In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States government erected multiple “doomsday bunkers,” meticulously engineered to endure nuclear cataclysms, withstand the repercussions of nuclear fallout, and orchestrate the revival of American society post the annihilation of pivotal governmental institutions.
Nestled atop the Blue Ridge Mountains in Pennsylvania, the Crow Rock complex, often hailed as the “Underground Pentagon,” serves as the sanctuary for emergency operations centers catering to the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
Renowned investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, in his 2013 literary opus “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Security,” delineates the historical narrative. As the Cold War loomed, with the specter of a Soviet nuclear onslaught casting its shadow, the government not only urged ordinary American families to construct fallout shelters in their backyards but also diligently engaged in the excavation of subterranean bunkers. Even during World War II, President Roosevelt, discerning the need, initiated the construction of a bomb shelter beneath the East Wing of the White House.
While the whereabouts of Crow Rock are known, the details concealed behind barbed wire and iron horse guardrails remain veiled in mystery. The complex, paradoxically known and unknown, elicits cryptic responses. Richard Staliper, the mayor of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, succinctly remarked, “We know it’s there, we know why it’s there, that’s all we know.”
Journalist Garrett Graff, author of “Crow Rock: The U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Ourselves While Others Die,” speculates on the pivotal role of Crow Rock as the potential epicenter of a nuclear conflict. Initially dubbed “Harry’s Hole” by locals during its construction in the late 1940s, the base garnered attention, yet its secrecy endured due to a collective silence among those privy to its existence.
In essence, Crow Rock epitomizes an expansive bunker and self-sufficient enclave. As per “Command and Control,” the complex encompasses a power station, an underground reservoir, a chapel, a three-story complex within a colossal cavern, and accommodations for 2,000 personnel from the Pentagon, State Department, and the Security Council’s senior officers. Graff adds that it encompasses essential services akin to those found in a conventional small city.
Commissioned in 1953, the complex has maintained continuous operations since 1961. Predominantly subterranean, it provides the residents the capability to endure extended periods within its confines once the blast doors are sealed.
Originally conceived as a haven for the Department of Defense to regroup in the aftermath of a nuclear assault on the Pentagon, Crow Rock saw its sole activation for emergency use after the “9/11” incident. Vice President Dick Cheney sought refuge here as one of his discreet hideouts, a fact shrouded in classified information.
The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, situated in Loudoun-Clark County, Virginia, serves as the operational hub for the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Constructed during the Cold War, Mount Weather boasts an above-ground Emergency Management Agency and an underground facility spanning 600,000 square feet. The subterranean bunker is a veritable city, complete with a self-contained security apparatus, leadership hierarchy, police force, fire department, and a legal framework. Housing a hospital, crematorium, dining and entertainment zones, sleeping quarters, water reservoirs, an emergency power plant, and media studios, it accommodates around 2,000 individuals with private sleeping quarters reserved for the president, Cabinet members, and Supreme Court justices.
While Mount Weather’s existence remained a clandestine secret known only to a select few high-ranking officials, it entered the public consciousness in 1974 after the crash of TWA Flight 514 near its vicinity. Since then, it has permeated American pop culture through portrayals in television, movies, and video games.
Revered as the “Super Bunker” and “Mole City,” the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base near Colorado Springs, ensconced within approximately 2,000 feet of granite, boasts the capacity to endure any crisis, including a nuclear assault. Together with Crow Rock and Mount Weather, Cheyenne Mountain forms the nucleus of the bunkers utilized by the U.S. government in response to nuclear threats during the Cold War.
Plans for the Cheyenne Mountain base were initially conceived in the waning years of the 1950s, devised as a strategic response to potential threats posed by Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers. Presently, the base falls under the purview of the U.S. Space Force, concurrently accommodating personnel from NORAD and U.S. Northern Command.
The inner workings of the base remain largely shrouded in mystery. It is comprehended that the staff congregates to scrutinize data from the Global Reconnaissance System, forewarning the government of missile threats looming over North America. Steven Ross, the deputy director of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, metaphorically likened the base to the human brain, asserting, “We are akin to the brainstem, integrating and correlating all information, comprehending it, and transmitting it to the brain. Whether it pertains to NORAD or Northern Command, we, as the Strategic Command’s commander, elucidate the significance of this information, enabling informed decision-making. This constitutes the most critical and vulnerable aspect of the nervous system, a sanctuary safeguarded by Cheyenne Mountain.”
It is postulated that the base comprises 15 edifices, each spanning three or two stories. In the face of seismic upheavals or missile detonations, an extensive spring damping system comes into play, mitigating structural displacement. Even in the event of a proximate 30-megaton nuclear explosion, the base would persist in its operational capabilities. The presence of 25-ton blast doors fortifies Cheyenne Mountain against multifarious threats, be it nuclear, biological, electromagnetic pulse, etc. Remarkably, despite their weight, these doors can be sealed shut by a mere two individuals if exigent. The cinematic allure of Cheyenne Mountain has been perpetuated through its appearances in notable movies and TV series such as “War Games,” “Interstellar,” “Stargate,” and “The Terminator.”
Beneath the opulent four-star Greenbrier Resort in White Sulfur Springs, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, lies an expansive bunker, conceived during the Cold War, intended to harbor 535 members of Congress in the event of a nuclear onslaught. This subterranean refuge has now been unveiled to the public.
In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower mandated the Department of Defense to devise a contingency plan for a nuclear strike targeted at Congress. Subsequently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was entrusted with selecting a site for a nuclear bunker, ultimately settling on The Greenbrier due to its proximity to Washington, coupled with sufficient distance to ensure safety from atomic devastation. Its historical associations with the U.S. government, having served as a detention center during World War II and later a military hospital where Eisenhower convalesced, further solidified its candidacy. Despite its post-war transformation into a hotel, governmental meetings sporadically convened at The Greenbrier.
Construction of the bunker commenced in 1957, veiled under the guise of a Greenbrier Hotel renovation. Skepticism arose among locals and construction workers, given the prodigious amounts of concrete employed in the project. Completed in 1962, just prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the bunker, nestled 720 feet underground, could withstand explosions within the range of 15 to 30 miles, effectively shielding its occupants from radioactive fallout. Encompassing two stories and sprawling across approximately 112,000 square feet, equivalent to two stacked football fields, the bunker boasts four doors, including the massive 28-ton and 20-ton entrances. Hermetically sealed, the bunker is equipped to sustain life for 72 hours, after which external air can be filtered through the ventilation system.
While much of the bunker remains concealed, certain sections integrate seamlessly into the Greenbrier’s daily operations, only to be cordoned off in times of crisis. Noteworthy spaces include an auditorium designed for joint congressional sessions, flanked by two smaller halls—Governor’s Hall and Mountaineer Hall—catering to the House of Representatives and Senate members, respectively. Accessible via a covert passage, these halls lead to the remainder of the bunker. In the event of an attack, Congress members would undergo a decontamination process before retreating to dormitories housing 18 rooms, each accommodating 60 people and outfitted with metal bunk beds. Additional amenities comprise a kitchen, a cafeteria with seating for 400, and a power room housing a pathological waste incinerator.
The bunker’s extensive facilities encompass television, radio, and communication apparatus, facilitating congressional addresses to the surviving populace in the aftermath of an attack. The Greenbrier Bunker, operationalized by 12 to 15 government employees, has sufficient provisions to sustain 1,000 individuals for 60 days, necessitating continuous updates based on the status of current Congress members. The process for ushering Congress into the bunker remains ambiguous, with limited knowledge among members themselves. Speculation surrounds the accommodation of members’ families, with past contradictions on this matter. The bunker’s existence was disclosed in 1992, leading to its closure and eventual transformation into a tourist attraction open to the public.
Located in Culpeper, Virginia, the Pony Mountain bunker once served as the repository for billions of dollars in cash, earmarked to replenish the currency supply and resuscitate the U.S. economy post a nuclear war. Erected in the late 1960s, the 400-foot-long, 140,000-square-foot bunker, fortified with reinforced concrete and steel, featured 30-centimeter-thick walls and lead-protected shutters to guard against radiation.
Designed to accommodate 540 staff members for 30 days, the bunker boasted facilities including freeze-dried food, bunks, and nuclear radiation shielding wells. Between 1969 and 1988, it housed billions of dollars in cash. With the stabilization of relations with the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the facility was deemed obsolete, leading to its closure in 1988.
In 1997, the bunker found a new purpose under the aegis of the Library of Congress, transformed into the National Audiovisual Preservation Center. Over the years, it became home to more than 6 million audio and video files, ranging from Edison-era records and tapes to contemporary digital files. Presently, Pony Mountain serves as a repository for various forms of media, including books, newspapers, magazines, music, and movies, encompassing hard copies, microfilm, punch cards, and hologram tapes.