Introduction: The text below this introduction is the speech for my 98-99 School Year Social Studies Fair Project.  After several competitions, I advanced to the State Level, where I was awarded third place in United States History.  For the project we were required to have 3-5 minute speech, a display board, and an abstract.  My board included pictures I had taken when visiting the bunker the previous summer.  In front of my board, I placed a model of the bunker.  It was to scale and made from Balsa wood.  It was fun to make!  If you are doing a report or project on the secret bunker for Congress, you have come to the right place!

“Project Greek Island”

By: David Underhill

        “Project Greek Island” was the code name for the Congressional Bunker located under the West Virginia Wing of the Greenbrier Hotel.  The bunker would have been used to protect Congress in the event of a nuclear war.

        The idea for the bunker came from President Eisenhower who had an idea for a place for Congress to go in the event of nuclear war.  After the bunker was approved, it was kept secret. Fourteen million dollars was transferred to the Department of Defense to find a good location for the bunker, develop rules and regulations for it, obtain security for it, provide personnel to operate it, and build it.  The Greenbrier Hotel was selected because in World War II enemy diplomats were placed under protective custody there and it had been purchased by the military for use as a hospital. In addition, The Greenbrier was not too far from Washington, DC and it had a naturally protective location (mountains to the north, east, and southwest).

        Superior Supply was the company that constructed the bunker from 1958 – 1961.  The company hauled around 4,000 truckloads of concrete (50 tons) into the bunker.  When the bunker was finished, its concrete roof was covered with 20 feet of dirt. Steel doors were hung at every entrance to the bunker.  Mosler Safe Company, a company that was famous for making safes and vaults, built the steel doors.  Of the three blast doors, the biggest was 12’ 3” wide by 15’ tall and weighed 28 tons. The handles were on the inside of the door so that no one would be able to break into the bunker and the opening mechanisms could be protected from a blast.  The doors were so well balanced that they can be opened effortlessly by a single man, even though the door weighed 28 tons!  In the event of a nuclear explosion, the door would absorb the initial impact of the blast.  First, the door would bend inward and then it would rebound outward.

        Ever since the bunker was completed, a group, known as Forsythe Associates, was responsible for maintaining the bunker.  The six to seven full-time employees concealed their real jobs by repairing the hotel’s 1,000 TV’s and providing The Greenbrier with TV service. Forsythe Associates maintained a large number of antennas; supposedly to deliver cable service to The Greenbrier.

        The Greenbrier security also watched over the bunker.  The bunker was hard to infiltrate because it was monitored by video cameras and had magnetic door switches (when the door was opened the magnetic field was broken and send a signal to the security).  To open a door, a person had to have to have a plastic keycard.  In addition, the whole bunker was compartmentalized with all of its doors kept locked.

        The bunker provided its own power with a 3-level power plant inside the bunker.  Three diesel engines provided the power. Three 14,000-gallon fuel tanks, on the lower level, provided diesel fuel to the engines.  Air was filtered through eight special filters that left the air 99%-contaminant free.  The clean water was stored in one of three fresh water storage tanks that each has a capacity of 24,000 gallons.  In the lower part of the power plant, there were two water boilers, two water chillers, three air conditioning systems and a pathological waste incinerator.  Office trash would have been placed in burn bags and taken to the incinerator.  Dead bodies would have been placed in boxes labeled “Spare Parts” and cremated in this incinerator.

        The bunker’s largest room, the Exhibit Hall, was open to the public.  It had two entrances – a vehicular one and a pedestrian entrance.  The entrances could be quickly sealed with two blast doors.  The Exhibit Hall had a 20-foot ceiling and 18 huge support columns (to hold the concrete above it).  General Motors has rented the room for car shows.  Also open to the public were two meeting rooms. One called the Governor’s Hall had 470 seats (enough to hold the House of Representatives) and massive support columns down the aisles.  The Mountaineer Room had 130 seats (enough to hold the Senate).

 The communications area in the bunker was very sophisticated. It had a message processing, TV production, and an electronic mail area. Its communications room had capabilities to decode classified documents and communicate with those who were outside of the bunker. When it was built, the communications area was the best in the world.

 In the event of a nuclear disaster, Congressional members would have entered through the Hotel’s Exhibit Hall.  If someone had been contaminated, they would have to go through a Decontamination Chamber.  In this chamber there were many showers.  At the end, the person would have been issued unisex clothes and white shoes. The bunker’s inhabitants would have eaten in the bunker’s cafeteria that seated 400 people.  All of the congressional members and staffers would sleep in dormitories, except for the Senate and House Majority Leaders.  The two leaders had private suites that were much nicer than the crowded dormitories.

        When the bunker was built, government officials were questioning whether it would be feasible.  The Greenbrier was a five-hour drive from Washington, DC.  It would require time to round up Congressional members, since very few of its members knew about the bunker.  Originally, if the Congress had been evacuated to the bunker, they could have only brought along their aides.  In 1972, the policy was changed so that Congressmen and Senators could bring their wives, their children that were under 18 years old, and their aides.

        I believe that the Congressional Bunker was a good idea because it could have protected our Congress from harm if nuclear war had broken out.  It was only put on high alert once and that was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The bunker was never actually used by Congress.

        On May 31, 1992, the Washington Post released a story entitled, “The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway,” which reported the secret bunker located at The Greenbrier Hotel.  As a result, the government terminated its lease of the bunker in July 1995.  The usefulness of the bunker was eliminated because it would not work as well against today’s more accurate nuclear weapons and because it was no longer a secret.  Of course, since this bunker was shut down, who knows?  There may be another bunker for the congressional members.

Conclusion: Overall, I enjoyed my topic and had fun learning about it.  Below this is my Abstract (I have bolded my Division instead of circling it).  At the very bottom of the Abstract are my sources.  If you need sources for your project or just want more information, check them out too!  Unfortunately, only two of my sources are on the Internet.  Those are the only two sites that I found that I thought were informative enough to use.  If you use my two Internet sources as well as this page, you should have plenty of information and not need to list any more sources on your Bibliography.

        If you wish to add this report as one of your sources, it would look like this:
Project Greek Island.   Underhill, David.


West Virginia Social Studies Fair

        Each project must have a written abstract using this format.  Abstracts may be handwritten, typed, or completed on a computer as long as this format is used.  The abstract must not be more than two pages.  Lines may be added if desired.  The bibliography may extend beyond that.

Project Name:  “Project Greek Island”

Category: US History  Type: __X__Individual _____Pair _____Class

Division (Circle the appropriate division)

Division I (Grades 4-6)      Division II (Grades 7-9)      Division III (Grades 10-12)

1. What is the purpose of your project?
        The purpose of my project was to find information about the Congressional Bunker code named “Project Greek Island.”  I wanted to learn how the bunker was designed, constructed, and could be self-sufficient.  I also wanted to learn what life would be like in the bunker for Congress and their families.  Finally, I wanted to learn about how the bunker could withstand the enormous power of a nuclear explosion and protect its inhabitants.

2. What did you do to collect information about your topic (conducted interviews, read books, wrote to experts, visited places, etc.)?
        I started collecting information about my topic by videotaping a tour that I took of the Congressional Bunker.  After finishing the tour, I received a brochure, which I later used to obtain additional information.  At home I watched the video to refresh my memory.  Then, I used the Internet and researched interesting articles about the bunker.  One article was the same article that had exposed the bunker to the public.

3.   What were the results/conclusions of your research?
I learned that “Project Greek Island” is a bunker constructed to protect congressional members in the event of a nuclear war.  It has heavy blast doors to repel a nuclear blast. Congress would have conducted legislation in the Governor’s Hall and Mountaineer Room, continued their responsibilities as congressmen, and communicated with the rest of the world from the bunkers state-of-the-art communications area while being protected inside the bunker.  Their aides would have set up offices in the Exhibit Hall.  Congressmen and Senators would have lived in the dormitories and eaten freeze-dried rations.  In the event of illness, they would have been treated in the self-contained Hospital Ward.  It is my belief that the bunker could have provided Congress with some degree of protection from harm in the event of nuclear war.

4. Please list all sources of information used in this project. (Use a bibliographic form: author, title, and place of publication, publisher, date of publication.)

A tour of the bunker at The Greenbrier Hotel.   Sunday August 9, 1998

Interview with Paul Fritz.   PBS.

The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway.   Gup, Ted.

The Greenbrier Hotel.   “Project Greek Island.”

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