Preface in The Horseshoe Curve

The Horseshoe Curve
The Horseshoe Curve: Sabotage and Subversion in the Railroad City
“Timely...splendid....McIlnay has done a service to our nation in bringing to light these past events that have relevance today.”
—Cummins McNitt, Founding Director, Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum

Preface and Acknowledgements

For the past twenty-five years, I have lived within a few miles of the Horseshoe Curve and Altoona, Pennsylvania, the self-proclaimed “Railroad Capital of the World.” Each day going to work as a management professor at Saint Francis University, I drive on United States Route 22, which parallels the original line of the Pennsylvania Railroad near the Horseshoe Curve, the Allegheny Portage Railroad, and the Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. Despite living near these historic sites, I confess that before writing this book I knew almost nothing of my area’s railroad history.

Five years ago, I wrote a book called Juniata, River of Sorrows about the one hundred-mile Juniata River in central Pennsylvania. The book describes my float trip down the river and important events in the Juniata Valley in the 1700s. While promoting the book, I spoke to thousands of Pennsylvanians, many of whom asked, “What’s your next book about?” When I answered, “The Horseshoe Curve,” many inquired about the Pennsylvania Canal, the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the Horseshoe Curve, admitting, like me, that they knew little about these subjects. Even people whose family members had worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad acknowledged that they were unfamiliar with the company’s history. A descendant of Thomas A. Scott, legendary vice president and fourth president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1800s, told me that he knew hardly anything about his famous ancestor. (I gave him many pages of information about Scott from my research.)

Even fewer people I met knew of the federal government’s Alien Enemy Control Unit, which investigated hundreds of thousands of German Americans and Italian Americans during World War II. Likewise, few people knew about the Nazi sabotage mission against the United States in 1942 and its ten targets, the most prominent of which was the Horseshoe Curve. Hardly anyone knew that the FBI searched the homes of two hundred twenty-five “alien enemies” in Altoona on July 1, 1942 in response to the Nazi plot to destroy the Horseshoe Curve.

I wrote this book to learn why the Horseshoe Curve was built, how it was built, and why the Nazis sought to destroy it. I wanted to write about the people involved in the Nazi sabotage plot, the people behind the arrest of alien enemies in the United States, and the people who founded the Pennsylvania Railroad and built the Horseshoe Curve. I sought to capture the human drama of locating a rail route over the Allegheny Mountains, establishing the Pennsylvania Railroad, and building the Horseshoe Curve.

The Horseshoe Curve: Sabotage and Subversion in the Railroad City is written for the “general reader,” as publishers say, not for railroad historians and not for academicians, although historians will be interested in the book, and several reviewed the manuscript at my request. The book was written to be what publishers call “accessible”—interesting, informative, and easy to read. The true stories of the Nazi sabotage plot against the Horseshoe Curve, the FBI’s arrest of alien enemies in the United States, and the building of the Horseshoe Curve are compelling, and the book tries to do justice to their enthralling nature. I am not a historian; I am a storyteller and think that people like a good story well told. That was my purpose in writing The Horseshoe Curve.

The book has forty-seven chapters and three parts. Part One, “The Wolf,” is named for Adolf Hitler, who conceived the plot to destroy the Horseshoe Curve, which is considered one of the deadliest terrorist acts in history. Using first-person accounts and rare files from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Part One describes the planning of the sabotage mission, recruiting and training the saboteurs, their transport in submarines to Long Island and Florida, their preparations in Manahattan and Chicago, the betrayal of the plot by one of the saboteurs, and the arrest of the terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Part One also covers the military tribunal that convicted the eight saboteurs and reviews two landmark decisions of the United States Supreme Court on their fate, rulings that are among the major legal precedents for the imprisonment and trial by military tribunal of today’s Guantanomo detainees. Part One concludes with eyewitness accounts of the execution by electric chair of six of the eight terrorists. Had the Nazis succeeded in destroying the Horseshoe Curve, they could have crippled the American war machine and changed the course of history.

Part Two, “The Boss,” is named for J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and his involvement with the Alien Enemy Control Unit, one of the most controversial federal programs in the history of the United States. Using files from the Federal Bureau of Investigation acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, Part Two documents the little-known internment by the Alien Enemy Control Unit of eleven thousand German Americans and four thousand Italian Americans in the United States as suspected Nazi sympathizers. Most Americans know of the internment of one hundred twenty thousand Japanese Americans during World War II, but few know that this nation also interned thousands of German and Italian Americans, many of whom were American citizens.

Even fewer people know that on July 1, 1942, twenty-five agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ten officers of the Pennsylvania State Police, and eighteen detectives of the Altoona Police Department swept through Altoona, Pennsylvania and searched the homes of two hundred twenty-five alien enemies, more than in any other Pennsylvania city.

Part Three, “The Brain,” is named for J. Edgar Thomson, the third and most prominent president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Part Three discusses the founding and construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the building of the Horseshoe Curve. Part Three surveys the history of railroads in England and the United States and describes efforts in the early 1800s by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to build a statewide transportation system to surmount the intractable Allegheny Mountains and compete with Maryland and New York to trade with the western United States.

Part Three also recounts the construction and operation of the failed Pennsylvania Canal, the design and management of the inefficient Allegheny Portage Railroad, and the subsequent founding of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Part Three details the personal and organizational battles in the earliest days of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Thomson’s role as chief engineer in building the line, and his unlikely rise to the presidency of the company.

The Horseshoe Curve: Sabotage and Subversion in the Railroad City has many characters, some of whose names are confusing. For example, there is a Herbert Haupt and a Herman Haupt in the book. Herbert Haupt was one of the eight Nazi saboteurs, and Herman Haupt (no relation) was general superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad. To help readers identify people in the book, a list of major characters appears immediately after the Preface.

The book presents information from approximately two hundred fifty sources, including biographies, histories, diaries, journal articles, government reports, newspaper and magazine stories, FBI files, interviews, and court documents, all of which are cited in the Sources and Notes section of the book and the Bibliography.

Every book has many authors, and I would like to acknowledge the people who contributed to this book. At Saint Francis University, I thank colleagues Nicole Bauman, Sandy Evans, Dr. Randy Frye, Dr. Margaret Garcia, Roxane Hogue, Dr. Mahabub Islam, Betsy Lehman, Dr. Jim Logue, John Miko, Dr. Larry Rager, Dr. Peter Skoner, and Dr. Malachi Van Tassel. Ms. Bauman and Ms. Evans served as research assistants, and Dr. Rager showed special interest in my work.

Every book comes from other books, and for histories of the Nazi sabotage plot against the United States, I am grateful to Alex Abella and Scott Gordon, William Breuer, Gary Cohen, Albert Cox, Robert Cushman, David Danelski, Louis Fisher, Eugene Rachlis, and Charles Wighton and Gunter Peis. The best book on the Nazi sabotage mission is by journalist Michael Dobbs. For a transcript of the military tribunal that convicted the saboteurs, I am grateful to Professor Joel Samaha and the students of the history department of the University of Minnesota. For its extensive files on the Nazi sabotage plot, I thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

For documentaries on the treatment of alien enemies in the United States during World War II, I owe a debt of gratitude to John Christgau, Frank J. Donner, Stephen Fox, Elizabeth Hull, Ronald Kessler, Arnold Krammer, Richard Gid Powers, Ernst W. Puttkammer, John Eric Schmitz, Athan Theoharis, Ralph de Toledano, Pat Watters and Stephen Gillers, and Don Whitehead. I also thank Kathleen Boyle and Dr. John Fox of the Freedom of Information Act Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

For histories of railroads in the United States, especially the Pennsylvania Railroad, I am indebted to Henry P. Albrecht, Edwin P. Alexander, Avard Longley Bishop, John K. Brown, William H. Brown, George H. Burgess and Miles C. Kennedy, Dan Cupper, Winthrop M. Daniels, S. Kip Farrington, Stewart H. Holbrook, Timothy Jacobs, Chris J. Lewie, James Weston Livingood, Robert McCullough and Walter Leuba, Cummins McNitt, David W. Seidel, John Stevens, John Stover, William Strickland, Lorett Treese, James E. Vance, and William Bender Wilson. People seeking to understand the legendary J. Edgar Thomson will find no better insight than that provided by biographer James A. Ward.

For help in acquiring maps, books, and photographs, I thank Christopher Baer of the Hagley Museum and Library, Jack Gumbrecht and R.A. Friedman of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Leona McConnell and Charmaine Skomra of the Pasquerilla Library at Saint Francis University, Kurt Bell of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Holly Reed of the National Archives, Linda Stotler of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, and the United States Geological Survey.

At my request, several people read all or part of the manuscript: Saint Francis University professors Dr. Robin Cadwallader, Dr. Margaret Garcia, Dr. Larry Rager, Dr. Timothy Whisler, and Dr. Joseph Melusky; Harry William Brady of the J. Edgar Thomson Foundation; Attorney Ben Levine; Pennsylvania Railroad historians Dan Cupper, Cummins McNitt, and David W. Seidel; my sister, Patty Mosso; and friends Paula Craw, Jan and Dan Thomas, and Barbara and Bill Tauber. Several people provided information on alien enemies in Altoona, and I am grateful to them: Jordan Bailinger, Mary Brunner, Dick DeFalco, Travis Elden, Mike Possumato, Nancy and Don Sinisi, and Sonja and Zane Williamson.

I want to acknowledge my mother, Katherine, and my late father, Paul; my brother, Tom, his wife, Vicky, and their children, Erin, Ryan, and Megan; my sister, Patty, and her husband, Joe; my wife’s father, Andy Randall; and her late mother, Pat; her sisters, Andrea and Lisa, and Lisa’s daughter, Madison. My wife, Kathy has enriched my life immeasurably.

Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania                                                             Dennis P. McIlnay
April 2007