We can’t go back and walk through the old Penn Station, it has been replaced by the imposter that now stands in its place at 7th Avenue and 32nd Street in Manhattan. We can’t disembark from a train, slowly climb a staircase, gaze up at the stations shimmering arched glass ceilings, and take a peek out and up into the sky. We can’t look at the beautiful clocks, the walls, ceilings and towers, as we proudly head out onto the surrounding streets. The station and all its grandeur is gone, destroyed by a struggling railroad company in a desperate attempt to save itself from its own demise which inevitably came only a few short years later.
For those of us who want to recapture the look and feel of the great station, there are many pictures (most of which are in black and white), to look at and learn from. We can see the lobbies, the walls, the waiting rooms, the crowds, and how they changed only slightly over a long period of time. But actually touching and feeling the station is a treasure reserved just for those old enough and fortunate enough to have been able to stand inside its walls prior to 1963.
There are nevertheless a few parts of the old station that we can still walk right up to and touch. Much of the original statue work from the station is preserved in locations throughout the country. It’s most prominent survivors are 14 original large marble eagle statues.
The Statues Explained
On each of Penn Station’s four sides was a center entrance. On top of each of these were statues. The 7th Avenue statue is shown below, circled in red.
The Statues Up Close
The statues on three of the four sides of the station looked more or less exactly like the one below. Four large eagles (on the outsides), two smaller eagles (very close to the center), and two women, (or maidens) right next to the clocks. One maiden was referred to as a day maiden, (with her head up and over a blanket), the other as a night maiden (with her head down and under the blanket). The maidens were supposed to signify that the station and railroad never sleeps.
8th Avenue Entrance Only Has Two Large Eagles
The 8th avenue entrance had two large eagles instead of four. Everything else about it was the same as the others (two small eagles, day maiden, night maiden, clock). The 7th Ave was the only one entrance which the statues were on ‘steps’. On the three other sides all the statues were at even level like the one shown below.
So we have four large eagles on three sides, plus two more on the fourth side, for a total of 14 large eagles. We also have eight small eagles, (two on all four sides), four day maidens (one on each side), four night maidens (one each side), and four clocks (one on each side).
Where Are The 14 Eagles Today
So where are the large Eagles that once graced Penn Station now? All 14 are still in existence and can be accounted for, which I show below. At the time of the demolition of the station, the Pennsylvania Railroad company passed them on, in certain cases they honored requests for them which they felt were deserving, and in other cases gave them to organizations or individuals who they felt could put them in a worthwhile place. Some of the choices they made were probably a bit odd, but luckily all the eagles have all been preserved to this day. Please note that much of the tracking of the eagles has been done by LIRR historian Dave Morrison, without whom this page would not be possible.
Eagle 1 – Penn Station South
Two old Penn Station Eagles sit right in front of the new Penn station. This eagle is near 31st Street and 7th Ave. In 1968 it was brought back here, to the same block it had stood for more than 53 years prior.
Eagle 2 – Penn Station North
About a block or so north of eagle #1.
Eagle 3 – Cooper Union
The only other eagle still in Manhattan. It was originally sent to Cooper Union to honor Penn Station designer Adolph A. Weinman who went to school here. It was in a courtyard at Astor Place and 3rd until recently but was moved up to the roof of the new Cooper Union Bldg. The photo below is of it being moved to the roof. This eagle now soars higher than any of the others from Penn.
Eagles 4 and 5 – Great Neck Merchant Marine Academy
Eagles 4 and 5 are in front of the gym at the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, on Long Island.
(Photo from Dave Morrison)
Eagle 6- Hicksville Train Station
Brought to the Hicksville train station at the request of local latin High School teacher Samuel Goldberg for the High School Latin club. The eagle was restored in 2010 by the Hicksville Historical Society. I find it interesting that the eagle went to Hicksville not because of its service at the greatest center of transportation in the world, but because of its Roman style architecture.
(Photo courtesy of Valerie Pakulak)
7,8,9,10- Market Street Bridge
Originally given to the Fairmount Park Art Association, these four eagles are on the corners of the Market Street Bridge in Philadelphia. The lights above the eagles look very similar to original Penn Station lighting. Probably brought here because the parent company of the Penn Railroad was based in Philadelphia, these eagles seem a little out of place being located in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. It kind of reminds me of New York sports legend Mark Bavaro, who looked similarly out of place in a Philly uniform, when he played for … the Philadelphia Eagles.
11 – The Smithsonian Museum
This Eagle was sent here to be part of the national zoological park in 1965.
(Photo from Dave Morrison)
13 – Sydney Hampton College VA
Probably brought here by Dr. Sydney Shelton H. Short, a graduate of the school. He was known for acquiring famous artifacts. This is the Eagle that has flown the farthest south from Penn Station.
(Photo from Dave Morrison)
14 – Vinalhaven ME
Brought here in 1966 because the original granite for Penn station was quarried here. Although The Eagles themselves are marble, and it is now believed the granite may have come from Massachusetts. Nevertheless, this is the eagle that has flown the furthest north from Penn Station, and it is the only one to make if off the mainland.
It’s probably not possible, but wouldn’t it be great if we could figure out which Eagle stood above which entrance at the station, and exactly where it stood at that entrance. Is it possible? Were there any discerning marks on any of the eagles that can trace them back to their original position at the station? Even if we could determine it for one Eagle it would be incredible to figure out.
I intend to discuss the whereabouts of the 8 small eagles, the four day and four night maidens, and the clocks in a future blog. The head of one of these ‘smaller’ eagles was recently discovered with the help of Mr. Morrison and is currently on display at Grand Central Terminal. (Another story on the find here).
More On The Eagles
TrainsAreFun Eagle Page