NY Transit Museum Seeks Artifacts To Mark Grand Central Terminal's 100th Birthday

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(Photo by: MightyBoyBrian / Flickr creative commons)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Grand Central Terminal's 100th birthday is eighteen months away. But The New York Transit Museum is putting the word out now that it's looking for memorabilia to mark the event.

NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Marjorie Anders says the museum has many artifacts from New York's bus and subway systems but relatively few from Grand Central Terminal and its trains. That's because old lines like Conrail and Penn Central are either defunct or have been merged into Metro-North.

"The stuff that we're interested in displaying is from an era that's gone," she said. "It's from railroads that no longer exist."

Anders says the museum is seeking anything from a conductor's cap to a baggage cart. But it's especially interested in remnants from the middle of last century, when train travel was more elegant. In those days, Grand Central Terminal had rocking chairs in its ladies rooms and potted palms in its waiting areas. And passengers arriving on The 2oth Century Limited from Los Angeles stepped off the train onto a red carpet.

Anders says current and former workers who may have helped themselves to old railroad items will be forgiven--as long as they loan or donate them to the exhibit.

That includes Harry Kelly, who has worked at Grand Central for 38 years. In the 1970s and 80s, he updated arrival times on the terminal's sign boards using information sent to him from a dispatcher via telautograph machine. The dispatcher wrote with a pen that sent a signal through a telephone line and moved a pen across a sheet of paper in Kelly's office--like an early fax machine.

Then came computers to do that job. Kelly recalls that after that, a supervisor called him in and said, "Harry, do me a favor. Get rid of these old telautographs." Kelly tossed out about thirty of the devices before it hit him: "I'm not a big collector but this was something that I used for many, many years. So I held onto one."

Kelly will be loaning the salvaged machine to the exhibit.