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Grand Central’s clock, amid in the centermost of the acclaimed alternation terminal in Manhattan, is so acclaimed it alike allegedly birthed a saying: “Meet me at/under the clock.” Endless commuters accept acclimated the Grand Central clock, amid in the atrium amid clue 27/28 on one end and Vanderbilt Hall on the other, to denote area to accommodated in Grand Central. The four-faced Grand Central alarm is at already a admirable commodity to behold, a masterpiece of functionality, and the agent of abounding belief and secrets. One of the best acclaimed myths, reproduced on endless websites and television programs, is clearly false: No, the Grand Central alarm is not annual $20 million. It’s not the “priceless jewel hidden in credible sight.” Here’s why.

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The basis of the allegory comes from the declared actual of the alarm faces, generally afield said to be of opal or “solid opal.” The actualization of this affirmation can be traced aback to at diminutive March 7, 1999, aback the Associated Press appear the commodity “Celebrating New York City’s Unique Accessible Spaces” that was amalgamated in newspapers all beyond the country for the abutting two months. “The alarm with an opal face that has been a affair abode for ancestors of New Yorkers,” it proclaimed. On March 5, 2000, an Arizona Daily Star declared that the alarm faces “are able from adored opal.”

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Later that decade, a Wikipedia user edited the Grand Central Terminal folio on May 18, 2006 (at 2:17 PM to be exact). The user accurately added, “Each of the four alarm faces are fabricated from Opal and both Sotheby’s and Christie’s accept estimated the amount to be amid ten and twenty actor dollars.” The Wikipedia user, articular abandoned by the user’s IP address, which can be traced to Croton-on-Hudson, New York, about fabricated this amend about Grand Central’s clock, the aftermost of a few accessory updates to the capital Grand Central Terminal Wikipedia entry, and never appeared on Wikipedia again.

The declared appraisal of the alarm additionally appeared in newspapers aural the abutting month, including a advertence in an commodity by the Dallas Morning Annual that was amalgamated nationally by McClatchy-Tribune Annual Service, which cites advice gleaned from the official Grand Central tour. The commodity states that “each face of the assumption alarm aloft the advice berth alarm is fabricated of solid opal and the four faces are admired at $20 million.” From there, the allegory shows up in abounding added aloft publications through the present day. Wikipedia editors afflicted the book in 2013 to say the adventure was an burghal legend, a band that was additionally afterwards removed on August 10, 2020 citation a abridgement of sources for the claim.

Someone who additionally promulgated the allegory of Grand Central’s alarm was Daniel Brucker, the aloft docent-in-chief at Metro North who gave off-limits tours of Grand Central until he was let go for active them. Brucker formed for Metro-North starting in 1987 and was frequently interviewed on television and by annual publications. On a bout we took in 2015, he declared the alarm was annual amid $10 to $20 million. Brucker analogously answer a allegory that a alternation car beneath the Waldorf-Astoria was acclimated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While FDR did booty his own alternation into Grand Central, it is not the aforementioned car that sat for abounding years on Clue 61. We catholic to see this alternation car, which is now in the Danbury Railway Museum in Connecticut, and accurate to our readers how it had consistently been a  banal apparatus car and that FDR’s auto would accept been too ample to accomplish it inside.

But aback to the Grand Central clock. It was advised by Henry Edward Bedford, a sculptor and controlling of the Self Winding Alarm Aggregation which congenital the alarm with abetment from the Seth Thomas Alarm Company, which fabricated the movements. The Self Winding Alarm Aggregation additionally created the clocks in Grand Central Terminal’s predecessor, Grand Central Station. In a letter anachronous November 9, 1886, J.M. Toucey, the General Superintendent of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Aggregation accepted a alarm that had been purchased from the Self Winding Alarm Aggregation for Grand Central Station: “Replying to your inquiry, would say that the ample Self Winding Alarm purchased from you…for our Incoming Passenger Base has never bootless to wind, and has accurate absolutely satisfactory. The baby Regulator you placed in this appointment in June has performed appropriately well.”

Looking aback at actual documentation, a 1954 New York Times commodity advertisement on the apology of the accepted alarm in the atrium describes the faces of the alarm as aloof “glass,” not opal. The alarm had been taken in for adjustment at the Self Winding Alarm Company’s branch at 205 Willoughby Avenue in Brooklyn (next to Pratt Institute) for the aboriginal time because its movements had become capricious or “eccentric,” as the Times declared it. Sometimes it was so off that the agents in Grand Central had to absolutely bandy a ample cardboard bag over it to anticipate bodies from missing their trains. A photograph that accompanies the Times commodity shows two men removing the alarm faces and acting clocks placed on a box about the clock. A assurance reads, “Please buck with us as the brawl alarm is actuality repaired”

The 23-page autogenous battleground appellation address on Grand Central by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1980 abandoned says that “The Capital Avenue lath is topped by a handsome four-faced brownish clock.” The official book about Grand Central’s centennial, Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark by historian Anthony Robins and the New York Transit Museum describes the alarm as accepting “opaline glass” faces. This actual is additionally alleged “milk glass” or “opal glass.” One can see area the abashing may accept originated from, but opal bottle is not absolutely fabricated from any opal.

Opal bottle has its origins in Venice during the 16th century, developed as a clear-cut another to porcelain, and began to be referred to as “opal glass” in the 19th century. According to the aggregation Garbo Glassware, “Opal bottle is fabricated of the accession of cartilage ash, tin dioxide, or antimony compounds, which are additionally sometimes added to bowl glazes to aftermath a alabaster white color. Opal bottle is referred to as milk glass, although milk bottle is a about new term.” The use of opal bottle became abnormally accepted in the Gilded Age, so it’s not hasty that Cornelius Vanderbilt and his set would accept autonomous for an opal bottle alarm as the centerpiece of the Grand Central atrium.

Journalist Sam Roberts, additionally describes the alarm as a “four-faced bleary bottle clock” in his book Grand Central: How a Alternation Base Transformed America. (He does additionally say however, that the Grand Central alarm is “priceless” — bond a little of the allegory in). Alike added absorbing is what happened to the Grand Central alarm in the bounce of 1968. According to Roberts, one of the alarm faces was “pierced by a ammo —apparently accursed by a badge administrator in following of the ‘yippies’ from the Youth International Party who were staging a ‘yip-in’ in Grand Central.” Aback badge went afterwards again with nightsticks, they “hurled firecrackers and spun the easily off” the clock.

The damaged Grand Central Alarm face in the New York Transit Museum collection. Photo address of New York Transit Museum.

The damaged alarm face absolutely remained in use through the 1980s, and was abandoned removed aback apology to Grand Central Terminal began. It is now in the accumulating of the New York Transit Museum. The arched appearance of the alarm face is credible — it is absolutely not solid anything, let abandoned solid opal. The item’s description in the museum’s archive almanac resolves all questions: “Opal bottle arched annular Alarm Face removed from four-sided admiralty assumption brawl alarm with acorn finial aloft advice kiosk in centermost of Grand Central Terminal capital avenue during restoration. Alarm face was replaced due to accident (cracked and bullet- or bb-shot marked).” In addition, a agent for Metro North accepted for us that the alarm is absolutely irised glass, not opal. We accept additionally accomplished out to both Christie’s and Sotheby’s for animadversion on whether any appraisal had taken abode on the clock.

So while this analysis resolves the aloft longstanding allegory about the Grand Central clock, there are added belief and secrets to it:

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