Deep below Manhattan, an abandoned subway track gathers dust. At the end of Track 61, a rusty subway car rests quietly. Popular rumor holds it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s personal car. Supposedly, it was used to help him secretly enter the Waldorf=Astoria without revealing that he was partially paralyzed. This subway car is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of urban exploration. But is it the real deal? Or just a myth?
The Chaos Book Club
Today is Day 8 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:
The Invisible Track 61?
Track 61 is invisible to the average subway rider. It’s part of a hidden layup yard connected to Grand Central Terminal and lies beneath the Waldorf=Astoria. Many years ago, the Waldorf had a small cement platform installed next to the track. An elevator was built to connect the platform to the hotel. In effect, Track 61 became “an exclusive platform for the Waldorf’s use.”
According to legend, President Roosevelt used the platform whenever he was in New York City. He would take a private subway car to Track 61. Then his driver would drive FDR’s armor-plated Pierce Arrow car from the subway car into the elevator. From there, the car would ride up to the hotel’s garage, allowing the President to access the Presidential Suite without anyone knowing about his paralyzed legs. Later, Track 61 fell into disuse although it was used by the famous artist Andy Warhol when he hosted “The Underground Party.”
A Lost Subway Car?
On May 8, 2008, Matt Lauer of the Today Show visited Track 61 for a segment called “The Mystery of Track 61.” At one point, he examined a mysterious bulletproof car located at the end of the track. An MTA spokesman declared that it was FDR’s private subway car. Is this true?
Although it made great copy, most rail historians consider the story to be false. President Roosevelt did ride in a private subway car called the Ferdinand Magellan. But the Ferdinand Magellan now resides in Florida, not New York. Also, there is no evidence that FDR ever used the platform. According to Joseph Brennan, the earliest surviving story to that effect came from author William Middleton in 1977. So far, Brennan has been unable to find confirmation of the story.
So, what is this car then? The most likely theory is that it’s an old Pennsylvania Railroad express-baggage car from the 1940s. It was probably left behind for servicing. Thus, it appears that FDR’s lost subway car is, in fact, nothing more than a legend.
FDR’s Lost Subway Car & Chaos
The story of FDR’s lost subway car has taken on a life of its own and as I mentioned earlier, it is considered somewhat of a Holy Grail to urban explorers. When I wrote Chaos, I wanted Cy Reed to pay a special visit to the subway car. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t the only one in the area.
Cold, stiff fingers wrapped around my neck, choking off my reply. My head flew to the side, bashing into the door.
Foggily, I reached for my belt.
But my machete was missing.
With my head plastered to the door, I twisted my eyes to the side, seeing a murderous gaze staring back at me. My eyes bulged as they caught a glint of light.
It was my machete.
I didn’t know the man who held it. But I knew what he wanted.
He wanted to kill me.
And he was going to use my own blade to do it. ~ David Meyer, Chaos
In real life, the area around Track 61 once held a squatter community, similar in some respects to the Colony from Chaos. According to Brennan, “inflation and a poorly thought-through campaign to cut down on single room occupancy buildings” caused an increase in homeless people, some of whom relocated to the Waldorf platform.
Well, that’s all for today. Tomorrow, we’ll be moving to another New York City topic from Chaos, one that touches on cryptozoology. Alligators in the sewer! I hope to see you then!
Chaos Book Club
- October 17: Chaos has Arrived!
- October 24: The Story of Chaos
- October 25: The Great Train Robbery?
- October 26: Is Treasure Hunting Immoral?
- October 27: What was Operation Paperclip?
- October 28: Nazi Treasure & ODESSA?
- October 29: Do the Mole People Exist?
- October 31: FDR’s Lost Subway Car?
- November 1: Do Alligators Live in New York City Sewers?
- November 2: The Mysterious Minamata Disease?
- November 3: Die Glocke & Nazi Wonder Weapons?
- November 4: Buildering: The Art of Climbing…Skyscrapers?
- November 5: The Strange Case of Red Mercury?
- November 6: The Island of Stability?
- November 7: The Nazi Atomic Bomb?
- November 8: The Nth Country Experiment?
- November 9: Why did America really bomb Hiroshima?
- November 10: New York’s Forgotten Subway Tunnel?
- November 11: Alfred Ely Beach’s Last Secret?
- November 12: The Strange Science of Superconductors?
- November 13: What’s Next for Cyclone Reed?