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Secrets at The Greenbrier

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GREENBRIER COUNTY (WVVA) -

The Greenbrier is a world class resort with a famous golf course and an equally famous casino. But it also has a storied past and a secret that lasted 30 years. 

"It's amazing what you can get away with if you have a good enough story," said The Greenbrier Historian, Robert Conte.

A story good enough to keep secret for 30 years. A chamber deep underground that few knew about.

"The bunker was created in the depths of the Cold War. What the bunker was, was an emergency relocation center for the legislative branch for the federal government," Conte explained.

Members of the House and Senate would be placed here in case of a nuclear emergency and you would have to think they were safe behind this 30-ton door.

"If that bomb actually went off and there was imminent danger here, that they would have locked and closed all those blast doors and made this an air tight facility," said Manager of The Greenbrier Tours, Deanna Hylton.

An air tight facility with a goal of protecting the Legislative Branch of the U-S government.

"It was planned for the thought of a nuclear bomb being delivered by a plane and not a missile, so the thought was they would have several hours to prepare and have congress arrive here by train so they were expecting 1100-1200 people," Hylton informed.

If the Cold War turned suddenly hot, it was assumed Washington would be targeted and eliminated and President Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to guarantee a continuity of government. 

"If you decapitate the government, anarchy, chaos would break out. So, the whole point was to maintain the leadership of the federal government and stay in communication with the public to assure them the government was still functioning," Conte said.

The bunker is a concrete facility, 112,000 square feet in size. So how did they keep it a secret while under construction?

"Well they built two buildings and they did this simultaneously. They built an overt building on top of a covert building," explained Conte.

The overt building was a three-story wing consisting of 85 guest rooms, conference facilities, air conditioning and The Greenbrier Clinic.
All to create a cover story to distract from the bunker. 

"For thirty years, from 1962-1992, this bunker was ready to go and building the bunker next to a large physical plant like The Greenbrier meant you could hide the maintenance of the bunker in the large maintenance of the hotel," Conte educated.

Secrecy didn't stop with construction. And only a few select employees knew about it, while 95% didn't have a strategic "need to know."

"There were 75-80 Greenbrier employees who were cleared on this project and they would do all the routine maintenance because, if the call came, it had to be ready to go. You couldn't say 'Whoops, we forgot to put the filter or that sort of thing. It had to be ready to go and they were pretty obsessive about this," Conte further explained.

Then one day, in May of 1992, it was no longer a secret. An article by Ted Gup in the Washington Post went into such detail describing the bunker, the government could no longer deny its existence. 

"The writer had been here several months before. In fact, I was one of the people he interviewed and I remember talking to him. It was pretty clear he knew a lot more about it than I did," added Conte.

The president of The Greenbrier was prepared for the Post blowing their cover. 

"That day the president of The Greenbrier brought us together and announced there's going to be an article in the Washington Post that's going to disclose the secret of the 35-year relationship with the federal government, and I could have just fallen over. I never thought I would hear those words and then you know a few years later people are coming through here," said Conte.

Bunker tours were instantly popular.

"I mean it was just an instant hit as we opened it for tours, particularly in this local area, because there had always been these rumors there had always been a little something," Conte said.

"About 35,000-40,000 a year. We typically do 4 tours a day. Then on the weekends and some holidays we can do as many as 10-12 tours a day with 25 people each," added Hylton.

Visitors from all over can come to the mountains of West Virginia and see a part of history... 

"That something as unlikely as a lavish golf resort in the middle of the mountains of West Virginia was a part of the national defense system for almost 40 years," Conte said.

There was a purpose to every room in the bunker, even the cafeteria. It was designed to not be appealing to the eye, so members of the Legislative Branch would eat and then leave so the room wouldn't be too crowded.

If you would like a tour of the bunker, visit http://www.greenbrier.com/Activities/The-Bunker/Bunker-Tours

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