The inside of Union Station is pretty impressive to say the least. One of the first things you notice are these incredible marble columns – there are 34 of them and there’s a bit of a   controversy that surrounds them, but we’ll get into that in a bit.

Now if you were to walk down the center aisle and look straight up… well, we’ll let Joe Botini describe it.

Notice the barrel Vault ceiling in the center is 47 feet high and it has octagonal coffers in the center. Just a beautiful structure with the windows on the side. Now each side of the center section has a flat ceiling supposedly patterned or styled after a Roman bath, and you can see the sky lights on each side – there are four on each side – those skylights during World War two were painted black as a precaution against enemy planes seeing light.

The waiting room here is 15,000 square feet. The building is 120 feet by 128 feet. It’s almost a square building. The walls are marble panels. Now take a look down at the floor. The floor is terrazzo, which is a composite of chips of stone, glass, or other materials all sort of bonded together. And remember this floor is more than 100 years old. Now look around and notice…

Four 37-foot-long benches on either side, that are heated with steam heat inside the benches. Of course in a building this large, you don’t try to heat the building, so they heated the benches to keep the people warm.

Just think of the thousands and thousands of people who have sat on those benches over the years, waiting for a train. Lots of them were soldiers. Literally thousands of soldiers deployed through Union Station in World War One, World War Two, Korea, Vietnam. And a lot of them never came back.

But there’s still a hidden memory of the military presence here at Union Station.

Toward the front of the building, on the right, that’s now the Department of Motor Vehicles. But years ago, there was USO facility right in that spot, where those  soldiers could relax and take some time

to have a sandwich and a cup of coffee or maybe listen to music or just talk to some of the USO volunteers and occupy their time while they were waiting to go forward. That USO had some paintings on the wall.  Now I haven’t seen them, but I was told they’re still there because when the motor vehicle bureau moved in what they did was they just put up a fake or a partition in front of it – not to destroy the wall and the paintings behind it. So the USO is still with us. After all these years which is fantastic.

Now if you’re in the middle of the station, walking toward the back exit, you see a sign “Trains” over the doorway. 

This is the direction of going toward the train tracks boarding your train. To our left is one of the restaurants in this train station that’s kind of dear to my heart because I told you a moment ago when I worked at this wholesale meat house. After we got done unloading the train cars. We came here for pie and coffee. That was a big treat for us then and so this little not little but this restaurant has a little dear to my heart.

Now. Back to those pillars. Walk in front of the Trackside Restaurant and stand facing the front entrance.

There are 34 pillars. They are steel beams with concrete, wrapped in Vermont marble.

That is most of them.

Note that most of the pillars have horizontal seams. Each seam indicates a section wrapped around the pillar, and another section above it and so on. But eight of them don’t have seams. And two of those are right here in front of you – the two closest to the restaurant entrance .

Now why is that? There are eight pillars like this one throughout the station that don’t have a seam. My contention is – at one time when they were planning the station, it was at the same time – 1915-  was when they built the new train station in New York City,  the Grand Central, and they were going to send here – remember, New York Central owned both places – they were going to send here eight marble pillars for this station because this was their headquarters. And I contend that the eight that I find without seams are the eight that were sent here. Solid marble columns supposedly from Italy.

Local historians have been arguing about it for years.

Now imagine you’re going to turn around and head back out the main entrance of station. On the left, toward the front of the building, there’s a barbershop.

This is one of the few remaining barber shops in any train station in the country. It’s been open continuously since 1914. And being here is really like stepping back in time.

A couple of things to mention – if the barbershop has customers getting their hair cut, just please stay out outside, and please no pictures. But if it’s quiet in there, you might see the owner, Leo Gelman – he’ll be the guy with the goatee. And if he’s not busy, he’s more than happy to have you come in and have you take a look.

For now, just hang right here and take a look in. A lot of the shop is original. The floors, the sinks, the wainscoting on the walls – white cloud Vermont marble – all original. And according to Leo, those chairs are original too.

They were made in 1912 by the Koken Barber Chair Company. They cost $85 a piece at the time, but because they had mahogany arms with glass tops. It was an extra $5 so each chair cost $90. There were four chairs in here. That’s three hundred and sixty dollars for four chairs that he paid in 1914 a lot of money back, then I think it’s equivalent about seventeen or eighteen thousand dollars today. And as you can see there’s only two now, but this is an interesting story. A girl that worked for me years ago, 25 years ago, said I have a couple barber chairs I want to sell. She said would you be interested in them? I said alright how much you want for them? She said give me fifty bucks apiece. So my son and I go over there. We take them out of the cellar, we bring them back and put them in my barn where they sat for 15 years. I buy this place, the girl calls me up. She says Leo I heard you bought Union Station barber shop. I says, that’s true. She says well, you’re not gonna believe this. You know those two chairs that you bought from me? She said they were original in the Union Station shop. I said you’re kidding. She said no. So now I have all four original barber chairs that were in the shop.

Over the years, a lot of famous people passed through Union Station hand sat in those chairs for a cut and a shave, including Bobby Kennedy. The owner of the shop was a democrat…

And so was Bobby Kennedy. And at the time, in the 60s, a man named Dominic Assaro was running for mayor of Utica. Dominic Assaro and Bobby Kennedy were quite friendly. So what happened was, Bobby Kennedy came to Utica and made the statement – he had this long mop of hair – the Kennedys usually did – but Bobby’s was more unkempt than his brothers. And he made the statement that if Dominic Assaro won the election, he would get his hair cut. So that was popular to all the old folks at the time. So Dominic Assaro did win the election, and Bobby Kennedy got his hair cut in this barber shop.

Ok, now back up at the front of the station, as you walk out, there’s a big ticket sign over head.

If you look closely at the floor under any of the three windows right under the ticket sign…

You’ll see a little indentation now was that a mistake in the people who poured the terrazzo floor. I don’t think so this used to be the ticket office. And that my friends is years and years and years of people buying tickets.

Now we’re gonna head back outside the station and stop right outside the front doors.