Old-time Underground

800px-WP_Beach_Pneumatic_TransitWhich rabbit hole did I just get lost down? Well, it started with a reference to Alfred Ely Beach (1826-96) and his pneumatic subway line in New York City (1870-73). That lead to the song “Sub-Rosa Subway” (1976) by the group Klaatu. There was also a side trip to FDR’s secret train station under the Waldorf-Astoria, Track 61.

Beach’s pneumatic subway was just a demonstration model, which ran one block under Broadway, from Warren Street to Murray Street. For 25 cents, riders could take the trip forward and then back. Beach’s plan was eventually to stretch the line all the way up to Central Park, but political difficulties followed by financial difficulties killed the project in its infancy.

“Sub-Rosa Subway” tells the whole story of Beach’s attempt in a soft-rock format. A nice tune, a good song.

Track 61 was something I’d known about, a rail yard which was built as part of Grand Central Terminal (the big train station in Manhattan: I worked across the street from the main building the first three years I was at Asimov’s and Analog). Since Park Avenue and the buildings lining it north of Grand Central are all actually elevated, built over the many tracks that make up Grand Central, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel just happened to be built over Track 61. There’s a small platform there, and an elevator traveling from the tracks into the hotel. It was used by (among others), President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, as an unobtrusive way to leave his train and get to the streets of New York City.

Click the links up in the first paragraph to read a bit more. Fascinating history.

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