Monday 21 January 2013

Armoured Train Hid President's Paralysis

Two hundred feet below Grand Central Station sits a neglected, rusting railcar that was unknown to the public until the 1980's.  It was used by President Roosevelt when he visited New York City to slip into the Waldorf Astoria without being seen, keeping his paralysis a secret from the world.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (anglicized from the Dutch Van Rosevelt) was born in Hyde Park, New York in 1882.  The only son of fifth cousins, he enjoyed a privileged childhood.  He attended Harvard and then law school.  He married his fifth cousin, Eleanor, in 1905 and they went on to have six children.  In 1910, Franklin was elected to the U.S. Senate.

While vacationing in Campobello Island, New Brunswick in 1921, Franklin was stricken with polio, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.  However, he was not willing to give up his political ambitions and therefore kept his paralysis a secret.

In 1929, Senator Roosevelt was elected governor of New York.  Later that year, the New York Stock Exchange plummeted followed by the Great Depression.  With a quarter of the nation unemployed, and with 2 million Americans homeless, Governor Roosevelt knew the public did not want to hear about his problems.    He continued to keep his paralysis under raps.  With the use of leg braces and hip irons, he was able to swivel his hips and "walk" short distances.

In 1932, Roosevelt was elected President of the United States.  Around the same time, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was built in New York City.  Under Grand Central Station, a platform was put in place and an armoured train car was built for distinguished guests to the hotel.  President Roosevelt became the chief occupant of that car.  Each time he visited the Big Apple, he would arrive in the armoured car, which held his personal vehicle, exit the train in his car directly into the hotel elevator, and then ride it into the hotel garage.  His aides would carry him up to his suite, the public none the wiser.

Despite his paralysis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt would lead the country, first through the Great Depression and then through the Second World War.  He would broadcast a fireside chat on the radio three or four times a year, reassuring Americans hit hard by the economic downturn.  He would participate in Lend Lease, helping the Allies early in the war.  He would deliver his famous speech after Pearl Harbor was bombed.  And he would pray with Americans on D-Day as the Allied soldiers launched their attack on Normandy's beaches.

Although Roosevelt had every reason to use his disability as an excuse, he never did.  He saw himself as quite capable.  And he wanted the world to see him that way too.  Back in the 1930's and 1940's when that armoured train steamed into Grand Central Station, little did New Yorkers know that it held a hero.

No comments:

Post a Comment