Project Greek Island, the ultimate bomb shelter, designed and intended to house Congress in the event of a nuclear war, is now open to the public. The facility, built under The Greenbrier resort, was planned by the Eisenhower Administration during the Cold War. Russia had detonated an atomic bomb in 1949. Nuclear war was a real possibility. Our government wanted a shelter for Congress if such a war ever happened.
Either directly or indirectly, The Greenbrier has a long history of service to our government. During the Civil War, as the area changed hands several times, the resort was alternately occupied by both Union and Confederate armies and served as a hospital for both.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 and we declared war, over 1,500 Japanese, German and Italian diplomats, attaches, embassy employees, businessmen and their families were suddenly enemy aliens trapped in a hostile country. Our government needed luxury accommodations for these people to ensure that their counterparts overseas received similar treatment while an exchange was negotiated.
The State Department worked out a deal with The Greenbrier to house the Germans and Italians while the Japanese diplomats were transported to The Homestead in Virginia. Everyone involved assumed negotiations would take no longer than six weeks. Instead, things dragged on for seven months. During this time, there were three weddings and six babies born.
Although they were allies, there was a great deal of friction between the Germans and Italians. It got so bad, the State Department worried the situation would escalate to the point the two would exchange blows. To head off a major incident, they moved the Italians to another luxury hotel in Asheville, North Carolina. Then the Japanese were moved to The Greenbrier. For the most part, after that, things proceeded smoothly except for a rather rowdy beer party the Germans threw on Hitlers birthday.
On July 8, the last of the internees left The Greenbrier and things returned to normal. This was short lived. On September 1, 1942, the U.S. Army commandeered the entire resort for the duration of the war, paying the owners, C&O Railroad, $3.3 million. They converted it into a 2,200 bed military hospital. After the war, the railroad bought it back.
Project Greek Island actually began on March 26, 1956, with a handshake between President Eisenhower and Walter Tuohy, president of the C&O. Eisenhower was attending the North American Summit Conference at the resort. Over the years it had four names: Project X, Project Congo, Project Casper and Project Greek Island.
The bunker is two stories, both completely underground. It has ceilings and walls built of three to five feet thick reinforced concrete. There is 20 to 60 feet of dirt between the substructure and the West Virginia Wing of The Greenbrier. There are four entrances, each protected by a steel and concrete door which can withstand a modest nuclear explosion as close as 15 miles. The West Entrance door is 12 feet wide, 10 feet high, 18 inches thick and weighs 25 tons.
The two levels combined total 112,544 square feet of floor space. The facility could accommodate approximately 1,100 people. There were 18 dormitories with metal bunk beds. Each dorm could sleep 60 people. A self-contained power plant could supply power for a group of people this size for up to 40 days. Diesel fuel for the power plant was stored in three 14,000-gallon tanks.
The kitchen/cafeteria covered 7,500 sq. feet and was capable of feeding 400 people at a time. At all times the kitchen was stocked with enough provisions to last for 60 days. The bunker had three 25,000 gallon water storage tanks and its own water purification equipment.
There was a state-of-the-art communications center. On one level was a conference/briefing room, an elaborate phone system, radios and an administration control area. On the other level was a message processing room, a TV production area, E-mail equipment, recording studio and a vaulted room for sensitive equipment.
Sometimes, the best way to hide something is out in plain sight. That was the case of the 16,544-sq. foot Exhibit Hall. This was where the support staff of Congress would have conducted business. Just off the Exhibit Hall is the Governors Hall and the Mountaineer Room. These are where the House of Representatives and the Senate would have met. Over the years, all three rooms were used by thousands of guests for various functions. They never realized that the rooms were part of the bunker.
The bunker was a well kept secret from the outside world. Many people in Greenbrier County knew the bunker existed. To them, it was no big deal. The whole world learned about the bunker on May 31, 1992, when reporter Ted Gup did a story about it in the Washington Post. That, coupled with the break-up of the Old Soviet Union, led to the facility being phased out.
Today, the resort is using some areas of the bunker for other things. Part of the bunker has been left as it was during the Cold War and can be toured by the public. For more information or to arrange a tour, call The Greenbier at (304) 536-1110 or (800) 624-6070. You can also visit www.greenbrier.com.