The Bustle and the Glow

Everyone has a vision of Grand Central Terminal. For me two iconic images stand out. As unfortunate everyman, Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) slinks through the bustle of crisscrossing commuters in the terminal’s main concourse in Alfred Hitchock’s classic chase film North by Northwest. His eyes covered by shades and face sunk into the collar of his jacket he desperately attempts to avoid detection by authorities – but, of course, all painfully in vain. Eventually he joins the buzzing mass and races to the train ramp to board the iconic 20th Century Limited bound for Chicago leaping luggage and skirting collision along the way.

As hyper-anxiety driven as Hitchcock’s portrayal of the Terminal is the other image that comes to my mind is equally as tranquil. There are a number of photos that were taken in the Terminal’s early years that show the main concourse at the height of the day with bright sunlight streaming through the upper windows. The light is cast through the vast and dark cavernous space illuminating the floor and passengers below and rendering the atmosphere in between as tangible as the structure itself. No image better expresses the grandeur and cathedral-like quality of the Terminal.

As different as both images are they both show us the space in daytime. This particular visit of mine was at night. I too wanted to capture the bustle of the commuters and tourists but also the magnificent way the stone and green decorated skyscape ceiling seemed to glow in the artificial illumination. All of which has only been possible since a 1998 restoration that removed decades of nicotine and tobacco smoke black staining.

Leave a Reply