Saturday, January 7, 2012

Observations from the Underworld

It honestly doesn't fit me at all but I have this love of history that came to bloom while I was studying for my degree. New York is filled with history of every kind from how Wall Street got its name to the secret galleries at Saint Augustine Church where escaped slaves could listen to church services without being seen. What really fascinates me are the abandoned stations and tunnels of the New York underworld. The MTA is in no way thrilled with people wandering around these abandoned or never used portions of New York's subway system but my friend Stacy does just that for a hobby. She told me the following story about one of her favorite spots of the New York underworld.

About four blocks north of Grand Central Terminal and 200' below the Waldorf Astoria Hotel is one of the greatest secrets of the city's modern history. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was paralyzed from the waist down from polio and was convinced that allowing the public see him in a wheelchair would end his political career. When he traveled to the northeast he rode in a specially built armored train which included a car carrying his Peirce Arrow limousine. This train would stop short of Grand Central, beneath the Waldorf, where Roosevelt would exit onto the platform already in his limo, drive into the freight elevator, and secretly enter the city.

On March 29, 1945 the secret train was sitting at the secret siding when Roosevelt died in Georgia. The armored Pullman car that carried his limo hasn't moved from that spot since.

Locked brass doors on the 49th street side of the Waldorf, which open to a staircase leading down to the platform, are the only above ground evidence of this secret station. The neighboring doors to the elevator itself have been welded shut for years so it's a topic of debate as to whether this elevator opened onto 49th Street only or also into the original Waldorf ballroom. To me the later seems to defeat the whole purpose of the secret siding far below. Seriously, how can you keep secret the arrival of the president's armored limousine in the ballroom?

The official designation of this hidden siding is track 61 but it was known to station workers only as the Roosevelt platform. Until just a few years ago officials from the FDR Museum and the MTA denied the very existence of the platform or the ghost train sheltered there and to this day the spur isn't shown on any maps of the subway system.

But for those who know the secrets of this underworld there is always a way in, another more secluded entrance, or an even more secret tunnel.

I think maybe it would be a totally awesome spot to celebrate New Years Eve. But I suppose I'll never know that will I?