The presidents of the New York Central
and the New York, New Haven and
Hartford railroads will swear on a stack
of timetables that there are only two. But
I say there are three, because Iíve been
on the third level of the Grand Central
Station. Yes, Iíve taken the obvious step:
I talked to a psychiatrist friend of mine,
among others. I told him about the third
level at Grand Central Station, and he said it was a wakingdream
wish fulfillment. He said I was unhappy. That made
my wife kind of mad, but he explained that he meant the
modern world is full of insecurity, fear, war, worry and all
the rest of it, and that I just want to escape. Well, who
doesnít? Everybody I know wants to escape, but they donít
wander down into any third level at Grand Central Station.
But thatís the reason, he said, and my friends all
agreed. Everything points to it, they claimed. My stamp
collecting, for example; thatís a Ďtemporary refuge from
reality.í Well, maybe, but my grandfather didnít need any
refuge from reality; things were pretty nice and peaceful
in his day, from all I hear, and he started my collection.
Itís a nice collection too, blocks of four of practically every
U.S. issue, first-day covers, and so on. President Roosevelt
collected stamps too, you know.
Anyway, hereís what happened
at Grand Central. One night last
summer I worked late at the
office. I was in a hurry to get
uptown to my apartment
so I decided to take the
subway from Grand
itís faster than the.bus.
Now, I donít
know why this
me. Iím just an
old, and I was wearing a tan gabardine suit and a straw
hat with a fancy band; I passed a dozen men who looked
just like me. And I wasnít trying to escape from anything; I
just wanted to get home to Louisa, my wife.
I turned into Grand Central from Vanderbilt Avenue,
and went down the steps to the first level, where you take
trains like the Twentieth Century. Then I walked down
another flight to the second level, where the suburban trains
leave from, ducked into an arched doorway heading for the
subway ó and got lost. Thatís easy to do. Iíve been in and
out of Grand Central hundreds of times, but Iím always
bumping into new doorways and stairs and corridors. Once
I got into a tunnel about a mile long and came out in the
lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel. Another time I came up in an
office building on Forty-sixth Street, three blocks away.
Sometimes I think Grand Central is growing like a
tree, pushing out new corridors and staircases like roots.
Thereís probably a
long tunnel that
nobody knows about
feeling its way under
the city right now, on its
way to Times Square, and
maybe another to Central Park.
And maybe ó because for so many
people through the years Grand
Central has been an exit, a way of
escape ó maybe thatís how the
tunnel I got into... But I never told
my psychiatrist friend about that
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 didnít 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 centre was wood and oldlooking.
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
There were brass spittoons on the floor, and across
the station a glint of light caught my eye; a man was pulling
a gold watch from his vest pocket. He snapped open the
cover, glanced at his watch and frowned. He wore a derby
hat, a black four-button suit with tiny lapels, and he had
a big, black, handlebar mustache. Then I looked around
and saw that everyone in the station was dressed like
eighteen-ninety-something; I never saw so many beards,
sideburns and fancy mustaches in my life. A woman walked
in through the train gate; she wore a dress with leg-ofmutton
sleeves and skirts to the top of her high-buttoned
shoes. Back of her, out on the tracks, I caught a glimpse of
a locomotive, a very small Currier & Ives locomotive with a
funnel-shaped stack. And then I knew.
To make sure, I walked over to a newsboy and
glanced at the stack of papers at his feet. It was The World;
and The World hasnít been published for years. The lead story
said something about President Cleveland. Iíve found that front page
since, in the Public Library files, and it was printed June 11, 1894.
I turned toward the ticket windows knowing that here ó on the third level at Grand
Central ó I could buy tickets that would take Louisa and
me anywhere in the United States we wanted to go. In the
year 1894. And I wanted two tickets to Galesburg, Illinois.
Have you ever been there? Itís a wonderful town still,
with big old frame houses, huge lawns, and tremendous
trees whose branches meet overhead and roof the streets.
And in 1894, summer evenings were twice as long, and
people sat out on their lawns, the men smoking cigars and
talking quietly, the women waving palm-leaf fans, with
the fire-flies all around, in a peaceful world. To be back
there with the First World War still twenty years off, and
World War II over forty over forty years in the future...
I wanted two tickets for that.
The clerk figured the fare ó he glanced at my fancy
hatband, but he figured the fare ó and I had enough for
two coach tickets, one way. But when I counted out the
money and looked up, the clerk was staring at me. He
nodded at the bills. ĎĎThat ainít money, mister,íí he said,
ĎĎand if youíre trying to skin me, you wonít get very far,íí
and he glanced at the cash drawer beside him. Of course
the money was old-style bills, half again as big as the
money we use nowadays, and different-looking. I turned
away and got out fast. Thereís nothing nice about jail, even
And that was that. I left the same
way I came, I suppose. Next day, during
lunch hour, I drew three hundred dollars
out of the bank, nearly all we had, and
bought old-style currency (that really
worried my psychiatrist friend). You can
buy old money at almost any coin
dealerís, but you have to pay a premium.
My three hundred dollars bought less
than two hundred in old-style bills, but I
didnít care; eggs were thirteen cents a dozen in 1894.
But Iíve never again found the
corridor that leads to the third level at
Grand Central Station, although Iíve tried often enough.
Louisa was pretty worried when I told her all this, and
didnít want me to look for the third level any more, and
after a while I stopped; I went back to my stamps. But now
weíre both looking, every weekend, because now we have
proof that the third level is still there. My friend Sam Weiner
disappeared! Nobody knew where, but I sort of suspected
because Samís a city boy, and I used to tell him about
Galesburg ó I went to school there ó and he always said
he liked the sound of the place. And thatís where he is, all
right. In 1894.
Because one night, fussing with my stamp collection,
I found ó Well, do you know what a first-day cover is?
When a new stamp is issued, stamp collectors buy some
and use them to mail envelopes to themselves on the very
first day of sale; and the postmark proves the date. The
envelope is called a first-day cover. Theyíre never opened;
you just put blank paper in the envelope.
That night, among my oldest first-day covers, I found
one that shouldnít have been there. But there it was. It
was there because someone had mailed it to my grandfather
at his home in Galesburg; thatís what the address on the
envelope said. And it had been there since July 18, 1894
ó the postmark showed that ó yet I didnít remember it at
all. The stamp was a six-cent, dull brown, with a picture
of President Garfield. Naturally, when the envelope came
to Granddad in the mail, it went right into his collection
and stayed there ó till I took it out and opened it.
The paper inside wasnít blank. It read:-
I got to wishing that you were right. Then I got to believing
you were right. And, Charlie, it's true; I found the third level!
I have been here two weeks, and right now down the street at the
Daly's, some one is playing piano, and they'er all out on the front
porch singing ĎSeeing Nelly Home.í And Iím invited over for
lemonade. Come on back, Charley and Louisa. Keep looking till you
find the third level! Itís worth it, believe me!"
The note is signed 'Sam'.
At the stamp and coin store I go to, I found out that
Sam bought eight hundred dollarsí worth of old-style
currency. That ought to set him up in a nice little hay,
feed and grain business; he always said thatís what he
really wished he could do, and he certainly canít go back
to his old business. Not in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1894. His
old business? Why, Sam was my psychiatrist.