Ted Kleisner, a former hotel executive, took on the role of general manager at the lavish Greenbrier resort nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia back in 1980. Spanning over 6,500 acres, this exquisite retreat boasted a plethora of amenities—a grand hotel with 600 opulent rooms, more than 90 guest homes, a private train station, extensive hiking and biking trails, and not one but three championship golf courses. Yet, despite its grandeur, Kleisner soon unearthed perplexing financial anomalies within just a few days of assuming his position.
A Financial Conundrum
Kleisner’s keen eye spotted glaring inconsistencies that raised alarm bells:
- The resort was inexplicably hemorrhaging money on maintenance for machinery it didn’t even own.
- Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel had been ordered, yet there was no trace of it anywhere on the premises.
- A considerable number of paychecks were being dispatched to individuals whose names didn’t align with the official employee roster.
As Kleisner delved deeper, a web of enigmas began to unravel.
The Intriguing Turn of Events
Oddly, when Kleisner initially voiced his concerns to his superiors, they appeared nonchalant. However, their demeanor changed drastically when he hinted at the involvement of law enforcement.
Suddenly, a senior Pentagon official summoned Kleisner into a secluded office, directing him to a remote part of the sprawling grounds—an encounter etched in Kleisner’s memory. In an interview with the London Times conducted in 1995, Kleisner recounted how the official heightened security measures, turning up a radio to drown out potential eavesdroppers and shutting the blinds. Then, he made a startling revelation, saying, “You are about to be briefed on a top-secret government project that is part of the Greenbrier.”
Intriguingly, this confidential disclosure unveiled a highly sensitive Cold War-era secret—a bomb shelter concealed 65 feet beneath the West Virginia wing of the Greenbrier. This clandestine refuge was equipped with personnel and supplies, designed to accommodate the entire United States Congress, their families, and key advisors for a duration of sixty days in the event of a nuclear catastrophe.
The mastermind behind this covert shelter was none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower, the President of the United States during that tumultuous era. In the late 1950s, Eisenhower, a former five-star general, recognized the need for “emergency command relocation centers.” These centers were intended to house senior military officials, including the President himself, in the event of a Soviet nuclear strike, ensuring the continuity of governance.
However, Eisenhower had a deeper concern—what if a catastrophic scenario unfolded, and only the highest-ranking military officers remained unscathed? The prospect of an unbalanced power dynamic in the United States troubled him deeply. His vision extended beyond military officials; he believed that each branch of government—the executive, legislative, and judicial—should have its own secure quarters, just as the military and the President did.
Eisenhower’s foresight laid the foundation for a remarkable and well-concealed chapter in the history of the Greenbrier.
The Birth of a Hidden Sanctuary
As Eisenhower’s brainchild took form, meticulous planning and construction began on the covert shelter beneath the Greenbrier’s facade. This concealed haven was to serve as a bastion of democracy, preserving the nation’s leadership and government institutions in the direst of circumstances.
The Shelter’s Features
The Greenbrier shelter was nothing short of impressive in its scale and sophistication:
- Nestled beneath the West Virginia wing of the resort, the shelter was strategically positioned to ensure both discretion and easy access for those in power.
- With the capacity to house the entire United States Congress, their families, and key advisors, it was a self-contained ecosystem, complete with sleeping quarters, a hospital, a communication center, and even a cafeteria.
- Designed to function autonomously for an extended period, the shelter had its power supply, water source, and ample food stores.
- State-of-the-art communication equipment enabled its occupants to stay connected with the outside world.
- The project was shrouded in layers of secrecy, with very few individuals aware of its existence, let alone its location.
Maintaining the Secrecy
The success of this covert operation relied heavily on the ability to keep it hidden from prying eyes. To achieve this, several measures were put in place:
The construction of the shelter was artfully concealed. Workers were informed that they were contributing to a “conference center” beneath the Greenbrier—a far cry from the truth. The facade of normalcy was essential to maintain the veil of secrecy.
To account for the constant presence of workers and construction equipment, elaborate cover stories were concocted. These ranged from routine maintenance to the installation of a new heating system, all designed to divert attention from the true purpose of the project.
Access to the shelter was strictly controlled. Only a select few individuals had knowledge of its existence, and even fewer knew its precise location. Security clearances were issued sparingly, and those granted access were bound by airtight confidentiality agreements.
The Cold War Connection
The shelter’s inception and construction were intricately linked to the prevailing Cold War tensions. During this period, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a bitter standoff, with the looming threat of nuclear warfare hanging over both nations.
The fear of a nuclear strike was palpable, and government officials were acutely aware of the catastrophic consequences such an event could unleash. It was within this context that the need for secure shelters, capable of safeguarding the nation’s leadership, became paramount.
A Network of Shelters
The Greenbrier shelter was just one piece of a larger puzzle. The government had initiated the construction of multiple emergency relocation centers across the country, each designated to serve a specific purpose and cadre of officials. These centers were intended to ensure the continuity of government in the event of a nuclear attack.
The Greenbrier’s Unique Role
What set the Greenbrier apart was its specific mandate—to house the entirety of the United States Congress. This distinction underscored the gravity of the shelter’s purpose and the trust placed in its secrecy.
The End of an Era
The Cold War eventually came to a close, and with it, the constant looming threat of nuclear conflict began to recede. As tensions eased, the necessity of maintaining the Greenbrier shelter waned.
Declassification and Disclosure
In 1992, the existence of the Greenbrier shelter was finally declassified, allowing its story to emerge from the shadows of secrecy. The end of the Cold War brought with it a newfound willingness to share this piece of history with the world.
Transformation and Legacy
With its secrets laid bare, the Greenbrier shelter was repurposed. Today, it serves as a captivating museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the anxiety-ridden era of the Cold War. The shelter’s legacy endures, a testament to the nation’s dedication to preserving its democratic institutions.
The Greenbrier’s hidden secret is a remarkable tale of Cold War intrigue and preparedness. It underscores the lengths to which a nation will go to protect its government and democratic values in the face of impending catastrophe. As we reflect on this clandestine chapter of history, it serves as a poignant reminder of the ever-present need to safeguard the principles upon which our nations are built—no matter the cost or secrecy required.