How do you top the most magnificent house in the US?
Well, it’s not easy. But we made an attempt.
First, let’s head into West Virginia. Wild, wonderful West Virginia, as the slogan goes, through the Allegheny Mountains, and into White Sulphur Springs …
It’s hard to describe The Greenbrier without actually being there, so I’ll let some photos do the talking. The resort has been around since Civil War times, but the current building dates to the early 20th century.
The main floor, which we were free to roam, was vast. Room led to room, each with a different decor. To me, the place gave off a very ’50s and ’60s vibe.
Indeed, Princess Grace even stayed here, as well as several Presidents.
This was neat — one of the rooms had a chandelier used in the filming of “Gone With the Wind.” See the crystals shaped like oak leaves along the bottom? The chandelier was at the Twelve Oaks house in the movie.
I could go on and on with these, but you get the idea. Anyway, the real reason we were here was for a tour.
A tour of what, you ask? Well, The Greenbrier is, or was, much more than a fancy resort. It’s the site of a massive underground bunker, where Congress was to be relocated during a nuclear crisis, during the period from 1962 to 1992.
Our tour began with the guide showing us a massive door which would normally be hidden, covered in wallpaper. Behind it was this huge space. This is where congressmen would be sent in case of an emergency. However, conferences and events sometimes used this space, too, although the people taking part in these events weren’t told the true purpose of the space they were meeting in. At the time the bunker was built, the hotel “hid” its construction by saying that they were expanding to build another wing. They did build that wing — on top of the bunker.
We were not allowed to take photos in most of the bunker, but it included many dorm-style rooms where congressmen could sleep in bunk beds, and two auditorium-style rooms — one for the house, another for the senate. There was a press room with a backdrop of the Capitol building, from which congressmen could film soothing reports to their surviving constituents in the case of a nuclear attack. The bunker was continually stocked with fresh food during the 3 decades it was active. As the food lost its freshness, it was simply used by the resort and new was brought it.
The bunker included a clinic and medications as well, and even some books and exercise equipment. It was intended to be a place where the leaders could live for up to 2 months. Spouses and children were not allowed into the bunker, but they would be able to stay at the resort if they wanted.
No, the bunker was never used. The closest it ever came, our guide said, was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. There were separate hidden places, in other states, where the President and Supreme Court could be evacuated to (interestingly enough, the site where the Supreme Court was to be sent was another of our vacation stops, Grove Park Inn). The bunker was so secret that only a few in the highest echelons of government were even aware of its existence. The average congressmen knew nothing about it — the better to keep it a secret.
So, why is the bunker no longer used? In 1992, a journalist found out about the bunker and wrote about it, exposing its existence and therefore rendering it unusable.
Is there now a new secret bunker somewhere, waiting for congress in the event of doomsday? I would say yes. But, of course, I don’t know where it is. And anyone who does isn’t talking.
Here’s the bunker’s dining room. Our guide told us that the vertigo-inducing floor pattern was chosen on purpose, because they didn’t want the congressmen hanging around too long in there socializing.
A fond farewell to The Greenbrier. Have you ever been there? Have you heard of it?