When FDR was president in the 1930s, the White House put a simple demand on the owners of Grand Central: protect the secrecy of Roosevelt’s polio.
They weren’t being vague: They had a plan, and that involved the construction of a secret, fully functional train station deep below Grand Central. And so it was built. Brucker took me to see it–through doorways I’m not allowed to identify, for reasons that will soon become clear–and explained what went on, and still goes on, underneath the busiest train terminal in the U.S.
FDR was from New York state and often returned to New York City. Because his physical condition was not understood by a public that likely would have been unsympathetic to seeing the commander-in-chief in a wheelchair, the president would arrive in New York on a special private train.
But instead of pulling into a normal platform and having a normal train car, FDR arrived on a custom car that contained his 1932 armor-plated Pierce-Arrow limousine. By the time the train would get into the secret tunnels, the president would be inside the limo, and when it hit the platform, the car would be driven out through special, wide doors and then into a special wide elevator. He would then alight into the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel above.
The secret train car was armor-clad, and had bullet-proof glass, which in those days meant little more than many, many layers of glass, Brucker said. In addition, a series of vents along the top of the train car were actually gun ports, and it featured unique wheel assemblies that allowed no lateral movement. That was because any such movement would have shaken FDR out of his wheelchair.