Monday, September 5, 2011

MOUNT WEATHER DOCUMENTS: Before and After the Cuban Missile Crisis

“No cleaning or pressing facilities are available”

--Excerpt from “Interim Standing Operating Procedures for Emergency Use of the Classified Location” (1962)[1]

“…we have the capability of producing special entertainment ‘shows’ and releasing them over our own closed circuit Channel 2…”

--Excerpt from “Special Facilities Preparedness” (1962)[2]



As regular readers of this blog are all too aware CONELRAD has spent much of its twelve year existence trying to unearth documents related to Mount Weather (aka High Point, aka the Special Facility, aka the Classified Location, aka the Protected Facility) - the massive underground government bunker located forty-eight miles west of Washington, D.C. This never ending quest is in service of our ultimate goal of finding and publishing the Arthur Godfrey Doomsday Message, a tape or film that the famed broadcaster reportedly recorded in the 1950s to be played in the event of a nuclear war. This recording, along with one by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is said to have been stored in a vault at Mount Weather for years.

Mnt Weather-Sign-Lo

In June we posted a heavily redacted memo from 1957 entitled “Functions to be Performed at High Point” that was, to put it mildly, something of a letdown. The aforementioned document had nothing to do with the popular personality’s end-of-the-world tape and added very little to the knowledge base of the mysterious super shelter (thanks to all those black splotches). While the documents presented in this post may have only passing relevance to the search for the Godfrey message, they are completely uncensored and highly entertaining.


Before we proceed, we would like to thank historian David Krugler for sharing these textual gems with us. If you have not read Professor Krugler’s book This Is Only A Test: How Washington D.C. Prepared for Nuclear War, you should because it is perhaps the best history of early Cold War Continuity of Government planning available.


Interim Standing Operating Procedures for Emergency Use of the Classified Location

A month before the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Mount Weather, the crown jewel of the Federal Relocation Arc, received a timely and thorough paperwork update. The declassified fifteen-page “Interim Standing Operating Procedures for Emergency Use of the Classified Location” reads like the driest of employee handbooks, but it is quite informative. And because the document is describing a Strangelovian World War III refuge complete with its own censorship department, it transcends its original purpose to become a grand work of unintentional humor.

“Interim Standing Operating Procedures” begins with the basics such as definitions, roles, responsibilities, capabilities, etc. and then goes on to detail the available television and radio resources (of particular interest because the Godfrey message would presumably require a delivery system) beginning on page 9:

“Television and radio broadcasting studios are available for authorized programs. From these studios programs can be transmitted over a ‘closed circuit’ system (Channel 2) which confines the broadcast to the OEP Classified Location, or programs can be transmitted nationwide through hookup with the commercial networks. The television studio has the necessary facilities for broadcasting 16mm film and 35mm slides. Television programs may also be tape recorded while in progress and released at a later time.”


It is on page ten that the real fun begins with Section VII A.: Procedures Governing Entry. This section states that only “emergency assignees to the Classified Location with Top Secret Clearance” will be admitted. Those with “permanent passes” (Arthur Godfrey?) will be admitted immediately and those with temporary passes will be held for additional screening in “Building 403.” “All others will be granted admission only on authority of the Chief, Special Facility, or those authorized to act in his stead.” In other words, at the time of the missile crisis, J. Leo Bourassa (who ran Mount Weather from its opening in 1958 until 1968 and who died in 2000) must have been a very popular man.[3]


In the event that an unruly GS-7, townie or even a desperate First Lady (Bourassa stated in a 1992 interview that government spouses—even Mamie, Jackie and Lady Bird—were not welcome in the Special Facility[4]) tried to breach the perimeter, the document explains that there are “intrusion detection devices and armed guards” to prevent “unauthorized entry.”

First Lady collage

Section VIII A announces that the cafeteria is “located in Building 15” and that the hours of operation “will be announced at the time of the emergency.” The congressional bunker underneath the Greenbrier Hotel, by contrast, had its hours posted in advance of the “emergency.”


Section VIII C cautions that dormitory space is “very limited” and that “luggage must be kept to a minimum.” The anonymous author also warns that “no cleaning or pressing facilities are available.” But, on the plus side, in the very next section it is noted that “the facility provides substantial protection from blast effects and practically total protection against other weapons effects.”

Laundry-Blast copy

With regard to “Recreation” Section VIII F states that “very limited recreation areas are located in Building 17 of the Protected Facility and in such other areas as might from time to time be available.” This situation is greatly improved upon in Document 2.

Special Facilities Preparedness: November 29, 1962

A little over a month after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Y. Phillips, Director, Government Readiness Office, wrote this memorandum to Colonel Justice M. Chambers, Deputy Director, Office of Emergency Planning.[5] The missile scare had clearly placed a renewed emphasis on the services Mount Weather should be able to provide its occupants for a prolonged stay.

After some old business regarding the leveraging of the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico[6] (this section is notable in that it actually names the Chief of the Special Facility, “Mr. Bourassa,” but does not identify his role) and the lack of “Chaplains” assigned to Mount Weather, Phillips launches into a detailed description of the new recreational amenities at the site. In addition to the horseshoes, golf driving range (indoor) and barbells (2 sets), etc., Phillips points out that the Special Facility is equipped to offer “organized calisthenics” and can also produce “special entertainment ‘shows’” for broadcast over “closed circuit Channel 2 (TV).”


The next section of the document announces that “there are six individuals among personnel now assigned to the Special Facility who have barbering skills” and that “three barber kits have been obtained.”


Phillips wraps up his memo with the matter-of-fact announcements of separate “detention rooms” being “readied” for men and women and the installation of washers and dryers. Were the detention rooms the result of a “lesson learned” from the emotional stress of the Cuban Missile Crisis? And if Mount Weather was even activated during the crisis was it, as Robert F. Kennedy (Steven Culp) suggests in Thirteen Days (2000), used primarily as a tool “for morale”?[7]

We do not know, but we look forward to finding and sharing more declassified Mount Weather documents and, someday, the Arthur Godfrey Doomsday Message.



If this post has piqued your interest in Mount Weather and Continuity of Government, CONELRAD recommends the following reading material:

Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983)

Edward Zuckerman, The Day After World War III (New York: Viking, 1984).

Ted Gup, “Doomsday Hideway,” Time, pp. 26-29, December 9, 1991.

Ted Gup, “The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway,” Washington Post, May 31, 1992.

Ted Gup, “The Doomsday Blueprints,” Time, pp. 32-39, August 10, 1992.

David Krugler, This is Not a Test: How Washington DC Prepared for Nuclear War (New York: Palgrave, 2006).

Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War (New York: Knopf, 2008).

[1] “Interim Standing Operating Procedures for Emergency Use of the Classified Location,” effective September 14, 1962, U.S. National Archives, Records Group 396, Declassified P 95 Records, Accession 66A03, Box 6, Folder “Special Facilities Branch.”

[2] Memorandum to Colonel J. M. Chambers from Robert Y. Phillips RE: “Special Facilities Preparedness,” November 29, 1962, U.S. National Archives, Records Group 396, Declassified P 95 Records, Accession 66A03, Box 6, Folder “Special Facilities Branch.”

[3] Patrick K. Lackey, “Underground Life: He Kept a Vital Bomb Shelter – and Kept it Secret,” Virginia Pilot, A-1, December 26, 1992. Note: On December 9, 2010, CONELRAD’s Bill Geerhart spoke with Bourassa’s daughter, Pam Bourassa, who stated that her father never mentioned a pre-recorded “Doomsday” message by Arthur Godfrey or anyone else. However, she stated that her father rarely spoke about his Mount Weather role.

[4] Ibid.

[5] For Chambers’ connection to Godfrey see Sidney Lohman, “News of TV and Radio,” New York Times, April 27, 1952. Both appeared in an April 29, 1952 civil defense special entitled “It Can Happen Here.”

[6] Letter from David M. Shoup to Edward M. McDermott RE: Emergency Capability of Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, U.S. National Archives, Records Group 396, Declassified P 95 Records, Accession 66A03, Box 6, Folder “Special Facilities Branch.”

[7] Michael Dobbs’s definitive Cuban Missile Crisis history, One Minute to Midnight (New York: Knopf, 2008), pp. 310-311, describes the civil defense preparations for senior White House staff during the crisis. His reporting suggests that Mount Weather was on high alert if not fully activated. Specifically, Dobbs writes: “Over the last few days, the staff had been receiving packages of instructions telling them what to do and where to go in an emergency. Top aides…received pink identification cards, which meant they would accompany the president to an underground bunker…”


KCPopCultBlarf said...

Fantastic cache of stuff! What a find! Thank you so much for sharing.

dbrooks47 said...

Some may find it hard to swallow, but these places still exist. They are ready when and if ever the government needs them. I hope never. I am a person whotakes a special intrest in all things associated with the Cold War era.
Thanks for the great post

td said...

Can anyone tell me what defoliants were used to clear the land Mt.Weather stands on?

td said...


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