the discount, you also receive a free roundtrip train ticket to go see the show! When purchasing tickets for these events, use the promo code METRO in order to apply this promotion. For more information, details, restrictions and the like, check out these pages: Tickets for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular Tickets for Wintuk
Discounts on the Nutcracker in White Plains
Another holiday event with discounts is at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. The Nutcracker, performed by the Westchester Ballet Company, will have shows on the 17th, 18th and 19th of December. Coupons are available on Westchester County’s website (after completing a short survey).
For information on purchasing tickets, click here.
Grand Central Holiday Fair
Every Christmas season Vanderbilt Hall is filled with various vendors selling their wares, and this year is no exception. The fair will run until December 24th, and is closed on Thanksgiving. For more information about hours, and a vendor map, check out this event page.
Holiday Train Show in Grand Central
The Transit Museum will again be hosting their Holiday Train show in their annex in Grand Central Terminal. Hours are as follows:
Monday – Friday 8:00 AM to 8 :00 PM
Saturday & Sunday 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
The show will run until January 17th.
Video from last year’s Holiday Train Show
Holiday Train Show at the Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden will be having its annual Holiday Train Show, which starts this Saturday. The garden is easily accessible via the Harlem Line, very close to, you guessed it, Botanical Garden station. The show will run until January 9th. Train and holiday related events will be happening throughout that run – from gingerbread houses to Thomas the Tank Engine visits – so be sure to check the schedule.
Lionel Pop-Up Train Stores
For anybody interested in purchasing some Lionel trains for themselves or friends, Lionel has a few pop up stores in the area. Supposedly these stores will have limited edition products not sold anywhere else. You can find the stores in Manhattan and White Plains:
Lionel New York
1095 Avenue of the Americas (41st St), New York, NY [map]
Lionel at the Westchester Mall
125 Westchester Ave., White Plains, NY [map]
Holiday Events at the Westchester Italian Cultural Center
The presepio is the most popular traditional Christmas decoration in Italy, and the Westchester Italian Cultural Center, not far from Tuckahoe station, will have theirs on display for the season. Events start on November 30th with Christmas Through the Ages, and the opening of the presepio exhibit. The exhibit will continue until January 1st. For more information click here.
Mount Kisco: Tree Lighting
Not far from Mount Kisco’s train station the town will host its tree lighting ceremony, on Friday December 3rd at 6PM. Cookies and cocoa will be served, and for the young ones there will be visits with Santa Claus afterward.
104 Main Street, Mount Kisco: [map]
Brewster: Tree Lighting & Putnam Chorale Holiday Concert
Christmas events in Brewster will commence at 4:30 on December 4th at the Southeast Museum, down the street from the train station. A holiday ornament-making workshop will be held for children, followed by caroling and the village’s tree lighting.
For more information about that click here.
Afterward, the Putnam Chorale and Brass Quintet will be performing a holiday concert, which is a free event. The show will be held at the United Methodist Church, which again is not far from Brewster station. The concert starts at 7:30 PM.
For more information, go here.
Great Westchester Toy & Train Show
In time for Christmas gift-giving is the largest toy/train show in the northeast – and within easy walking distance from White Plains station. The show will be held on December 12th at the Westchester County Center, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
For more information and a coupon for a dollar off admission, click here.
Annual IRideTheHarlemLine.com Holiday Card
Did I mention I hate cards too? They’re so impersonal sometimes, just grabbing something at Hallmark and running off. I’d much rather somebody draw me a picture, even if it is shitty. And every holiday that is exactly what I do, though I do hope you don’t think my drawing is shitty. Be sure to find me on the train and I’ll be happy to give you one of this year’s card (which is much better than last years). If I don’t see you or you don’t live in the area, you are welcome to email me your mailing address and I will send you one through the mail. (It will even have a Conductor Dog stamp on it!)
Riding along the Harlem Line this morning and yesterday, I still see a bit of snow all around. So in honor of our first real snowfall this year, I’ve changed the header image of the site to reflect the change in season. Gone are the following leaves, and big fat snowflakes are their replacements. Just to ask in general, but do you find that trains get more delayed in the fall, with the leaves on the track, than in the winter due to snow? I’ve taken the train in some of the biggest snowstorms with no delays. Anyone else have experience with this?
In other news, I am posting up my pictures that I took at the Holiday Fair in Grand Central’s Vanderbilt Hall. Not the highest quality, since they were taken with my cell phone, but you get the idea of what the fair looks like. It is certainly something cool to browse around if you have a minute waiting for your train, or are in Grand Central already. I’m not the most wealthy person on the planet, so a lot of the things are rather high priced for a person like me. But I must admit, last year I had been eyeing this hooded sweatshirt with a cat face and ears, but I couldn’t afford it. Conveniently the people selling the shirt last year are back again this year, and I bought it. What do you think?
The one thing really cool about the fair is how diverse it is. African art, prints of New York and other New York themed crafts, Christmas ornaments, Dog-themed items (the “Fleas Navidad” Dog bandana cracked me up), gorgeous hand-crafted books, jewelry, clothing, hand-blown glass, and lots of other interesting items. Plus, there may be entertainment as well. When I was there a trio of young women were playing strings, and they were pretty damn good. I filmed a brief portion of their performance, and will be posting that later on this week. For now, enjoy the pictures of the Holiday Fair!
My name is Emily, though I am known by many who ride the train simply as Cat Girl, for the hats I customarily wear during the winter time. I am a graphic designer, a former Metro North commuter and lifelong Harlem Line rider. This site is a collection of my usually train-related thoughts, observations, photographs, and travels, as well as my never-ending hunt for intriguing historical artifacts.