Saints will sleep on Cold War history during training camp

When the New Orleans Saints check into their rooms at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia Wednesday, they'll literally be sleeping on top of one the most unique pieces of Cold War history: a once top-secret, now declassified, military bunker built to protect Congress from a nuclear attack.

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When the New Orleans Saints check into their rooms at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia Wednesday, they'll literally be sleeping on top of one the most unique pieces of Cold War history: a once top-secret, now declassified, military bunker built to protect Congress from a nuclear attack.

"This bunker was part of President Eisenhower's Continuity of Government program," said Linda Walls, manager of bunker tours at The Greenbrier. "It was built to accommodate the entire Legislative Branch: 435 members of the House, 100 members of the Senate, aids and staff. Thank goodness it was never used for the reason it was built." 

The US Government entered into a partnership with the Greenbrier to build the bunker on the resort because of it's close proximity to Washington, DC. 

Work began in 1958 and finished in 1961. In order to camouflage the construction process from the public, the government paid to have a new wing of the resort built above ground, directly on top of the bunker, which sits 40-feet underground, carved into a mountainside. The Saints will be staying in that addition, called the West Virginia Wing. 

Although the rooms in the West Virginia Wing are as luxurious as they come, the Saints will be treated to a private tour of the historic bunker below them and likely receive some light meals in the bunker's cafeteria, since it will be the closest large space to their rooms. 

"This bunker wasn't built to sustain a blast, a direct hit," Walls said. "It was for a nuclear fallout."

The bunker contains several decontamination areas, a lab, a pharmacy, a clinic, operating rooms, an emergency room and even a radio and television communications area designed to look like the Capitol in the 60's. The theory was that members of Congress could give speeches from the safety of the underground bunker, and because it would look they were in D.C., that would give those watching a sense of comfort. The strategy would also protect their location from lurking enemies.

The bunker's walls are five-feet thick, providing a nearly impenetrable fortress. The entrances are guarded by 3 mammoth doors, made of concrete and steel, weighing 18 tons, 25 tons and 30 tons. They move with just 50 pounds of pressure though, making it easy for even Walls' petite frame to push one open. 

Courtesy, The Greenbrier Resort

The Greenbrier's secret bunker was left undetected for more than 30 years, until a Washington Post article on May 31, 1992 revealed its existence. Here is an excerpt from Ted Goup's expose, entitled, "The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway."

"The year was 1960 and Randy Wickline was building something so immense and unnerving that he dared not ask what it was. All the Superior Supply Co. plant manager was told was that he was to haul concrete -- an endless river of concrete -- to be poured into the cavernous hole that had been excavated beside the posh Greenbrier hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. He remembers an urgency about the job, his supervisor hollering "hurry up," even instructing him to push the legal weight limit on his truckloads, and paying the fines that resulted. To keep up with the job, Superior Supply had to purchase two more concrete mixers, and still it was stretched thin. Over the next 2 1/2 years, Wickline estimates, the company hauled some 4,000 loads to the site and poured 50,000 tons of concrete into the abyss that scrapers, rippers and air hammers had carved out of the shale. Cost was never an issue."

Up until Goup's bombshell article, the US Government kept the top-secret bunker ready for action, stocked and staffed with undercover employees, just in case. 

Once the bunker's existence and location were made public, the government had no choice but to begin the process of declassifying it. 

Now, the Greenbrier offers tours of this unique glimpse into what horror life could have eroded into, a slice of history that the Saints will sleep on top of every night for almost the next month.