Since at least 1962 (when authors Fletcher Nebel and Charles W. Bailey II described a presidential refuge called Mount Thunder in their bestselling political thriller Seven Days in May), the public has speculated about the activities inside a government super bunker known as Mount Weather (aka High Point, the Special Facility, the Classified Location). Mount Weather has proven to be such an irresistible and mysterious symbol of state secrecy over the years that it has served as the location of dramatic scenes in fictional entertainments like the last episode of The X-Files, the 2002 motion picture The Sum of All Fears and the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.
But what is Mount Weather really like? Could it possibly live up to its paranoia-inspiring legend? The short answer is no – at least as far as its 1960s heyday is concerned (we’ll leave it to future researchers to examine the more modern history of the place). How can we answer our own question with such confidence? We recently stumbled upon hundreds of pages of declassified Cold War era Mount Weather meeting notes and other memoranda at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library. These documents, which we will be presenting as a series of posts on this blog, paint a picture of life at the “Special Facility” that is not so special. The meeting minutes, in particular, reveal the site to be less like the science fiction and action films mentioned above and more like the workplace satire Office Space. Indeed, anyone who has ever had to sit through weekly conference calls for their job will look at these documents and nod in pained recognition of the tedious bureaucracy. It is all here: the parking space notices, key card photograph reminders, retirement announcements, company picnics, flu shot reminders, and the list goes on.
This first installment in our series will focus on the weekly minutes of the “Federal Representatives Meeting, Special Facility Branch” for the year 1964. Subsequent years will be featured in future posts. If there is anyone out there reading these documents who participated in these meetings, we would love to hear from you.
The following are some excerpts from the text that struck as being notable. Of course, you can also simply skip right to the full document and be bored silly.
The January 17, 1964 minutes addressed the possibility of opening a barbershop on the site.
A couple of weeks later, in the January 31 notes, it was determined that the barbershop issue required “further study.” Spoiler alert: the barbershop conundrum is revisited in our next Mount Weather Memos post.
In the January 24th minutes, the issue of reserved parking was raised – a recurring theme in 1964. In this instance the unauthorized parking was blamed on “shift workers.”
Speaking of “shift workers,” the November 13, 1964 notes include a reminder that the Mount Weather cafeteria closes at 3:00 p.m. so that the “limited staff can clean the tables.” Throughout the documents that we found, the subject of the cafeteria comes up almost as frequently as the status of various civil defense test exercises.
On March 27th the staff was warned about a “rabies problem.” A rabid fox had been killed on the site and, in a line that recalls the feverish paranoia of the red scare, everyone was warned “to take due caution of animals showing aggressive, erratic or purposeless behavior.”
Another running controversy throughout these memos is the usually poor ratings scored during staff telephone tree tests - something that the world’s greatest continuity of government site should, ideally, have covered. Here is an example of the problem from the June 5th minutes:
On June 19th it was announced that an in-house closed circuit (channel 2) television news broadcast called “Noon Report” would premiere on June 22nd. The response was tepid and the program was later bumped to 3:00 p.m.
The minutes from October 23rd bring us a snapshot from the pre-voicemail era of office technology. These notes prove that even at one of the most technologically sophisticated offices in the world, it was once extremely expensive and cumbersome to dodge a phone call from a supervisor.
We will conclude this installment of Mount Weather Memos with a warning about snake dangers…
Read the full document:
Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library
Federal Records: Office of Emergency Planning
Folder: Minutes of Special Facilities Meetings, 01/10/64-12/16/65