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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • THE TOY DEPARTMENT, 1913

The Phantom Stroller: 1910

The Phantom Stroller: 1910

New York circa 1910. "Suburban concourse, Grand Central Terminal, New York Central Railroad." Note the light trail left by a lantern-carrying phantom stroller in this time exposure. 8x10 glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

 

Only one lantern

To me it looks like he was only holding one lantern, and the light ribbons just happened to line up towards the spittoon (that he kicked closer to the column). Near the second column from the left, you can see the two ribbons diverge as he moved closer towards the information booth.

Junior's

Junior's restaurant is in this space now, in front of the ticket windows.

This is one case where I actually think it looks better now. In the photo, the place looks (obviously) empty and a bit scary.

A thing of beauty

How sad that we seem to have lost our penchant for aesthetic beauty.

The Great Exposure Mystery

This scene is chock full of light fixtures blazing, reflections and glare off the polished walls and floor, especially at the ticket counter closest to the camera. How could the exposure have lasted long enough for the "stroller" to have covered all that distance without the shot being a complete washout?
Just curious.

[The light fixtures etc. look as bright as they do because it's a long exposure. - Dave]

Baggage, telegraph and women

all kept out of sight.

Lovely

As a somewhat serious photographer, I can't help noticing that in 1910, they had wide angle lenses without barrel distortion. Today, after your lens renders the scene shaped like a pillow, you have to straighten it in Photoshop.

Baby is safe

Harder to see in this photo are Kevin Costner and Andy Garcia (poised behind columns and ready to come out shooting). As we know now, the baby in the stroller was unharmed, although mom was terribly frightened.

1910!!

Keep in mind that this remarkable scene dates from 100 years ago, when most homes in America had no electricity, indoor plumbing or telephones. The traffic at Park Avenue and 42nd Street would have been mostly horse-drawn. The world beyond the gleaming marble of Grand Central Terminal was largely constructed of wood and brick. There was no radio or TV. I'm not sure "computer" was even a word. If you wanted to go to Europe, you took a boat and spent the next week or so of your life heaving over the side rails. Once you crossed over into the wilds of Yonkers and Westchester County, there were more dirt roads than paved.

This building simply took people's breath away.

Why light?

My question is what is making the light streaks? Flashlight? Candle? Reflection? Why would he/she need a light when the place is already lit up?

[Janitors may have carried lanterns for the darker parts of Grand Central, where the tracks were all underground. - Dave]

The Third Level

This makes me think of Jack Finney's "The Third Level."

The corridor I was in began angling left and slanting downward and I thought that was wrong, but I kept on walking. All I could hear was the empty sound of my own footsteps and I didn't pass a soul. Then I heard that sort of hollow roar ahead that means open space and people talking. The tunnel turned sharp left; I went down a short flight of stairs and came out on the third level at Grand Central Station. For just a moment I thought I was back on the second level, but I saw the room was smaller, there were fewer ticket windows and train gates, and the information booth in the center was wood and old-looking. And the man in the booth wore a green eyeshade and long black sleeve protectors. The lights were dim and sort of flickering. Then I saw why; they were open-flame gaslights.

There were brass spittoons on the floor, and across the station a glint of light caught my eye.

Illuminating

The night porter is making his rounds here, ghostly legs fleetingly visible. A monochrome, indoor version of Jack Delano's nocturnal light trails.

Unseen

Sure the phantom stroller is a great find, but I'm amazed because I don't think I've ever seen a picture of the old Suburban Concourse. It's much different today as restaurants have replaced the ticket windows, and that room in the back was completely replaced with a new staircase during the recent restoration.

I've always loved the Lower Level's straight lines, and it looks even better without all the clutter of today.

One in each hand?

The light tracks aren't just parallel, the up-and-down jiggles match, too.

The Great Spittoon Mystery

This shot prompts two questions: What was the phantom stroller's direction of travel, and why his attention to the spittoons? My answers: toward the camera, and he was a spittoon attendant. First he stops at the drinking fountain to wet his whistle. The first ones he comes to may be one in two positions; the left one is much lighter, possibly indicating it was in that spot for a briefer period during the exposure. But there seems to be only one light trail, so that part's still a mystery. The next two he approaches from this side of the pillars; they'd be out of sight from his direction of travel. He determined that the nearer one didn't need emptying; the light trail indicates he approached it just enough to eyeball it. The farther one was either the same, or he managed to get it back close to its original spot. The last one, closest to the camera, he emptied, but replaced it in a different spot.

This is great!

I probably wouldn't have noticed that for a while if you hadn't pointed it out!

 
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