Who was really responsible for train travel? He was a ruthless, difficult man, who was responsible for the beginning of a major method of travel in America. He set a way to roll through cities and towns with his railroads. I have a connection with him because he was involved with the museum where I am a trustee, Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut, but he, as the mortgager of the Mansion, sold the house to the Mathews family after the house went into foreclosure.
On the north side of East 42nd Street, at the Park Avenue intersection, stands one of New York’s most admired buildings: Grand Central Station. An oldie but goodie. Once the capitol of the New York Central Railroad empire, it remains the city’s glittering gate for tens of thousands of travelers each day. Over the entrance looms a larger-than-life bronze statue of the man who made it possible, Cornelius Vanderbilt.
The memorial is fitting, even though the Commodore (as Vanderbilt was unofficially but universally titled) never knew the building his image now guards. He amassed the New York Central Railroad system between New York and Chicago in the 1860s and ’70s, and constructed Grand Central Depot, the original incarnation of the modern Station.
It’s appropriate, too, that his statue looks toward Wall Street, which he dominated during much of its formative period. Over the course of a 66-year career, he helped to drive the transportation revolution, magnified the California gold rush, pioneered the modern business corporation, and contributed to the birth of big business in America. One of the wealthiest men in history (worth an estimated $100 million at his death in 1877), he was highly controversial, sparking a public debate over opportunity, equality, and the role of government that continues to this day.
His career can be divided into his many years as a manager and entrepreneur of steamboat lines in the Northeast along with Mr. LeGrand Lockwood; his decade as a mogul of ocean-going steamships; and his final years as a railroad tycoon.
Grand Central Station has been described as “the world’s loveliest station”. According to the travel magazine Travel + Leisure in its October 2011 survey, Grand Central Terminal is “the world’s number six most visited tourist attraction”, bringing in approximately 21,600,000 visitors annually.
Everything is right there, a city on the move. Steve Jobs Apple store is there too. Stop by and buy a MAC. (Macintosh Apple Computer, not a double hamburger.)
Have you been to Grand Central Station? What did you do there, travel? Oh, humbug.