Above us … a bit of sky

I added to the daily count of three quarters of a million people passing the doors of Grand Central Terminal when I walked in to take photos of the beautiful fixtures which I remembered. When I entered the main concourse, I realized that I had no memory of the gorgeous mural on the ceiling. Drawn in gold on the beautiful blue background are one part of the sky: the signs of the Zodiac from Aquarius to Cancer, Orion and Pegasus, the Milky Way and the Triangulum. If there are any other, I did not notice them. The featured photo shows Gemini on the extreme left, with part of Orion above it, facing Taurus. To the right of this you see Triangulum, and then at the far end, above the northern skylights, you can see Pegasus. Across the centre of the field of view spreads the Milky Way.

of Grand Central Terminal

I did take a few photos of the things I remembered. In the middle of the photo above you can see the grand galleries of the concourse. The lit up clocks are familiar sights to lost travellers: they mark the information booth. There’s a strange nub of metal atop these clocks. Apparently it is meant to represent an acorn, and is a symbol the Vanderbilts had for themselves when Cornelius Vanderbilt had this structure constructed in 1913.

In this photo you can see all of Orion, facing Taurus, and below that Gemini and then Cancer. The view faces west, and shows one of the main problems with this painting. A commuter noticed this very soon after the Terminal was opened: north and south are correctly placed on the ceiling, but east and west are interchanged. The French artist Paul Helleu had made the drawings based on drawings by Johann Bayer in his 1603 book Uranometria. This is deemed to be correct. Apparently the switch was made inadvertently when J. Monroe Hewlett and painter Charles Basing transferred the design to the ceiling.

This painting was damaged by water seepage and was covered over in 1944 with asbestos boards on which a less elaborate picture was painted by Charles Gulbrandsen. At this stage a second triangle was added to Triangulum (you can see this in the photos, and puzzled me a bit before I read about it). Fifty years later this new painting was also darkened, largely by cigarette smoke rising from the concourse. A restoration of 1995 decided not to remove the boards because of a possible asbestos hazard, but cleaned them up.


Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

3 thoughts on “Above us … a bit of sky”

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