Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mount Weather: A Random and Incomplete Oral History

Xfiles-Weather copy

“They’re doing some pretty scary things up on the Mountain.”

-- Quote from a source of a 2001 Washington Post article on the government relocation site, Mount Weather[1]

“I’ll be glad to tell you all about it, but I’d have to kill you afterward.”

-- FEMA spokesman, Bob Blair, to investigative reporter, Ted Gup, in 1991[2]

Unlike the declassified congressional bunker at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, there are no public tours through the top secret Mount Weather. Indeed, this massive Cold War-era “Special Facility” located near Berryville, Virginia continues to stand at the ready to shield the President of the United States, the Supreme Court Justices and hundreds of other VIPs in the event of a national emergency.

Seven Days in May

Since at least 1962 (when authors Fletcher Nebel and Charles W. Bailey II described a presidential refuge called Mount Thunder in their political thriller Seven Days in May), the public has imagined what this super bunker must look like. Mount Weather has proven to be such an irresistible and mysterious symbol of 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.

Mulder-MountWeather-2 copy

But what is the real Mount Weather story? Could it possibly live up to its legend? CONELRAD has assembled the following oral history from the limited published accounts available regarding the site. We hope that this post may inspire retired FEMA staff, government officials and journalists to come forward with their own eyewitness accounts. If we receive any additional information we will publish an update.



“That was some rough, tough, dirty work… It was amazing the way they could drive a straight line through solid rock.”

--Gilbert Fowler, foreman of one of three 40-man U.S. Bureau of Mines shifts that worked around the clock for three years to expand the Mount Weather mine into a state of the art continuity of government facility. Fowler worked with one of the architects of the top secret project, Paul Russell. Mount Weather was completed in 1958.[3]

“It’s kind of mind-boggling. Dr. Strangelove is one of my favorite movies, and you can fantasize about that site in similar ways. It’s otherworldly—just the size and weight and massiveness of the doors. It’s a mini-city—like a space station.”

-- Buford Macklin, who was once the emergency coordinator of the Department of Housing and Urban Development[4]

Mnt Weather-Sign-Lo

“It’s austere. Believe me. I’ve been there. The secretary of commerce has a small cubicle. He wouldn’t have to share a bed. Everybody else would.”

-- Richard Pidgeon, who was once the emergency coordinator of the Department of Commerce[5]

“Mount Weather could hold two, even three times as many people as there were bunks—several thousand in all. Only the President, Cabinet Secretaries and Supreme Court Justices had private quarters. Eisenhower had family pictures on his desk. A therapeutic mattress was installed for [President John F.] Kennedy’s bad back. For those who could not cope with the stress, the facility had sedatives as well as a padded isolation cell, complete with an observation window. One official dubbed it ‘the rubber room’ and said there were straightjackets on pegs outside the door… So complete is the site’s inventory that it now includes birth-control pills—not because of any anticipated sexual activity but so that female officials would not have to interrupt their pill-taking schedule.”

-- Ted Gup in Time magazine, 1992[6]

“That was a station up in northern Virginia that had good, firm underground rock that we could operate from that would give us a reasonable amount of security for detonations… Originally, the thing started as a Bureau of Mines mine for testing, for testing their mining equipment. And then, we took it over in 1955. And we then converted it into an underground installation having hard communications capability.”

-- J. Leo Bourassa, who ran Mount Weather from 1958 to 1968[7]

First of all, as important as the site was to what we wanted to do, we had to protect it, not make it a target or an invitation. Now, I don't say that the Russians didn't know it was there, but why alert all the other infiltrators that could come in and give you some hard times?

-- J. Leo Bourassa[8]

“Radiation or not, throw them the hell out. I don’t give a damn what the radiation count is.”

-- J. Leo Bourassa on handling saboteurs and troublemakers in a post-attack environment at Mount Weather[9]

“He [Mount Weather site director, J. Leo Bourassa] had that job during the hottest years of the Cold War, from 1958 to 1968. If the need arose, said recently, he would have kept out the president’s wife—Mamie Eisenhower or Lady Bird Johnson or Jacqueline Kennedy – because they didn’t have passes. The ground rules, written by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, stated: no spouses allowed. Emotions would be running high, and everyone would have to be treated equally, Bourassa said, to prevent revolt.”

-- Patrick K. Lackey, in a 1992 article on J. Leo Bourassa[10]

First Lady collage

“Automatic weapons were stored at the site, and Bourassa says he would have implemented a shoot-to-kill order to prevent anyone not on the site’s roster—even family members of officials or locals—from gaining access.”

-- Ted Gup in Time magazine, 1992[11]

“I expect your people to save our government. You know damned well I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

-- President Dwight D. Eisenhower to J. Leo Bourassa[12]

“I never took it very seriously. It was an unrealistic thing, it seemed to me, that we’d all pick up at the ringing of a bell and run for the hills leaving our families behind.”

-- Alexis Johnson, Deputy Under Secretary of State, during the Cuban Missile Crisis[13]

“That facility could have accommodated thousands of people. They would have rotated the bunks. They would have been working very long shifts. There was a crematorium to dispose of bodies, people that had been killed from either blast burns or radiation. It was a remarkably sophisticated and complete facility, and one of several around the country.”

-- Ted Gup on Larry King Live in 1992[14]

“The plane crashed about one and one-half miles from an underground complex that reportedly is designed to serve as a headquarters for high government officials in the event of a nuclear war. A Federal spokesman acknowledged only that the facility was operated by the little known Office of Preparedness, whose responsibilities, he said, include ‘continuity of government in a time of national disaster.’”

-- New York Times report on a TWA airline crash that brought unwelcome attention to Mount Weather[15]

“The installation is kept in a constant state of readiness to perform its mission in the event of an emergency that requires the relocation of key Government officials. These employees are required to have top secret clearance, to reside within an hour’s ride of the Special Facility, and to be available 24 hours a day to report for duty at the Special Facility in the event of an emergency.

Because of the remote location of the Special Facility, as well as its top secret classification, the employees assigned there are not able to use public transportation to travel between their homes and their jobs. Therefore, for many years a bus transportation service, at reasonable rates of fare to the employees, has been operated by the Government between the Special Facility and the nearby communities where the employees reside. The buses remain nightly at pre-designated community rendezvous points to ensure transportation for employees to the Special Facility in the event of after-duty-hour recall.”

-- FEMA request for funding for Mount Weather operations, 1981[16]

“The entrance is such that if they were to pop a nuke, it would withstand whatever they popped.”

-- Julius W. Becton, Jr., former FEMA director, on what has been described as a five ft. thick, ten ft. high and twenty ft. wide solid steel door that serves as the gateway to the Mount Weather bunker.[17]

“I wanted to disperse a little of the mystery, here. I was at Mount Weather twice - once with President Eisenhower, once with President Johnson. The only mystic part of it, we were all supposed to leave our families in the event of a nuclear attack on Washington. Nobody would have done that. But hundreds of people knew when we went along with the Presidents.”

-- Bob Clark, ABC News, calling in to Larry King Live, 1992[18]

“The person described on this card has essential emergency duties with the Federal Government. Request full assistance and unrestricted movement be afforded the person to whom this card is issued.”

-- Text on identification card carried by a person with access to Mount Weather[19]

“Our program started in 1954. Wouldn’t it be prudent to assume that the Russians have found out where these facilities are and have targeted them? With modern weapons, they can dig out anything they want… Mount Weather still has lots of utility for a situation less than a nuclear war. Its capital costs are amortized, and the operating costs of a place like that are pretty cheap. And it might survive an attack. Do you scrap something like that? Maybe at some point, when you have sufficient alternatives, you close it.”

-- John Policastro, FEMA Division of Continuity of Government Planning to author Edward Zuckerman for the 1984 book, The Day After World War III[20]

“Only once did the facility go on full alert—on November 9, 1965, when a power failure darkened much of the Northeast. [Site director, J. Leo] Bourassa says he feared at the time that it was the result of a surgical nuclear strike. His order: ‘Report to base at once.’ The site’s fleet of buses was dispatched to round up the 200-plus employees who lived in the area. Up until then, officials had feared that the staff would not report in because their family members would be sheltered. But that day, more than 80% of the staff answered the call. Bourassa also put the facility on a high state of readiness following [President John F.] Kennedy’s assassination. Surprisingly, Mount Weather was not put on alert during the Cuban missile crisis, though the situation was monitored closely.”

-- Ted Gup in Time magazine, 1992[21]


Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Mountain has no doubt received more visitors than it ever did during the Cold War. If you, dear reader, have been fortunate enough to actually see the inside of this monument to Strangelovian fantasy, please drop us a line here. Your anonymity is guaranteed.


MAKE MINE A TRIPLE: The Inside World of Bunker Nightlife

MOUNT WEATHER DOCUMENTS: Before and After the Cuban Missile Crisis


[1] Eugene Scheel, “From the Mysterious to the Mundane, ‘The Mountain’ Has Weathered It All,” Washington Post, p. T-03, October 7, 2001.

[2] Ted Gup, “Doomsday Hideaway,” Time magazine, p. 26, December 9, 1991.

[3] Ibid. p. 28.

[4] Edward Zuckerman, The Day After World War III [New York: Viking Press, 1984], p. 223.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ted Gup, “The Doomsday Blueprints,” p. 35, August 10, 1992.

[7] Larry King Live Transcript, CNN, August 10, 1992.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ted Gup, “The Doomsday Blueprints,” p. 35, August 10, 1992.

[10] Patrick K. Lackey, “Underground Life” He Kept a Vital Bomb Shelter – and Kept it a Secret,” the Virginian-Pilot, p. A1, December 26, 1992.

[11] Ted Gup, “The Doomsday Blueprints,” p. 35, August 10, 1992.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ted Gup, “Doomsday Hideaway,” Time magazine, p. 29, December 9, 1991.

[14] Larry King Live transcript.

[15] Associated Press, “All 92 On Board Killed When Jetliner Crashes…,” New York Times, P.1, December 2, 1974.

[16] Edward Zuckerman, The Day After World War III [New York: Viking Press, 1984], p. 224.

[17] Ted Gup, “Doomsday Hideaway,” Time magazine, p. 26, December 9, 1991.

[18] Larry King Live Transcript.

[19] Ted Gup, “The Doomsday Blueprints,” p. 39, August 10, 1992.

[20] Edward Zuckerman, The Day After World War III [New York: Viking Press, 1984], p. 223.

[21] Ted Gup, “The Doomsday Blueprints,” p. 36, August 10, 1992.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

MAKE MINE A TRIPLE: The Inside World of Bunker Nightlife


“Use of alcoholic beverages on the property [is prohibited] except,

(1) In the Balloon Shed Lounge at Mt. Weather and in other locations that the Administrator or the Mt. Weather Executive Director authorizes in writing…”

- Excerpt from the U.S. government document, “Conduct at the Mt. Weather Emergency Assistance Center and at the National Emergency Training Center,” p. 145


It has been written that director Stanley Kubrick’s decision to translate Peter George’s dramatic Cold War thriller novel Red Alert into the wildly satirical StrangePie Dr. Strangelove occurred during a late night writing session when the filmmaker wondered aloud what exactly the War Room did for take-out food. Did they order pizza? Did they send a runner out to the local diner? This curiosity eventually led the script to be restructured into a comedy.[i] Indeed, the notorious deleted pie fight sequence that was to be the original ending to the film is undoubtedly an outgrowth of the absurdist notion that World War III could be catered. It was Kubrick’s long ago fascination with the trivial aspects of nuclear war that prompted CONELRAD to post an inquiry about the Balloon Shed Lounge (the facility mentioned in bright green in the government document excerpt above) on a respected Cold War Internet discussion group back in 2004. To our surprise, we received a reply almost immediately. Due to a number of factors including editorial backlog and general laziness, we are just now getting around to posting our interview with the gentleman who agreed to share his intimate knowledge of bunker watering holes and cafeterias. 


Our source, who still holds a government security clearance, did not wish to be identified, but CONELRAD is satisfied that this person is legitimate. We cannot reveal how we vetted him as it might tend to compromise his identity, so our readers will just have to trust us on this one. For the purposes of this interview, we will refer to him as “Deep Mug.”


CONELRAD: You have been to The Granite Cove and The Balloon Shed Lounge, the cafes that serve Site R and Mount Weather respectively. Do you know anything about the history of these establishments? In other words, how long they have been in existence at these sites? Do you know if they date back to the Cold War?

DEEP MUG: Granite Cove or some predecessor has existed since Site R opened. It is the only place to eat inside the mountain, besides a couple of really crappy vending machines. You eat there, or you don't eat unless you bring your own. I'm not sure how long The Balloon Shed has been around but it is not a new facility. My guess would be that it or a predecessor dates back to the Sixties.

Location of The Balloon Shed Bar at Mount Weather

CONELRAD: Were you surprised that these facilities had names - as opposed to the typical government-issue cafeterias.

DEEP MUG: Granite Cove isn't a surprise. The Army gives it's mess halls names these days, to give them a little more character. The Balloon Shed is actually not a cafeteria. It is merely a pretty small bar on the first floor of one of the buildings at Mt. Weather. There is a pretty large cafeteria that occupies most of the second floor of the same building. It doesn't have a name.

CONELRAD: Did you or anyone you know ever visit the cafeteria at the Greenbrier congressional bunker in White Sulphur Springs, W. VA?

DEEP MUG: Sorry, can't help you there. You know as much as I do.

CONELRAD: Does the Granite Cove and the Balloon Shed have distinctive signage advertising its presence at the sites or is it pretty conservative? Could you describe?

DEEP MUG: Both have signs. Granite Cove is pretty straightforward conservative but they may have jazzed it up since I was there 10 years ago. Balloon Shed has a nice sign with, well, A BALLOON that looks like it was done by a woodworker. The name "Balloon Shed" hints back to Mt. Weather's origins as a weather station in the early 1900s.

CONELRAD: Do both establishments serve alcohol?

DEEP MUG: No alcohol at Granite Cove, it's just an Army mess hall. The Balloon Shed is a bar...though I think they have bar snacks like popcorn.

CONELRAD: Do they have Happy Hours?

DEEP MUG: Balloon Shed doesn't really have happy hours per se. In fact, it normally isn't open without prior arrangement.

CONELRAD: Are there any uniquely named drinks such as an Atomic Cocktail; or do they just serve beer and wine?

DEEP MUG: Alas, it's just beer and wine...and often pretty ordinary beer and wine at that! No microbrews or fancy varietals. The wine is likely to come from a box.

CONELRAD: Have you ever seen anyone get hammered?

DEEP MUG: Oh, yeah! For several years (until 9/11), FEMA actually held a number of training classes for local and state emergency response personnel out at Mt. Weather. It was a program to take some of the burden off their training center in Emmitsburg, MD. I attended several of these and saw plenty of cops and firemen get pretty hammered. Hell, there's nothing else to do after hours and no place else to really go. The nice thing is that they run a bus service back to the dorms, so you can get as hammered as you like and not worry about driving.

CONELRAD: Do they have Marines serve as bouncers?

DEEP MUG: No bouncers, but if you get out of line at Mt. Weather then you deal with the Mt. Weather security police. They are civilians, but they have NO sense of humor with outsiders, especially these days.

CONELRAD: Are there any uniquely named dishes like a Heart Healthy Cheney Burger or a Rumsfeld Ham Sandwich?

DEEP MUG: You forgot the Senator Robert Byrd "pork" chop! Very normal cafeteria food. Typical colorless government approach.

CONELRAD: Are there juke boxes? If so, what kind of music?

DEEP MUG: Balloon Shed did have a juke box as I recall, with a mix of classic rock and some country. It may or may not still be there.

CONELRAD: Do these establishments have air hockey, pinball machines or Saturday night turtle races?

DEEP MUG: There are pool tables, ping pong and a foosball table, I think, just outside the Balloon Shed. Even if the bar isn't open, the pool tables etc. are available for use 24/7.

CONELRAD: Are there any decorations that adorn these cafes or are they pretty Spartan? Are there pictures of the President? Describe the rooms if you could.

DEEP MUG: The Balloon Shed has some very cool old photos of the weather testing/measurement activities at Mt. Weather in the 1900s to the 30s, including pictures of the weather balloons and the "balloon shed" for which the place is named. It is a small, small bar...not much bigger than a bar one might build in a home basement. The bar seats maybe 8-10 folks, with a couple of small tables holding another 10-15. Granite Cove is a big, open room with a bunch of tables for the military folks. It is carpeted, with white walls and a rather ordinary drop ceiling. It can seat probably 200 or more people at a time. Don't remember any pictures...if there were any, they would have looked like something stolen from a Holiday Inn.

CONELRAD: Is the wait-staff at these establishments armed and friendly or just armed?

DEEP MUG: The cafeteria staff at Site R are all civilians, most of them local residents who've been working there for years...or whose family has worked there for years. They were a pretty good bunch, took good care of the soldiers working in Site R. Same story for the cafeteria staff at Mt. Weather, though they use contractors down there now. The Balloon Shed is operated on an "as needed" basis by something called the Midway Recreation Association. Basically, I think it's a group of Mt. Weather employees/family members. When I was there, you made prior arrangements, shelled out $50 and they would staff the place with a bartender. For some reason, I think they have to operate it that way since these activities aren't directly funded with tax $$$ (seriously!). The bar at the FEMA Training Center in Emmitsburg is operated by the "National Emergency Training Center Recreation Association" and you have to pay $1 for a two-week "membership card" if you're a student up there. I think staff members are automatically members.

CONELRAD: Would both of these establishments be in operation during a crisis in which the facility would be completely locked down?

DEEP MUG: Granite Cove would definitely operate since they feed the Site R staff. I have a sneaking suspicion that The Balloon Shed would also be available! The scary thing at Site R is that when the fresh food runs out, you're probably going to be stuck eating Army MREs. Yecch! What a way to ride out the end of the world.

CONELRAD: When you dine/drink at these establishments what is the mood? Is it slightly eerie? Does the topic of conversation usually keep coming back to apocalyptic themes?

DEEP MUG: Pretty subdued for the most part. Granite Cove is just a place to get a bite to eat and get back to your post. Again, it's an Army mess hall so you have plenty of horny young soldiers talking about what they did last night, what they'll do when their shift ends, who just got a new motorcycle, who's girlfriend/boyfriend dumped them and is now free, how the officers and sergeants are all idiots, etc. When I was at the Balloon Shed, I was there as part of a civilian training course. Most of the time, we just knocked back a few beers and told a lot of lies like most men do in bars. Not too many women attended those courses, and when they did they usually stayed away from The Balloon Shed. There's really not much talk about the apocalyptic stuff. Those who "are in the know" don't talk much for security reasons. Visiting students don't get anywhere near the classified (read: underground) portions of Mt. Weather so they don't have much to say. After a day or so, the novelty of being stuck on a mountain in the middle of nowhere wears off!

CONELRAD: If the Balloon Shed and the Granite Cove were to be rated in one of these guides like Zagat or AAA, what rating would you give them on a scale of 1 to five mushroom clouds (1 being lowest, five being highest or "most explosively wonderful").

DEEP MUG: The Balloon Shed gets a "3" for atmosphere, but it is very inconsistent. I've been there and had a great time, and been there and was bored to tears. It pales in comparison to the bar at FEMA's Emmitsburg training center, which definitely rates a "5" and is named "The Command Post." Granite Cove gets a "2" for atmosphere but a "4" for food. Again, the service is generally strong but the entrees are inconsistent. Dessert is usually good though not exotic.

CONELRAD: What is the strangest/funniest/most surprising thing that you have witnessed at one of these establishments? Have you ever heard any good anecdotes about wild evenings at these establishments?

DEEP MUG: I never saw anything all that interesting at The Balloon Shed. The security requirements do throw a pall over the place. There are probably some FEMA staffers with good stories but they officially discourage that sort of behavior.

CONELRAD: What are the best and worst food items? Do these places serve breakfast?

DEEP MUG: The best food is usually on the short order lines--burgers, grilled cheese, etc. Breakfast at Granite Cove is always great. The military does breakfast right. The worst food items are usually the same worst items from a typical college cafeteria--mystery meat, soggy fries, over-steamed vegetables. Granite Cove used to serve a midnight meal since there were folks inside the mountain 24 hours a day. The quality of midnight chow ranged from exceptional to inedible...often swinging from one extreme to the other in a single day.

CONELRAD: Tell us about the gift shops at these facilities. What kind of stuff can you buy?

DEEP MUG: No gift shop at Site R, but Mt. Weather has a pretty nice one. You can buy hats, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, polo shirts adorned with either a Mt. Weather logo or the Department of Homeland Security logo. They are also selling off their stock of goodies with the old FEMA logo, which was "retired" by DHS...though they allowed FEMA to keep its name. Strange marriage!

CONELRAD: Final question: What happens after last call? Do people stumble back to their bunk beds?


DEEP MUG: No sleep at Site R....its back to duty. When last call hits at Balloon Shed, everyone piles on the bus and gets dropped back at their dorm. BORING!, but few visitors to Mt. Weather have cars so there aren't many options. At the more lively civilian classes I attended, we usually kept the party going down in the small lounges that are found in each of the Mt. Weather dorm buildings. OFFICIALLY, you're not permitted to bring alcohol onto the site. However, there were plenty of ways around that before things got extra-super tight after 9/11. The housekeeping staff usually didn't say anything about all the empties in the trash can as long as you didn't trash the dorm. It was also prudent to keep a slight lid on the dorm parties so that a roving security patrol didn't get curious and decide to stop in.

The preceding interview was conducted by Bill Geerhart via email on August 4, 2004. Photographs of the cafeteria sign, empty cafeteria and bunk beds are from the congressional bunker at the Greenbrier Hotel. These photos were taken by Bill Geerhart in 1998.

CONELRAD would like to thank Deep Mug for his willingness to answer our questions and we hope that he is reading this now on the Balloon Shed wi-fi.  

[i] Vincent Lobrutto, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography ( De Capo Press, 1999), p. 228

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…”