Some things never change. Given a free afternoon, you are not likely to elect to spend it commuting across a big city. But commuting has been a daily reality since at least the end of the 19th century — and for many of us, it still is.
However, whatever our commute might be, it’s unlikely that it takes us across a city quite as cool as the version of New York shown here. These color photographs were taken by an anonymous photographer in July 1961.
The subway is populated, it would seem, entirely by extras from “Mad Men” — and note the impressive number of hats being worn with considerable elan. But even more impressive is the majestic Grand Central, at 42nd Street and Park Avenue — still today one of the world’s 10 most-visited tourist attractions.
In 1961, Kodak is telling Grand Central commuters that ‘home movies keep memories fresh forever.’ A brand new Oldsmobile Convertible automobile with extreme fins and white-walled tires sits upon a rotunda.
And the stone walls of Grand Central are yet to be scrubbed clean, still bearing the soot from fifty years of steam engines, plus endless plumes of tobacco. When the station was last cleaned, restorers left a small rectangle of dirt on the ceiling.
And meanwhile, over at Penn Station, you can choose between Coke and cocktails.
One other thing has changed for commuters, though: Without the clouds of tobacco smoke in the Grand Central air, the breathtaking streams of sunlight illuminating the plaza are far less noticeable today than they were sixty years ago.