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The Angel of Grand Central Terminal

Posted on Monday, March 31st, 2008.


StoryCorps was born in October of 2003 in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. Since the inauguration of StoryCorps’ seminal StoryBooth, thousands of people have recorded conversations with their loved ones. For many the StoryBooth experience is love at first sight, or more aptly, love at first sensation. The experience is a series of unique sensations, from first reacting to the sight of an illuminated pod-like booth, to the distinct feeling of the outside world being vacuumed away with the closing “WHOOSH” of the giant sound proof door, to the final moments of an interview when you realize that 40 minutes really does pass a lot quicker then you thought. Perception of time tends to be lost as you surrender your senses to absorbing and sorting through memory. These sensations resonate with different people in very different ways, but whether the memories shared in the StoryBooth are pleasurable or painful, the experience is distinct.

I have a deep reverence for the intimate listening space of the booths. For me what makes the Grand Central Terminal StoryBooth so enchanting is the extreme juxtaposition of the booth to the chaos of its location in the worlds biggest train station in America’s most hectic city. The echoing hum of silence reverberating from the closing “WHOOSH” of the door is magnified in my imagination as I try to comprehend that half-a-million people rush through Grand Central Terminal everyday! As my mind’s eye tries to catch a fleeting glimpse of the memories and thoughts of some of those 500,000 people I am grateful that there is a space in this chaos to pause and listen closely.

Michael and Louisa

Of the thousands of people who have recorded conversations in the Grand Central StoryBooth, some have come back a second, a third or maybe even a fourth time to interview another friend or family member. Yet, I don’t think anyone has come back more times then Louisa Stephens. In the five years the booth has been open Louisa has taken a train from her home in Westchester County into New York City’s Grand Central Terminal to be a part of a staggering 79 interviews. Out of all those visits she has interviewed over 70 people. As Louisa would tell you, the Grand Central StoryBooth has had a lasting and deep impact on her.

As a facilitator I am humbled by every story I am blessed to hear. But I am always excited when I see that Ms. Stephens has booked a reservation on a day I am scheduled to work. Last week I had the opportunity not only to facilitate her interviewing a friend, but I had the distinct pleasure of listening to her tell a story of her own. Out of all the interviews she’s done, she has only been the “storyteller” 3 or 4 times. It was wonderful to go from listening to her listen to listening to her tell stories. What I think has endeared Lousia to StoryCorps is her natural affinity for people. Watching her listen is watching someone surrender with all the love in their heart to another person as though that person were the last life on Earth.

When Louisa said she had a story to tell I couldn’t wait to hear it. I was enraptured by the stories she shared. I think the same qualities that nurture her love for people also contribute to her ability to tell compelling stories. I could have listened to her for hours, and not so much for ‘what’ she told, but more so for ‘how’ she told it. In the sanctuary of the StoryBooth Louisa’s memories framed sensations that painted a picture of impressions so vivid I could taste and smell them as though they were my own.

Unfortunately, on May 15 the StoryBooth in Grand Central Terminal will hear its final interview. It will be a sad day for Louisa Stephens and all the people who, over the years, have contributed their energy, ideas, enthusiasm, and honest love for listening at StoryCorps’s seminal StoryBooth. I am honored to have had the privilege to get to know Lousia Stephens and bear witness to at least a couple of her interviews.

listen closely

Do you have memories of the StoryBooth at Grand Central Terminal? Post a comment.

2 Responses to “The Angel of Grand Central Terminal”

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  • It is amazing to hear that Ms. Stephens has had the opportunity to share so much, at just one of the many booths stationed througout the country for StoryCorps. The one interview I did last spring with my sister Rachel (who is also a facilitator), opened a very unique door for me which I hope many people, including myself, have the chance to revisit to share many more memories in the future. If there is a petition to keep the Grand Central Station booth open, please let me know, I’d be happy to sign it!

    Comment from Josh Falcone on April 7, 2008 at 12:21 am - Reply to this Comment
  • Not knowing exactly how the Story Corps booth worked I signed up for the last time slot on a muggy spring Sunday. I was prepared to go solo with a story to tell all rehearsed in my mind. When I got there Michael Premo, my facilitator (also a best friend of mine for years) told me that he would interview me and bring in his partner Sarah to do the recording. Although I had known Michael for a third of my life I was surprisingly nervous to be interviewed by him, but when the heavy door to the booth closed and I felt the bustling city fall away all nervous feelings were left outside in the empty terminal. Michael had told me that the interview was going to be 40mins and that when 5 minutes were left Sarah, our facilitator would show the time. I was amazed at how quickly this time passed and although I was sitting in a sound pod in the fastest moving city in the world surrounded by mics and machines I felt just as peaceful and at ease as if I was sitting on my sofa with him. Michael was calm and the way he spoke was effortless, gently guiding me through the interview asking some questions to bring me back to that time in my life and asking other questions to take me into the future and find out how these experiences will affect things to come. He drew out emotions from me I never knew were there with regards to my story. Before I knew it Sarah had raised her hand to say we were done, I was having my picture taken, and being given my CD to keep. I recommend this experience to everyone and have scheduled a time slot for me to interview my father this spring. I tucked the CD into a journal and put it on my bookshelf. I haven

    Comment from Catherine H Xeller on April 1, 2008 at 12:05 pm - Reply to this Comment

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