Business

November 24, 2013

The secret history of Shaw Industries

FDR, Nazis, covert trains and the ‘first red carpet’

NEW YORK — At the peak of the holiday season, Grand Central Terminal has more than a million visitors a day, store executives say. And most of them walk by completely unaware of the buried mysteries beneath their feet.

The U.S. government, for a while, liked it that way. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his close-knit and tightly lipped staff were among the few who knew the terminal’s secret tunnels and escape routes in and out of the bustling city.

But not even they knew those secrets had a connection to Dalton in the form of a red carpet, said Daniel Brucker, Grand Central Terminal historian.

Brucker spoke to Shaw Industries staff who were visiting New York City Monday during a reveal of Shaw’s new flooring product. The flooring is being featured during the Centennial Holiday Fair this holiday season at Vanderbilt Hall, a 12,000-square-foot vendor hub on the north end of the terminal.

And while Shaw leaders were eager to tout their selling points upstairs — how the flooring could endure the pressure of millions of feet this December — it was below in the terminal’s dirty and mostly abandoned tunnels where their faces lit up the most.

Through a hot, dark corridor of subterranean railroad, Brucker took Shaw staff to an abandoned train car used by Roosevelt in the 1940s and showed them an old photograph circa 1939.

It showed Roosevelt and his VIP staff exiting the train car on a long, red carpet.

“That’s us,” Dani Brock, director of retail marketing, said with a smile. “That’s Shaw.”

The first ‘rolling out of the red carpet’?

After researching where the carpet came from, Brucker said the “only logical producer” was Philadelphia Carpet Co., which Shaw bought in 1967.

“There’s no receipt,” Brucker said. “And the carpet has been rolled up and can’t be found. But Philadelphia was the only company that could make a 960-foot damn long carpet out of velvet at that time.”

The carpet company was also the only one at the time with “rail-side” factories, Brucker said, which meant they could have easily brought the carpet to Grand Central Terminal.

That same carpet, or one like it produced by Philadelphia, was also likely used in 1913 when Grand Central Terminal first opened to the public.

“That carpet could very well be the originator of the phrase, ‘rolling out the red carpet,’” Brucker said. “It had to be the first red carpet of its kind.”

The carpet was likely used every time Roosevelt arrived in New York City, the historian added.

So why was the leader of the free world, who led American through the Great Depression and World War II, coming to town through what Brucker calls a “dark, dank basement”?

Roosevelt was wheelchair-bound from physical illness many believe was polio so transportation had to be delicate, Brucker said. Roosevelt’s public image was important during World War II, Brucker said, and many advisors feared his illness would make him look weak.

“It was a time of tremendous fear,” Brucker said. “So you had the president coming into this secret train station. And they would roll this big rug down in front of him. It was used by FDR, but also by his VIPs.”

When Roosevelt arrived, he would be taken to his silver Phaeton limousine, also on the train, which was driven underground to a custom service elevator that would take the president to the surface of the city in secret. That way the public wouldn’t know about the president’s malady.

Nazis for Thanksgiving

Not too far from the secret basement was a room of rotary converters powering Grand Central Terminal and energizing its rails, now decommissioned, Brucker said.

“Nobody really knew about this at the time,” he said. “But Adolf Hitler knew. He knew about the sub-basement and the converter room because someone who worked down there had been expatriated back to Germany just before the beginning of the war.”

The Nazi government sent a U-boat to the coast of Long Island in late November 1944, dropping off four German saboteurs to find the converter and destroy it, Brucker said.

“These terrorists were planning to throw sand into these converters,” he said. “They would have killed the converters by making it concrete blocks of glass when they threw the sand into the machine.”

That would have crippled train transportation in the Northeast and, several historians believe, stopped at least 80 percent of the country’s stateside military movements during the war.

“Now, the FBI knew there were four Nazi saboteurs in the country,” he added. “But where were they? They made a beeline to Grand Central Terminal to destroy the sub-basement.”

But the spies were tracked down outside of the terminal, Brucker said, and the plot was ended.

“Two of the Nazis were executed,” he said. “But two were commuted and still are alive living in the U.S. now somewhere.”

Trey Thames, vice president of residential marketing for Shaw, said he was “blown away” to know that a carpet from his company’s past was in the backdrop during these major historic events.

“It was amazing, just to see the architecture and the city and the history,” he sad. “It’s been awesome. And know it’s tied in with that red carpet was just great. We didn’t know that until now.”

1
Text Only
Business
  • Hammock promoted at trade center

    Sue Hammock has been promoted to director of sales-meetings for the Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and the trade center.

    July 23, 2014

  • Metro Dalton’s unemployment rate up to 8.8 percent in May

    The unemployment rate for Metro Dalton — Whitfield and Murray counties — increased to 8.8 percent in May, up from 8.2 percent in April, the Georgia Department of Labor said Thursday.

    June 26, 2014

  • Powells back open 1 mlh.jpg Town Square Cafe carries on Powell’s tradition

    The sign above the door at 116 W. King St. may be different, but many of the faces inside remain the same.
    Jenny Lynch, owner of the Town Square Cafe, said she has retained many of the staff and even some of the recipes from Powell’s Country Kitchen, which had been a downtown Dalton landmark in the building since 1979.

    June 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Region earns ‘manufacturing community’ designation

    Northwest Georgia, including Whitfield and Murray counties, has been chosen as one of 12 regions nationwide that could get federal funds to sustain and expand manufacturing.

    June 1, 2014

  • Siegle, James-ColOR.jpg Synthetic turn pioneer Jim Siegle dies

    He was known as “The Grand Gentleman of Turf.”

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Metro Dalton’s jobless rate falls again

    Metro Dalton’s unemployment rate fell to 8.2 percent in April, down from 8.6 percent in March, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

    May 22, 2014

  • Community & Southern Holdings to acquire Alliance National Bank

    Community & Southern Holdings Inc. said Friday it has reached an agreement to acquire Alliance Bancshares Inc. and its subsidiary, Alliance National Bank.

    May 16, 2014

  • Biz expo '14 2 mlh.jpg At energetic expo, local business owners see signs of economic rebound

    “You give it your all.”
    That’s the biggest lesson Hank Fetzer says he learned after he helped start a business last year with his father Stan. But the importance of having drive, something his father taught him, also meant his father was someone he “didn’t see much” growing up.

    May 1, 2014 4 Photos

  • Carolyn Roan: What are you looking for?

    In my last column, I wrote about how important it is to get pre-qualified for a loan before starting a new home search. If you’re a seller you also need to understand the thought processes that buyers go through when they’re choosing a new home.

    April 25, 2014

  • Feds: home health company paying $150M settlement

    Amedisys Inc., a Baton Rouge-based home health company with operations in Whitfield and Murray counties, will pay $150 million to resolve allegations that it inflated Medicare billings and had improper financial relationships with referring physicians, the U.S. Department of Justice said this week.

    April 24, 2014