Postcards from Jiles
Saturday, 21 September, 2019
I don’t know what’s more remarkable. The fact that the Greenbrier — America’s Resort — housed a secret bunker for the U.S. Congress in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia throughout the Cold War. Or the fact that Miles and I made it for an hour and a half without our iPhones while touring it!
We got pleasantly bombarded via email, text, facebook, and phone about the bunker tour. Is there one? You’ve got to go on the tour? Tell us about it? So we decided to take the bunker tour today. The tour is about 90 minutes. It’s resort casual attire. And you should wear comfortable shoes.
Our tour was great. We had Frank. He was very knowable, enthusiastic, and just the right amount of corny. I admit my first question was: why the heck can’t we have our phones? That was the biggest chatter. I mean you can’t even keep it in your pocket. It can’t even be on you. Nor can you, by the way, have a handbag or a firearm.
There were about 25 of us on the tour. We were all thinking ourselves cool and smart with our thoughts. “What the big deal?” “It’s declassified now.” “No secret stuff going on anymore.” Then there was the “I bet there is secret stuff going on now and they’re saying all this to throw us off.”
Turns out, Frank said, it has nothing to do with the Government. It’s actually because the bunker is currently being leased to a company that hosts servers. Fortune 500 companies. Secret information. Blah blah blah.
So essentially, for the Greenbrier to be able to continue tours they have to abide by this company’s rules. And the Greenbrier doesn’t want the company to stop leasing from them because they need the money. Just the electric bill alone for the bunker is $10k a month.
The Greenbrier bunker, a congressional fallout shelter, was hidden in plain sight through all of the Cold War. The bunker was was open for business in 1963. Under the new West Virginia Wing of the Greenbrier. Construction cost the Government around $15 million (in the hundred millions by today’s standards). Three million went toward the West Virginia Wing. And the rest went toward the bunker. Interestingly, the bunker was owned by the Greenbrier and leased by the Federal Government — thus leaving less of a paper trail and helping to protect it’s secrecy.
In 1992, it was declassified after the Washington Post ran Ted Gup’s article Last Resort exposing its existence. It was thought that the need for it was obsolete as military technology had advanced beyond that of bombs.
The bunker at the Greenbrier was a Fallout Shelter (as opposed to a Bomb Shelter) thus a need for added secrecy around its existence. The secrecy adds protection. At the beginning of the Cold War we were in an era of bombs. It was thought, at the time of construction, if we were attacked it would be by bomb. It would take the USSR 8 hours to get a bomb to reach the United States going over the North Pole and Canada.
The Greenbrier’s location was chosen because it’s quickly accessible by automobile, plane, and train. Congress could hop the train at Union Station and reach America’s Resort in just 5 hours.
While the bunker remained in working order, the closest it ever came to being activated was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of the many rooms we toured was the briefing room. It would have been great for pictures! There were two large murals in the room and if a member of congress wanted to communicated with their constituency via television they could tape in front of the murals. They also had a rather nifty technology that could make the murals look as though it was the current season. Flowers blooming. Leaves falling. Snow covered. etc. The psychology, of course being, that shooting in front of these clever murals was thought to keep the public calm in the event of an attack and make it look like everything was stable.
Another fact I found interesting was they had tons of food. First C-rations then MREs. A good supply that would last for 40 days. But they also kept three days of fresh food on hand for many many years. When the fresh food wasn’t used it got upcycled into the resort so it never went to waste. Quite progressive in my opinion.
We highly recommend it! Especially, after taking the train ourselves from the Alexandria station. Frank told us we can actually go get pictures in three areas so we’re gonna try that tomorrow. He also hooked-us up with the declassified photos in this post.
Ok, time to dress for dinner. We’re starting with champagne and caviar at Cafe Carleton. Yum. Yum. Tell ya all about that later.
xxx – Jennifer & Miles
p.s. If you’re not already, be sure to follow our adventures on Instagram!
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