Is the Secret Subway in the New Spider-Man Real? Explained.

Slate's Culture Blog
May 1 2014 8:03 AM

Is the Secret Subway in the New Spider-Man Real? Explained.

Spider-Man_train
Here's what's real and what's not about the secret station in the new Spider-Man.

Still from the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2

For New Yorkers and history nerds, the most interesting thing about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 might be its flirtation with NYC urban legends. We learn early on about a mysterious location or person called “Roosevelt,” and Peter Parker eventually figures out—spoiler alert—that this was the name of his father’s secret lab, located at a hidden subway platform once used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Did FDR really use a hidden railway platform?

Yes. There are some aspects of the hidden station, called Track 61 and located under the Waldorf Astoria hotel, that still remain mysterious, but historians have sorted out the basic facts. When the Waldorf-Astoria building was constructed in 1930, it was built with its own private platform, to be used by the private cars of the very rich. The platform wasn’t exactly a secret—the plans were reported in the New York Times in 1929—but it could be used for secret purposes. More intriguingly, it is still kept for similar secret purposes today.

The most famous such use of the hidden platform came on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s trip to New York City in October 1944. While campaigning for his fourth presidential term, the president was trying to hide the fact that he was bound to a wheelchair. On Oct. 21, 1944, Roosevelt ended his day with a speech to the Foreign Policy Association at the Waldorf. As confirmed by the Secret Service Logs, Roosevelt left by taking the elevator down to the platform, where his poor health could be kept a secret, and from there he set out in his private railway car for Hyde Park.

FDR wasn’t the only dignitary to use the “presidential siding,” or track. Gen. John J. Pershing and Gen. Douglas MacArthur also made use of it while staying at the Waldorf. And it was used at least a few times for more commercial purposes: When Filene’s held a fashion show in Grand Central after the war, executives and the press were invited to a lunch in a diner that was “brought to the Presidential siding under the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for the occasion,” according to the Times. In 1965, the platform was the location for an “underground party” thrown by Andy Warhol. In 1980, the Times reported that the area had become occupied by squatters.

The platform is still kept as an escape route during presidential visits. In Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America, by New York Times urban correspondent Sam Roberts, Roberts describes a chilling experience that Peter Kalikow had while exploring the tracks in 2003. Kalikow, who was then chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, tried to visit the platform when “several well-dressed, polite, but persuasively armed men in suits emerged from the underground shadows and stopped him.”

“It’s his railroad,” an aide said, gesturing to Kalikow. To which a Secret Service agent replied, “Not today.” Kalikow later learned that President George W. Bush was at the Waldorf for a United Nations General Assembly session and the Secret Service had secured the siding beneath the hotel as a potential escape route ...
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According to Roberts’ book, published in 2013, this has remained standard procedure. “When the president stays at the Waldorf, not only is the underground siding secured, but a special, fully manned diesel-powered train has been kept idling there in case he has to be whisked off Manhattan island.”

It sounds like something out of a comic book. So where does Spider-Man diverge? The movie is a bit fuzzy on the details, but it seems to imply that the platform Roosevelt used was along the D train, even though, at least outside of the Marvel Universe, the D train has never run near the Waldorf Astoria. Track 61 was also never served by the New York City Subway system, so it will take more than one of those old subway tokens to reach. If you want to see what the platform looks like today, you can see photos over at Gothamist or you can watch video from the Today Show (which goes into legends that are harder to verify) below. Though it’s still kept as an escape route for presidents, it’s not so glamorous as it must have looked in the days of FDR.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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