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, Hollywood’s Dr Strangelove or maybe even TV’s M*A*S*H.
Below them was a cavern whose concrete walls were 1.5m thick, with chambers big enough to secretively the US politicians and senior staff - and the ancilliary services they would need to govern in the event of an A-bomb attack.
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.
Over the years it’s grown into a vast five-star palace with banks of restaurants, cafés, bars and lounges, casinos, theatres, and limitless sporting opportunities sprawling over 2600ha.
But it was in the 1960s that it entered its clandestine role, conceived by President Eisenhower as “the secret White House,” nestled in the sleepy backwoods of the Allegheny Mountains.
Few were briefed on what was to happen, and those who were were sworn to State Secrecy, as unsuspecting workers burrowed into the hillside next to the Resort, supposedly creating a new Greenbriers “West Virginia Wing.”
Everything and everyone had a code-name - from the president (Providence) to the so-called “management company” that would maintain this subterranean lair, and whose bland cover-name for was Forsythe Associates.
The project itself was code-named “Project Greek Island”, but was 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.
Like Topsy, Project Greek Island 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 amazing 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 metre 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 gathering in one of America’s most top-secret locations.
Nor that carefully concealed around them were military-style dormitories that could sleep over 1100 people, 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 with exercise bikes, weights and rowing machines.
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 amoury and even a Chaplain’s Room for those fearing that 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.
Latest-edition news and lifestyle magazines were changed weekly in lounges for 30-years by the “staff” of Forsythe Associates - in truth members of the US Army Signal Corps, who as part of their cover blended into the Greenbrier Resort above in “Forsythe Associates” uniforms servicing guests’ TV sets.
Then The Washington Post newspaper in May 1992 ran a bombshell story exposing Project Greek Island and its clandestine operations; it was decommissioned soon after and in 1995 opened by the Greenbrier for public tours with everything apart from the most security-sensitive items still in place, just as during its bizarre thirty secret years.
A near-half-million tourists have toured it to date.