Grand Central: The hoax in the Information Booth

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.

Grand Central brochure that includes the story of the Info Booth hoax

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.

Today you can buy fruit in the Terminal – just not in the Information Booth!

Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Goldens Bridge

Of all the places I’ve been on this little tour of the Harlem Line, it is funny that I have not yet featured the one station I spend the majority of my time at. As of the first of this month, I have been living in and commuting from Goldens Bridge for two years (I’ve been commuting regularly on the Harlem Line slightly longer, though from Brewster station). Besides some of my crazy neighbors, it is a fairly nice area, albeit a little quiet.

Goldens Bridge station in the 1920’s

Over the years that the railroad has been servicing the area, much has changed in Goldens Bridge, and it was probably not as quiet as it now feels. In the early 1900’s the Muscoot Reservoir was created, flooding areas in the town that people had formerly lived. Some of these people had their entire houses moved to other locations. The construction of Interstate 684 in the late 1960’s also changed the landscape of the hamlet significantly, and the two dangerous grade crossings that were in the town have been removed. The station building that was in Goldens Bridge was on the east side of the track, roughly located where the southbound entrance to the Interstate now is.

A train at Goldens Bridge

The busy station of yesteryear is a stark contrast to what the station is now. It was from Goldens Bridge that the Mahopac branch diverged from the main line, a once-popular service which was discontinued in 1959. The station had a turntable as well as a water tower -northbound steam trains would take on water here and be set until they reached Millerton. By 1902 the New York Central had two tracks all the way up to Goldens Bridge until 1909 when the line was two-tracked up to Brewster.

For all the changes the area has gone through over the years, it does slightly amuse me that the current station is sandwiched between the concrete and asphalt of the highway on the east side, and a little bit of wilderness surrounding the reservoir to the west (if you’re interested about visiting that little bit of wilderness, I’ve posted about it before). But it is that Interstate that brings many people to the station, the parking lot is always filled with commuters from New York and Connecticut… and plenty of folks for me to people-watch…