Grand Central offers insights into social studies topics including the history of technology, transportation, electrification, air rights, urban growth and planning, the Gilded Age, Progressivism, pollution, the growth of suburbs, government regulation, public safety, Beaux Arts architecture, the history of New York City, and more. Use part or all of the program, or delve into the rich resources available on this website to learn more. This guide is divided into three elements: comprehension, activities, and further suggestions for classroom activities.
Use this activity with your students after they watch the program Grand Central. For each of the following statements, write T if it is true; if it is false, rewrite it so that it is true.
Imagine that it is 2013, and for Grand Central's centennial, New York City leaders plan to hold a ceremony honoring the man most responsible for making Grand Central possible. But they can't agree on who that is: Cornelius Vanderbilt? Whitney Warren? William Wilgus?
Assign each student one of the three men, and have each student write a 500-word statement that his or her assigned person would deliver to city leaders if he were alive, explaining why he deserves the honor more than the two other nominees.
Ask for volunteers to read their statements to the class. When the presentations are done, hold a class vote on who should be the "father of Grand Central."
Visit the gallery of photos of Grand Central and select the photo you find most interesting. Imagine that you were the one who took that photo (as a New York resident or a visitor to the city), and that you are now enclosing it in a letter to a friend or family member. In your letter, explain the circumstances under which you took the photo, what the photo shows about Grand Central, and your connection with Grand Central.
Post the photographs on a bulletin board, and beneath each one, post the letters students wrote about it. How different are the stories these letters tell?
As the film explains, Grand Central Terminal serves the New York City subway system as well as commuter trains from outside the city. Conduct an experiment to see how well students can navigate the rail and subway maps and schedules (as well as the websites) involved.
Have each student team up with a partner to plan a day trip to New York City from White Plains, New York. Teams should take the commuter train from White Plains to Grand Central Terminal, then take the subway to visit the American Museum of Natural History, Rockefeller Center, and Wall Street (in any order), then return to White Plains.
Each team should prepare a schedule for the day listing the commuter train they would take into the city in the morning, the subway lines they would take to visit the three sites in Manhattan, and the commuter train they would take to return to White Plains in the evening. Each team should also tally the cost of the train and subway trips required.
Have teams outline their proposed itinerary on a sheet of paper and post it for the rest of the class to review. Which group's itinerary appears the most accurate and logical?
Read these examples of stories about Grand Central in New York newspapers, such as the Park Avenue Tunnel Crash of 1902 or the opening of the new terminal in 1913. Imagine you are a New Yorker who lived through all four events described here --- and read about them in the newspaper. For each event, write a letter to the editor of one of the newspapers, giving your reaction to the event described and the coverage it generated.
As the film notes, by banning steam-powered locomotives from the city, New York forced the New York Central Railroad to be a pioneer in the new technology of electric trains, thereby reducing pollution in the city. Today, of course, much of New York's pollution comes from cars. Should the city ban conventional, gasoline-powered cars as a means of encouraging residents to buy hybrids or other cleaner vehicles instead?
Imagine that New York City is planning to hold a referendum on that question. Divide the class into two groups -- one in favor of the proposal and one against it -- and have the two groups produce one or more campaign posters, radio ads, and jingles to persuade people to vote for their side.
The "Father of Grand Central"
Students should consult outside sources for biographical details about their subject that would strengthen his argument for the honor and then include those details in their presentation. For example, Vanderbilt might mention his roots in the New York area, and Warren might mention the other New York buildings he helped design.
Picturing the Terminal
For example, students might imagine that they were passing through New York on a train journey and spent several hours in the terminal, during which they photographed other passengers waiting for their trains and wondered what those people's lives were like. Or, they might imagine that they are immigrants who settled in New York and have photographed the construction site as an example of the city's dynamism.
Getting Around Gotham
The Grand Central Terminal website is a good starting point for groups' investigations. (The term "Gotham" in this activity title is a nickname for New York City and appears in the "Batman" comic series; you might ask interested students to research its origins.)
Grand Central in the News
Where appropriate, letters should draw connections among events. For example, how might memories of the 1902 Park Avenue Tunnel crash affect a person's reaction to the 1907 Woodlawn crash? How might memories of the terminal's 1913 opening affect a person's reaction to the "Luxury Liner" introduced in 1938.
Students looking for examples of cities that have regulated car use may want to research the "congestion charge" London has imposed on cars entering certain areas of the city. This BBC webpage contains some basic information on the congestion charge.
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A new religion called spiritualism affected the nation in the era of Abraham Lincoln, P. T. Barnum and Frederick Douglass.
A look at five real-life "Rosies," the reality of working in defense plants during World War II and then having to give up those jobs for returning GIs.
The bizarre saga of the Symbionese Liberation Army and Patty Hearst's kidnapping and conversion to her captors' cause.
A man who symbolized African American equality fought a proponent of Hitler's Aryan racial theories on the eve of World War II.
A uniquely impressionistic history of the early years of the Space Race.
A great playwright's turbulent story, from childhood through the years of his Nobel Prize-winning career to his lonely, painful death.
P.T. Barnum -- huckster, con man, promoter, entertainer and founder of "The Greatest Show on Earth".