About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Mystery of FDR's Armored Train and Grand Central Terminal

The rail car on Track 61
In Terminal City by Linda Fairstein set in and around Grand Central Terminal in New York City one of the striking and enduring images is the armored train car located at Track 61 below the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Fairstein sets out how the train car has been sitting there for decades. When the detectives go inside they find china bearing the Presidential seal. There is discussion about how the President’s Pierce Arrow car would be driven off the rail car with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the car and taken up an elevator to gain access to the hotel. Everything was being done to conceal FDR’s inability to walk because of polio.

The picture of this historic train car stayed with me as I read the book. I was interested enough to look up on line what I could find out about this armored train car in Manhattan. I was surprised with American love of history that the site and train car had not been made into a tourist attraction.

There are lots of stories about Roosevelt’s armored train resting on Track 61 including the Daily Mail of England and the Connecticut Post.

There is a video from an NBC story with Matt Lauer talking about the train (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2008/05/matt_lauer_shows_us_fdrs_secre.html).  With him is Dan Brucker (a constant source in various stories about Track 61) from Metro North, the company running Grand Central, is telling the story. He speaks definitively of the platform and elevator being built strictly for FDR. He asserts the armored train car has been there since the 1940’s. He says it was painted a special presidential green. It is titled the Ferdinand Magellan on the video.

From the video I learned that it was not a passenger car below the Walorf Astoria but a 1940’s freight car.

One article states that after Roosevelt died in 1945 the train had not moved since that time.

The articles suggest it is not a tourist attraction as it is part of a plan to allow a President  to make an emergency exit from New York City.

Alittle more research brought me to an article published by Columbia University on the Waldorf Astoria platform (http://www.columbia.edu/~brennan/abandoned/gct61.html).

The platform was actually built before the hotel was constructed. It was the loading platform for a powerhouse on the site. The elevator was put in when the hotel was built well before FDR’s Presidency. Both used by the Waldorf Astoria for guests arriving on private rail cars.

It took but another search to determine that the actual armored rail
The real Ferdinand Magellan armored rail car
car in which FDR rode was called the Ferdinand Magellan. It was one of 6 Pullman observation cars named for famous explorers. It was built in 1928 not for FDR but general service. It was originally painted “Pullman” green which was resistant to showing spots. During WW II it was adapted for Presidential use and was used by presidents subsequent to FDR.

The real life Ferdinand Magellan is located in the Gold Coast Rail Museum in Florida (http://www.gcrm.org/index.php/exhibits/ferdinand-magellan-us-car-1).

There is reason to doubt there was a second armored train car for FDR starting with the basic question of why the baggage car would need to be armored. Brucker suggests it had gun ports. One article suggested that if a reader believes the freight car at the Waldorf Astoria platform is an FDR armored train car the reader might be interested in buying the bridge to Brooklyn.

I admire how Fairstein added interest to the book through her creative use and adjustment of the rail car actually sitting on Track 61. She used authorial licence to make it a more interesting story.

What surprised me was how willing mainstream media has been to simply accept what Brucker was telling them.
Terminal City by Linda Fairstein


  1. Really interesting, Bill! It is amazing to me how those fascinating parts of history can sometimes be so little-known. And of course, it all shows that New York City has a lot of stories to tell. It's god to hear that Fairstein 'did her homework.'

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. The next time I am in Grand Central I will be paying more attention to the building

  2. Great article, Bill. Lots of information here I had never heard about. And it makes me even more interested in Terminal City by Fairstein.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I just touched upon the information about terminal city.