or at least a convincing replica thereof. For mysterious reasons, these man-made heavens were painted backward – a mirror image of the actual night sky. But rather than a mistake, the Vanderbilt family, who built and owned the station, joked that it reflected God’s (i.e. their) view of the universe. Despite its marble heights, the Main Concourse is really just a vestibule for even vaster, inner workings. After a century, Grand Central remains the largest station in the world measured in number of platforms (44) – a trick achieved, for the first time in history, by stacking tracks one on top of other. But travel is just the beginning of the station’s uses. From the Main Concourse, passageways lead in every direction toward a dizzying number of secondary realities. Besides contemplating the night sky or catching a train, you can slurp oysters, hail a cab, lift weights, dye your hair, stroll through a museum, resole your shoes, repair your laptop, get pad Thai to go, buy a week’s worth of organic produce, pick up a bottle of Château Pape Clément or get drunk
inside the perfect replica of a 13th-century Florentine palace. And yet you could do all these things and still know only a fraction of Grand Central Terminal. For beyond the swarming public spaces lies the station’s deep, titanic soul – a maze of tracks and equipment that reaches down 10 stories into the Manhattan bedrock. If the tracks were laid end to end, they would extend for 52 kilometers. To create this subterranean world, engineers first had to demolish 180 buildings, then remove no less than three million cubic yards of earth, before building even began. This dark labyrinth is off limits to the public, which is probably for the best. But you can still experience the station’s sublimity without ever leaving the Main Concourse. Just step into chaotic dance of departure and arrival as you merge with the half-million souls who, 100 years after its completion, still pass each day through America’s largest de facto ballroom.