There are secrets under our feet, above our heads, and around every corner in New York City, many you may be passing by without even knowing it. Some of these special nooks are easier to access than others, and one time capsule that remains just out of reach is Track 61, which, at one end, is found behind a locked door on 49th Street.
This is the secret train platform that Franklin D. Roosevelt and other VIPs used to enter the Waldorf-Astoria (it was first used by General Pershing in 1938). It has been out of service for decades, but back in 2011 we visited the underground space, which still houses the tracks, the train car, and even the private elevator. In September of 1929, the NY Times reported on the new hotel's private railway siding underneath their building.
"Guests with private rail cars may have them routed directly to the hotel instead of to the Pennsylvania Station or the Grand Central Terminal, and may leave their cars at a special elevator which will take them directly to their suites or to the lobby. The arrangement is made possible because of the fact that the New York Central tracks pass directly beneath the block, which has been obtained by the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria Corporation from the New York Central Railroad on a sixty-three-year leasehold, the lease being in reality only for the "air rights" on the site."
According to Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, FDR, who most famously used the secret entrance, did so "in part to hide his disability from the public." Everything was made so large that, according to the MTA's Dan Brucker, it could fit FDR's armor-plated Pierce Arrow car, which would drive off the train, onto the platform, and straight into the elevator.
Brucker has said that FDR's car would exit on 49th Street and head to the hotel garage, but on other occasions has said FDR's "limousine would be lifted up and then backed out into the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria." At least one visit is confirmed by Secret Service logs, and took place on October 21st, 1944, "when the president had a full day of campaigning in a 51-mile, four-borough motorcade. His day was capped by a speech at the Waldorf... at 10:05, according to the logs, he was to take the hotel's elevator 'and proceed via New York Central elevators to the New York Central Railway siding, located in the basement of the hotel, where his car will have been spotted.'" Here's an old History Channel report on the track:
How can YOU see it? An MTA spokesperson told us today that there are no tours, and "nothing has changed in 50 years. Except more dust." You can, however, spot it out the window of certain MetroNorth trains leaving the station—just look right as you depart.
In 2011, Brucker told us the train car would remain there, and so it has (so far). No parties though, like the one Andy Warhol threw on the tracks in 1965.