Many native New Yorkers or movie buffs have probably heard the famous phrase “meet me under the clock“; in New York this phrase refers to The Grand Central Clock, adorning the top of Grand Central Terminal’s information booth located in the main concourse area.
Also called “The Grand Central Terminal Clock“, this magnificent structure has starred in several movies throughout Hollywood history. It has also been used as the setting for marriage proposals, a background for artistic photo-ops and has appeared on numerous postcards. Grand Central Station is home to countless secret passageways, underground private tracks and secret staircases; one of these secret staircases is located directly below the circular information booth where this intriguing clock is situated. The staircase is a spiral-style structure hidden by a secret door and it leads directly to the information area on the lower level.
Created by the famous Connecticut clock crafting company known as Seth Thomas, the Grand Central Terminal Clock is valued between 10 and 20 million dollars.
This structure has four convex faces; each face is made purely of the highest quality precious opal. Behind the faces are lights which give the clock a warm glow and illuminate each of the faces. Brass was used to construct the solid pillar-like tower and the rounded head of the clock.
Sitting atop the clock’s head is a small point; most who casually observe the clock in passing may assume it is merely a decorative accent, but it is actually a compass. Fitted to exact precision, the compass above the clock correlates with the true north direction 100% accurately.
Because of the enormous open space in the main concourse, this clock seems to appear much smaller than it really is. The clock was completed in 1913 to honor the opening of the Grand Central Terminal, also called The Beaux Arts Terminal. Also a special memory to the history of unique Seth Thomas clocks, The Grand Central Terminal Clock was completed the same year as the 100th birthday of the Seth Thomas Company.
As mentioned, this famous clock has made appearances in numerous movies during the past several decades. Making its initial movie appearance debut in a 1942 film titled Grand Central Murder, many different scenes with the clock were created. After seeing it in Grand Central Murder, film creators became interested and decided to follow suit. Some of the well-known film titles of today in which this clock may be seen are The Godfather, Men in Black and Superman. It has also appeared in various other films such as Midnight Run, The Cotton Club, The Fisher King and North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant.
Another film called “The Clock“, which boasted Judy Garland’s first performance outside of musicals, was supposed to use the famous timepiece as a backdrop. The backdrop actually used in this movie does look similar to The Grand Central Clock, but it is not; the filming took place in a different state. Also claiming fame by making an appearance in a Bing Crosby musical performance, this clock definitely has a diverse entertainment portfolio for an inanimate object.
After its appearance in Grand Central Murder, the clock’s popularity not only as a Hollywood icon skyrocketed, but also as a meeting place for the public. Before that time, large clocks were already a popular place to meet. Right now probably anyone who remembers entering the station from 42nd Street will recall another large clock outside directly above the entrance. Adorned with statues of Minerva, Hercules and Mercury to symbolize the success of the station, this clock’s face is the largest piece of art made from Tiffany glass, with a circumference totaling 13 feet. While this timepiece may seem more elaborate, the four-faced Grand Central Clock in the main concourse is still considered “the clock” to those who frequent Grand Central Station.
The reason why the four-faced clock is used as a meeting point is the location of the clock and its convenience. Meeting indoors is much more desirable, especially in the winter; also the information booth’s clock is in the middle of Grand Central Station for easier access from all sides than the clock facing 42nd Street.
Many people marvel at how well-kept and new The Grand Central Clock still looks today. Of course at least one of the faces has been completely replaced, but how does the clock stay so clean and maintained? This timepiece is carefully detailed by professionals from time to time. Over the years, the structure has undergone several maintenance “makeovers”. Funded by many generous donors, these makeovers were used to touch up any areas that required small or minor repair and paid the fees associated with thoroughly cleaning the structure, as well as checking, testing and replacing any parts. Companies such as Trans-World Airlines, Newsweek and Merrill Lynch have all donated generous sums of money to keep this piece of New York history looking and functioning well.
Nearing its 100th birthday, The Grand Central Terminal Clock has certainly seen its share of history. From soldiers meeting their long-lost loved ones after returning from war, to friends meeting for socializing, The Grand Central Clock has certainly retained its meeting point popularity over the years.
Besides the millions of travelers it has welcomed in its history, there are rumors that the one of the clock’s original opal faces had been shot at and was replaced. Records of this incident seem to be elusive, but there is a display located in the Grand Central Transit Museum featuring a cracked face with a small hole in it, making a fun stop for visitors to see it for themselves. Perhaps the hole is a bullet hole; or perhaps the story of this mysterious hole in one of the original faces is tale woven to create excitement.
For visitors young or old, The Grand Central Terminal Clock is a sight to behold and should definitely be added to the “must see” list for passing travelers; so get your ticket and let’s meet under the clock!