GUESTS staying at America’s oldest and most luxurious resort during the Cold War era from the 1960s to ’90s, had no idea they were cavorting above a bizarre subterranean world that could have come straight out of James Bond, the fertile mind of Graham Greene, Hollywood’s Dr Strangelove or maybe even TV’s M*A*S*H.
Because below them was a cavern with concrete walls 1.5m thick, chambers big enough to secrete the entire US Congress and House of Representatives and senior staff – and the ancillary services they would need to govern the country in the event of an A-bomb attack on America.
The Greenbrier Resort at Sulphur Springs in West Virginia, 400km south-west of Washington DC, opened as an inn in 1778 for those wanting to "take the waters" from its mineral-rich pools and springs.
Over the years it’s grown into a vast five-star palace with banks of restaurants, cafés, bars and lounges, casinos, live-show theatres, and limitless sporting opportunities sprawling more than 2600ha (6500 acres.)
But it was in the 1960s that it entered its clandestine role, one conceived by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as "the secret White House", nestled in the backwoods of the Allegheny Mountains.
Few were briefed on what was to happen, and those who were sworn to State Secrecy.
Everything and everyone had a code-name – from President Eisenhower whom the Secret Service dubbed "Providence" – to the so-called "management company" that would maintain this subterranean national secret, and whose bland cover-name for 30 years was Forsythe Associates.
The actual project itself was code-named Project Greek Island, but was usually just called The Bunker.
For weeks concrete trucks arrived around the clock, pouring 1.5m thick floors, walls and ceilings. Then a steel blast-door a half-metre thick and weighing 25-tonnes was brought in on a reinforced railcar from Ohio to safely seal the whole complex in the event of an A-bomb attack on Washington DC’s White House.
It grew and grew to the size of two football fields stacked on top of each other, with every major emergency need being quietly installed, and for 30 years from 1962 constantly maintained for instant use. And, to protect its cover as just a part of the Greenbrier Resort, the two meeting rooms for the Senate and House of Representatives – the Mountaineer Room and Governor’s Hall, together with a 5000sq m area where their staffs would work and dubbed The Exhibit Hall – were actually hired-out through the resort for corporate meetings, exhibitions and parties.
Their participants had no idea they were actually gathering in one of America’s most top-secret locations ... nor that carefully concealed around them were military-style dormitories that could sleep more than 1100 Senators, senior officials and technical support teams, a mini-hospital, pharmacy, cafeterias, storerooms of freeze-dried foods with 10-year use-by dates, a power-station, 64,000-litres of diesel fuel, water and air purification plants, radio and TV broadcasting studios – the latter with a back-drop wall showing The White House dome – and fitness rooms.
Its own telephone exchange linked The Bunker with the outside world, and a fire-proof Congressional Records Room could store papers in the event of Congress and the House having to meet, there was a small armoury… even a chaplain’s room for those fearing the end was nigh. And an A-bomb decontamination room… chillingly down the corridor from which was the "Pathological Waste Incinerator" – a crematorium for those who may have fatally succumbed to radiation.
In 1992, The Washington Post ran a bombshell story exposing Project Greek Island. It was decommissioned soon after and in 1995 opened by the Greenbrier for public tours