Before the secret was out


From the podium at the Greenbrier, these four columns seemed unusually placed in the center seating section of this auditorium. Only later was the reason for them uncovered. They were supporting a massive concrete ceiling protecting against a nuclear attack.

Thirty years ago I was invited to lecture at the annual meeting of the West Virginia Academy of Ophthalmology. A tradition of the organization was to hold their meetings at the Greenbrier resort and that made the invitation hard to turn down. The Greenbrier is a National Historic Landmark and world class resort that has been operating since 1778. It is located in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia in an 11,000 acre tract in the mountains.

The resort offered everything needed for the organization to put on a splendid meeting with all of the business and social activities taking place in the hotel and on the grounds. This included the lectures which took place in an auditorium in a lower level of the main building. The room was large with a low ceiling considering its size. There were no windows in the otherwise well lighted and comfortable space.

From the stage looking out at the audience I noticed four giant pillars positioned closely in the center seating section. A pair were toward the front and the second pair was located several rows behind and there were more than a dozen others elsewhere in the room. This, I thought, was unusual for an auditorium this size.

At the end of the lecture session I walked through the auditorium and noticed that on the back of each seat was a plug for an electrical circuit and what looked like a telephone or microphone connection. The seats were comfortable, uniform, and definitely high end. I didn’t mention this to anyone or ask any questions but as I learned later nobody would have been able to give me an answer. It was five years before the secret was out and more than 20 years before I learned what I had been looking at.

The room where I was lecturing was designed to accommodate the House of Representatives in case of an atomic attack. It was not until 1992 that this secret was uncovered by a Washington Post reporter. Prior to that time for more than 30 years guests at the hotel were adjacent to and in some cases actually in what would have been the seat of government in the event of a nuclear attack. Other areas of the bunker that was completed in 1960, during the Eisenhower administration, remain sealed.

During this time, residents of the town of 3000 located near the resort were puzzled when a 7000 foot runway was built. This would accommodate any airplane flying, but why? Their questions were shrugged off. Once the secret was out some of these areas were converted to tourist attractions. It is believed that numerous structures like this have been built elsewhere but no information is available.

The bunker supplied beds for each member of congress. Names of senators and representatives were affixed to the individual bunks and were updated as new members entered and others left government service. Food for six months was stored adjacent to this area. During the time that this bunker was in readiness, a group of employees were working at the resort employed by sham corporations and doing work exclusively for the maintenance of these facilities.

One reporter commenting on the bunker reported that there were “many, many, MANY bathrooms and most of them were for men”. There were 110 urinals! The columns I noticed in the auditorium were supporting a massively thick concrete ceiling (the actual thickness was not reported). This ceiling no doubt represented a significant portion of the 50,000 lbs. of concrete used for construction of the bunker.

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2 thoughts on “Lecturing in a Bunker

  1. I am very familiar with the Greenbrier airports. The first one had a grass runway, which was paved sometime in the 1950s. The other on was the Lewisburg, West Virginia airport (LWS). It had lights and an instrument approach. I flew into both many times in aircraft I owned.

    The one I originally flew into was the Greenbrier Airport very close to the hotel and surrounded in mountains. The approach and landing were very difficult, read dangerously. It eventually closed, the hotel bought the runway and adjacent land, which during WWII contained an internment camp for captured German spies. You can read and see, there are many pictures, the long history of the airport by going to this website. (Scroll down to after the stories about the Princeton, NJ airport.

    In the 1980s I owned and operated a small aircraft charter service. One of our clients was a lawyer who we regularly flew to the Greenbrier. Late one day on a holiday weekend the lawyer called me asking to be taken to the Greenbrier. I explained that I had promised to take my mother to dinner that night and I could not disappoint as I had not seen her for some time. He said to bring her along and he would treat us to dinner at the Greenbrier.

    He joined his wife and Nancy and I sat at a table for two. Next to us at the next table sat Lee Iacocca, the CEO of Chrysler and the developer of the Ford Mustang when he was at Ford. My mother told me it the last time she set at this table was with my father who died a few years earlier.

    We flew back at night from the Greenbrier/Lewisburg (LWS) airport to Washington National (DCA).

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