4. Grand Central Terminal’s clandestine sub-basement, known as M42, was a target of the Nazis during World War II

Grand Central M42 rotary
Power plant rotary in M42.

Many today believe that Grand Central Terminal’s sub-basement, known as M42, served as a target of the Nazi regime during World War II. However, while some truth can be found within the stories surrounding M42, the clandestine sub-basement’s legacy remains riddled with lies.

At the base of the myth is the belief that M42’s substations opened when Grand Central did in 1913. This is false. Instead, the terminal’s original electric power conversion substation was located above ground at 50th street and moved under the Graybar Building in 1929 so that the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel could be built.

Another mythical tale surrounding Grand Central is that of its infiltration by Nazi spies during World War II. Though German spies, also known as saboteurs, were sent to the United States through Operations Pastorius and Magpie, the substations of Grand Central were never any of their targets. While Grand Central might have been a plausible target for Operation Pastorius as it sought to disrupt train movement in the New York region, no official documentation has ever connected the substations to the operation. The website I Ride the Harlem Line did the heavy lifting to debunk this myth.

In relation to Operation Pastorius, it is widely believed that Nazi saboteurs were caught after they attempted to check a bag at Grand Central or had simply been arrested in the terminal. As the story goes, the eight saboteurs were caught because of the actions of George John Dasch, a Nazi who proceeded to call the FBI soon after their arrival in New York City and Florida. Though his teammates thought the call to be a joke, Dasch boarded a train headed for Washington D.C. a few days later to meet with the FBI, revealing that he sought to fight against Hitlerism and had decided to expose the mission as soon as it had been assigned to him. In reality, most of the spies never set foot in Grand Central with the New York team using the Long Island Rail Road and Penn Station to travel. From the Florida U-boat landing team, members Thiel and Kerling actually made their way through Grand Central because they feared direct trains from the state were being monitored. They, therefore, opted to take a roundabout route to New York via Cincinnati. In the end, all of the saboteurs except for Dasch and Burger, who had assisted in corroborating Dasch’s story, were executed by electrocution after a military tribunal within two months of their arrival from Germany.