It gives me tremendous pleasure to announce the springtime publication of a book about a most unique train ride that chugged through our area nearly 65 years ago. In April 1945, a train hauling the giant bronze casket of Franklin Delano Roosevelt–not to mention some A-plus list political figures, including all nine Supreme Court justices, the entire Cabinet, ample Secret Service and perhaps even a KGB spy–made its way from Georgia up to Hyde Park, New York.
FDR’s Funeral Train: A Betrayed Widow, a Soviet Spy, and a Presidency in the Balance follows the high-wattage entourage as it wends its way along its 1,000 mile journey to Roosevelt’s final resting place. MacMillan publishes it in April and you can pre-order it on Amazon.
What makes me super-psyched is not just that the historic train ride at times went over Metro-North, New Jersey Transit and LIRR rails–unbeknownst to a sleeping Tri-State area, no less–but that it’s authored by Robert Klara–known to early Trainjotting readers as Engine Bob.
Klara penned the popular “Ask Engine Bob” column–exquisitely detailed and humorous answers to readers’ questions about railroad travel, Grand Central infrastructure and history, and train policy, in 2007. In fact, one column, about the mysteriously hidden Track 61 in Grand Central, actually touches on FDR riding the hidden rails into Grand Central and, we’d like to think, was the impetus for Klara’s book. We got some mad traffic on that one after Matt Lauer poked around on Track 61 on a special investigative Today show.
Engine Bob wrote: Arriving in the private Presidential railroad car-often arriving from his boyhood home in Hyde Park, just up the Hudson Line-FDR and his entourage would pull up to Track 61, alight, and take the elevator straight up to the hotel’s Presidential Suite. It must have been something to see.
Rob is also a good friend and, with TJ’s Rolodex lousy with wordsmiths, one of the top 2 or 3 writers I know. Rob is the kind of guy whose idea of a perfect Saturday is leafing through stacks of yellowing periodicals in the bowels of the New York Public Library to unearth heretofore little or unknown tidbits about New York history.
Like the tenacious reporter he is, Klara got a bunch of previously classified Secret Service documents declassified, and had some crazy fun with it. I can’t wait to see what Engine Bob comes up with.
By way of a synopsis:
Most commuters on Metro North, New Jersey Transit, and the LIRR are vaguely aware that the tracks they’re riding on have a history that predates the MTA. But check this out: Back during WWII, these lines were also part the most top-secret railroad journey of the 20th Century.
FDR’s Funeral Train, a new book scheduled for release by Palgrave Macmillan in April of 2010, tells the incredible story of the special train that took the body of Franklin D. Roosevelt from Warm Springs, Georgia (where he died suddenly on April 12, 1945) to Hyde Park, New York, his boyhood home where he wished to be buried. Of course, everyone in America knew that FDR had died, so what was so secret? Not only did the train carry Roosevelt’s remains in a 700-pound bronze casket, it also carried the entire federal government—key members of the House and Senate, the entire Cabinet, President Harry S. Truman, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plus all nine justices of the Supreme Court.
Concentrating the country’s leadership aboard a single conveyance was a venture so risky to the wartime security of the United States, it took the combined efforts of Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. armed forces, and the NYPD to devise a way to protect the train—which was routed through New York City in an elaborate switchback during the wee hours of April 14, 1945. Most New Yorkers, sound asleep, had no idea what was happening.
In the year he spent pouring over declassified Secret Service documents and the long-fogotten diaries of the train’s passengers, author Robert Klara (a contributor to Trainjotting in the early days) discovered a few other interesting things: FDR’s funeral train carried a body that might not have belonged to FDR, and its passenger manifest included a man who turned out to be a spy for the KGB. (There’s also stuff about the atomic bomb in here, too, but enough for now.)
FDR’s funeral train will be released to coincide with the 65th anniversary of FDR’s death. You can find the book at all major booksellers and at Amazon.com. (ISBN-13: 978-0-230-61914-2)