Hands up if you knew President Eisenhower built a nuclear bunker two and a half hours out of Washington. Well he did. In 1958, amid fears of a Russian nuclear attack, Eisenhower commissioned a 112,544 square foot bunker to house Congress in the event they had to evacuate the city.
|The discrete Greenbrier|
We'd been told to take a look at the Greenbrier, an historic resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Massive ballrooms, a small private casino for guests only, conference facilities, three golf courses, a nuclear bunker, and stunning landscaping: fun fact - New Zealander Danny Lee is the defending champion of the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament and we had to be told because our knowledge of golf extends only to the fact that it costs $1 million whenever Trump takes a golf trip - which is a lot.
We ended up staying the night - not in the bunker, in the hotel - and being florally overwhelmed.
The interior designer, Dorothy Draper, who worked on the restoration of the hotel after it had been used as a hospital in WW2 (just like Downton Abbey!), worked to the theme of rhododendrons (state flower of West Virginia), roses, and romance.
|The carpet in the foyer|
The theme has lost none of its longevity, but much of its charm, through many redecorations. They proudly announce the same company has been doing the interiors longer than Mick Jagger has been singing. So that's now an official measure of time.
But back to the bunker. There are 25 ton blast doors. A decontamination unit. A medical facility. A 25,000 gallon water purification and storage unit. Kept secret, but fully operational, completely stocked with supplies, and the technology regularly updated for 30 years. This shit is hard to hide.
But they did. It was built under a new wing of the resort; hiding in plain sight. And it was successful until 1992 when a Washington Post journalist wrote an expose. For the original story go to
In hindsight, the whole idea was a staggering combination of paranoia and naivety: 535 elected officials (and no family members), but each with one assistant sequestered for up to three months - who do you choose? Accommodation is in 18 bunk dormitories (congressman/woman on the bottom bunk, assistant on top). The cafeteria serves 400 at a time, and there are communal bathrooms. Just stop a minute and think about your elected officials. Is this going to work? I don't think so. I would be hiding the sharp objects.
As I write this we're in Washington DC. There are police everywhere. Not just because that's the way it is, but it's something called National Police Week which draws between 25,000 and 40,000 attendees from department throughout the US and from overseas. Maybe I'd feel safer in the bunker.