Behind the Scenes Minis: Grand Central and Zoe and TheodoraStuff You Missed in History Class
- 885 views
- 5 Mar 2021
Holly and Tracy talk about what a jerk Cornelius Vanderbilt was, trivia about the Grand Central story, and Tracy’s first visit to Grand Central Terminal. Then they discuss the myriad levels of confusion possible regarding names in the story of Zoe and Theodora.
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Welcome to stuff you missed in history class. A production of I Heart Radio. Happy Friday, everybody, I'm Holly Fry, and I'm Tracy B. Wilson. So we talked about Grand Central Terminal this week, Tracy. We sure did.
There's so much about this that I couldn't really put in the episode one. Cornelius Vanderbilt. Yeah, what a jerk.
You know, that's like the kind family friendly way I will put it.
But there's a famous quote by him that comes up every time you read anything about him, which is that when he was in one of his long ongoing feuds with another business person, he would say to them, I won't sue you. Because the courts take too long, I'll ruin you and and which he did, I mean, we talked about it, you know, pretty passingly, like he would just create scenarios where other companies could not survive and then say, well, step out of this industry if you'll just pay me every month for ever to not make more money here.
He also oh, there's some I did not go down the rabbit hole too far because it was infuriating. He was just deeply misogynist and, you know, talked about how he didn't really care about his daughters because they weren't as important to him as his sons. And it's interesting because you'll also sometimes see discussions of his wife being really important to the business. And she ran a business on her own. And I don't have a good sense of what their relationship was, but I do have a good sense that Cornelius Vanderbilt was a jerk.
There's also, though, lots of fun trivia that comes with that story that doesn't necessarily fit into that narrative. For example, when they built Grand Central Depot, that meant that New York and Harlem station, which had existed prior and was one of the ones they were using, was no longer needed. And Vanderbilt sold it to P.T. Barnum. And that is where P.T. Barnum set up the first iteration of Madison Square Garden. Huh. Which is just a cool New York trivia thing.
Yeah, we mentioned in the episode that when they rebuilt Grand Central Terminal, it didn't have stairs. Everything was ramps, which is cool for a variety of reasons. Like I, I really, really love. There's a particular piece of writing that's like marketing, writing about the new terminal and how, you know, even toddlers can handle transitioning from one place to the other without it being a problem. But the best, at least in terms of making me giggle phrase of it, was that there were the ramps were available for women trailing along in preposterous train like you had a ridiculous dress on.
Don't worry, there are no steps. Yeah.
Although why one would travel in a long and preposterous dream. I know travel has changed a great deal. You used to dress up for it, but that just made me laugh and laugh and laugh. It's also really interesting because the guiding principle of Vanderbilt was, even though he did philanthropy kind of later in his life after his first wife died and his second wife encouraged him to do so, he was pretty open about I don't care about the people or the community.
I'm in it for the benefit of the business in everything he did. And even after he was out of the picture, that was still in many ways like the driver of things, or people would be like, no, no, this is going to be cool and create a community, but it's really good for the business.
Yes. Just, you know, one of those things that anyone that's worked for any corporation, I'm sure, has had similar ethical discussions.
Right. About really what is driving any of their innovation or plans. It just made me laugh. The one thing that's also interesting in this, we talked about how the neighborhood around Grand Central just rocketed in terms of value and is an interesting juxtaposition. Penn Station did not have the same instant effect on its neighborhood. Just an interesting little factoid.
Well, that's connected to my Grand Central story is that I was going to tell you, which is that my preferred way of getting to New York from Massachusetts is on the train, because even though, like, if you fly from Boston to New York, your time spent in the air is way shorter than the train trip. But like door to door, it's effectively the same room.
The train is, in my opinion, more comfortable.
Just a more fun trip. I like to watch things out the window, et cetera. But the Amtrak trains, until very recently all came into Penn Station and departed from Penn Station and Penn Station is just kind of dark and dingy and it's just not a fun or pretty place to hang out. And I've had two trips to New York on the train that were significantly delayed because of a problem. One time it was a tree fell onto the track and one time it was a derailment that happened right outside of New York.
And on that derailment trip, we had to go through a whole process of switching on to other trains and then finishing our trip into New York on a Metro North train that came into Grand Central instead of Penn Station. And I remember getting off of the train after this many, many hours longer than normal trip. I was very tired and it was a work trip. So I had somewhere I needed to be. And I kind of made my way out from immediately after getting off of the train.
And then I walked into like the Grand Central Terminal area and I was like, how can I come into and out of this station all the time?
Every time? It's very pretty. It's so. And I sadly did not have time to, like, really appreciate it because I needed you know, I needed to get to my hotel and get to our work dinner or whatever it was that was on the schedule.
They have moved the Amtrak lobby like a brand new thing, just opened literally a month ago. And I haven't seen it in person yet because, of course, we are not taking trips to New York right now. But, yeah, I still remember just being, like, so exhausted and so tired and like Amtrak had really tried so hard to keep everybody informed of what was going on and to keep us as comfortable as possible. It was still a frustrating trip.
And I just remember suddenly being like, oh, what is this beautiful country?
And then you get to see that statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt that everybody pay him because they say he looks wooden and weird. Yeah, it's a lot of money on the statue, one of our episodes on the show this week was about Zoe and Theodora here.
So I don't remember how Zoe and Theodora made their way onto my list, but at some point I ran across them. You mentioned about Zoe and Theodora as having been empresses together. One of the things that's a little challenging, as I alluded to in the show, is that a lot of the names are the same in over and over and over.
And I don't know if they're identically the same in Greek, but the Anglicized versions of them are the same. And so there as I was doing my research, I think that I often do as I go and I bookmark a whole bunch of stuff, I grab a bunch of stuff that then I'm going to go through later. And as I was going through the things I had already gathered together, I would be like, Oh, this is not the same Theodora.
In fact, this is not the same Zoe.
I got deeply confused, trying to confirm sort of the progression of the Imperial Dynasty and who followed who because there was a different Théo Fano and close enough to this particular family that I got so lost.
I was like, wait, just wait. She wasn't married to him.
I was about to draw the family tree when I realized I was just looking at a different person with the same name.
Yeah, I think that's always the pitfall in doing any, particularly as you go back to more ancient times, any royal family as it is, name after name after name, following in the lineage as part of just the way they managed their their ruling. I'm going to be honest, it is one of the reasons why royalty episodes are like not at the top of my interest a lot of the time, because I'll just be like, why? Why is it another Michael?
Other names. I will say that after doing a season of Lady Poisoners on criminal, I'm like, Oh yeah, Zoe was poisoning people left and right. I'm convinced of it.
It's certain everyone poisoning everyone all the time. Yeah.
Yeah, so there is the entirety of an English language version of the chronograph here at Fordham University and there are medieval sourcebook that, you know, if you want to have a read of that, to see for yourself how sometimes dramatic and sometimes self-centered that account is.
There were times where I was just like people describe you as a historian, but like this is not read as a historical account at all. This reads almost like you're writing a treatment for an opera like a particularly dramatic opera.
Is there any other kind of we're going to add a boring opera about Zoe and Theodora?
I don't think that would work out. There was just too much write, too much potential murdering and banishing people and possibly torturing their hair in the blinding of the blood of windings and castrations. Yes, not that's not cool.
No, it's not cool, everybody, because it is the as we said, the veracity of these accounts. We know you have to kind of question a little. Hmm. But it does also put in kind of sharp focus just the cruelty of the the manner in which power has always been seized. Yeah. And maintained. Yeah. Yeah.
The series with Zoe's husbands coming to the throne and then immediately banishing her, I was like, that's a pattern now. Yeah. Constantly vanishing.
Um, what are the things that I like to talk about in episodes in general is like what somebody is impacter legacy was and that was really hard with Zoe and Theodora like that because they were at the very end of an imperial dynasty. And then afterwards there was this period of just chaos with so many so much turnover and who was supposed to be ruling in the immediate years and decades afterward. But I was like, wow, I feel like this episode just has a beginning and a middle and an end and then just kind of stops sorry is over.
Yeah. I mean, that's valid, right? With everything that they may have worked towards kind of got thrown out the window by constant challenges after the fact.
So again, poison's I believe in my soul perfume's bring me herbs.
That'll be cool there for perfumes. Come on.
Yeah, we all know better. It was the poison lab there.
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