The FDR train car
Grand Central Terminal has a secret track under the Waldorf Astoria Hotel that allowed VIP’s to access the hotel directly during the golden age of rail travel. If you had a private rail car you could pull into Track 61 and use a special elevator to bypass the plebeians in Grand Central and go directly to your suite.
There are conflicting reports on if the platform was originally intended for guests. It’s likely that it was designed for convenient delivery of goods and modified to serve as a VIP entrance. Regardless, the whole setup was able to meet the president’s armor-plated Pierce Arrow limo.
Now rich people keep their fancy cars on their boats, but they used to do that with the rail. Things change, but everything stays the same.
It’s fitting that when they decided the private entrance was no longer needed, it became the final resting place of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s private train car. However, the car that’s there isn’t the fancy car the president and his staff would ride in. Nope. The car that’s there is the train car that held his limo.
How do you get to Track 61?
There’s a locked door on 49th Street.
If you’re paying attention, you can catch a glimpse of it on the right side of the train when your MetroNorth train is pulling out of the station.
If you want to experience the golden age of rail, check out The Soirée on the Railway.
North Brother Island
In 1885, the isolation hospital on Roosevelt Island relocated to North Brother Island. The ruins of Riverside Hospital loom dramatically, swallowed up in the overgrowth.
If that’s not enough death and dying for you, in 1904 the General Slocum sank off the island, littering the shoreline with bodies.
After WW2, the island got a brief reprieve from the dreary and hosted veterans and their families during the housing shortage. That was short lived, though, and soon the buildings were turned into a drug rehab facility. Addicted to junk? They’d basically lock you in a room and let you out when they decided you were clean.
It’s been abandoned since 1963. Today North and South Brother Islands are a bird sanctuary.
How do you get to North Brother Island?
Get a kayak. Just don’t get arrested.
Alternatively, go back in time and contract smallpox or TB.
If you’d rather skip the terminal illness and criminal record, Curbed has some photos and Radiolab has you covered. You can take the subway to Cypress Ave and stare longingly from the shore of Port Morris.
Ellis Island Hospital
Yes, it’s easy to get to Ellis Island. Tons of tourists make the trip every single day. But most of the island is off-limits to visitors.
The Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital was America’s first public hospital. That’s an interesting fact to ponder in this age where Americans don’t want to provide healthcare to citizens, never-mind immigrants. The idea of keeping new immigrants in isolation seems pretty xenophobic, but in an era where this was how plagues spread you can make a logical argument for it. It was a lot easier to contain the spread of cholera in a time before air travel.
The hospital closed in 1930. This section of the island was declared excess property and abandoned in 1954.
How do you get to Ellis Island?
You can occasionally sign up for a tour through Untapped Cities. You can check out photos of the tour.
If you’re adventurous and okay with breaking the law, you can get yourself a kayak.
If you’re patient, the hospital will supposedly be open to the public in the future. Or you can go to Liberty State Park in Jersey City and bring your binoculars.
The luxury bomb shelter under Flushing Meadows
There’s a model home built for the 1964 World’s Fair under Flushing Meadows. It has three bedrooms, an eat-in kitchen, two bathrooms, a fireplace, a spacious patio, a fountain, and lots of closets. And it’s all underground, ready to withstand nuclear war. Ah, the future!
Up to a million people visited it during the Fair. There were disco parties on the patio and a song was written about it. And then we lost track of it.
Or so TV shows and rumors would have you believe. But the NYPL has the demolition records.
A 2014 expedition to locate the underground home failed to come up with any evidence that it exists, which wasn’t a shock, given that we have records of it having been demolished.
How do you get to the bomb shelter?
Get out your metal detector, pick a spot, and start digging. Let me know what you find.
The NYC Explorers Club
If you can get into the other spots on this list, you can get in here.