The Greenbrier: White Sulfur Springs and White Silver Sands

 White Sulfur Springs: White Silver Sands or Hot Springs and the Cold War

If somethin’ mighty funny was goin’ on in Dallas in 1963, somethin’ even mighty funnier was goin’ on someplace else, too.

When I started the twelfth grade and my dissolute brother was slated to enter the tenth, my parents summarily yanked him out of public school and packed him off to the military academy at Greenbrier, West Virginia. They thought he needed the kind of discipline he was refractory to at home.

The Greenbrier has an interestingly unique history.

In 1778 a natural Sulpher mineral water spring was discovered there, which gained so much notoriety among a devoted following of wealthy travelers, that the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in the early 1900s eventually developed an exclusively posh resort at the site.

The company also constructed a large hotel with an indoor pool and commissioned the famous golf architect Charles Blair Macdonald to design a course. He also designed the Famous Shinnecock Hills on Eastern Long Island.

Because the facility had already been on the Southern elite society vacation circuit, as its reputation spread, it became more geared to a nationally famous retreat for the very rich and the very famous. Sam Snead eventually became the golf pro Emeritus, and Jack Nicklaus later upgraded the golf facility to a level that could host a Ryder Cup match.

In W W II the federal Government expropriated the facility, interred German, Japanese and Italian diplomats there, and then in 1942 converted the hotel to a two thousand-bed hospital, which processed over 24,000 soldiers for surgical or physical rehabilitation by the end of World War II.

Dwight Eisenhower was a frequent visitor indulging both his golf habit as well as enjoying the amenities of the five star grand hotel.

At the onset of the cold war considerable nationwide concern and then outright paranoia developed about the possibility of a Soviet nuclear attack on the United States.

Then despite the fact that after the war The Greenbrier had been handed back to private enterprise, the Federal Government revisited the location in the early 1950s to commission the construction of an Emergency Relocation Center. This ERC was exclusively earmarked for use by the U.S. Congress in the event of an atomic war and was a euphemistic moniker for a bunker style bomb shelter that was secreted from the general public by building it underneath what appeared to be a new addition to the hotel, the so called West Virginia Wing.

A secret agreement was made with the now CSX rail transportation corporation, which ostensibly owned the hotel, that in the event of an international crisis, the entire facility would be turned over to the Federal Government to be specifically used for the emergency relocation of the U.S. legislative branch.

Other branches of government had their own unique locations for the same eventuality, such as Camp David for the President As for the Supreme Court, who knows where or who really cares.

The work went under the name of “Project Greek Island” and was masked from the general public by having Federal workers disguise themselves as TV repair men in order to blend them in with the locals. This endeavor resulted in a self contained, self-sufficient underground city that could withstand the worst atomic blast, even if the Soviets knew exactly where to aim the missile..

Meanwhile, at great personal expense, the rest of us common folk were left with the option to build our own bomb shelters, in our own basements or on our properties, but only if there happened to be enough room or if it was permitted by local zoning ordinances.

The propaganda of fear made owing personal bomb shelters a veritable sign of prestige. There was also a naive concept circulated and fueled by the same government propaganda that people could actually save themselves in the event of atomic war, get up the next day in the aftermath, and then just scurry around doing business as usual.

To illustrate this absurd point, as high school students we were subjected to mandatory air raid drills, at which time all school activity ceased, we lined up to be sent back to our home rooms, then to assume the fetal position under our desks. Of course we were only being given the two-minute warning, whereas having more likely been armed with more sophisticated advance notices, the US Congress and the President would probably already be sipping hot toddies in their well constructed bomb proof caves, tippling their jars and ruminating on just what “the poor people might be doing today.”

It is reminiscent of the vision that Dr. Strangelove paints as the military brass is congregated in their war room attempting to abort WW III, which only they know is about to be ignited by a renegade US bomber. He tells the military brass about the secret bunker and states that each of them will be morally obligated to go in there with ten personally designated female virgins in order to ensure the repopulation of the planet after the holocaust.

This news suddenly makes the previously pessimistic generals feel not so remorseful about the rest of a general public that is designated to soon become atomic French fries.

Sounds a little like the promise to an Islamic terrorist that if he sacrifices himself while killing the infidel, he will have 50 virgins to himself when he gets to his guaranteed spot in heaven.

I wonder however if any of these suicidal maniacs take pause to realize that since it only seems to be the men who are involved in these self-destructive activities, that 99% of all those waiting virgins will obviously be men. Or maybe that all of it sounds just a little bit too good to be true anyway, or why no one has yet asked the mastermind encouraging these sacrifices the reason he has not taken advantage of this great opportunity first.

  • Hi, and welcome to heaven. My name is Abdul. I am here to tell you that I am going to be your eternal roommate, your animal slave, and your ever-present handsome party pal. I just love to give head while my angelic friend Jamal here, who will be your perpetual heavenly party host, likes to take his up the ass. Or if you like, since Isara there is the only female suicide bomber we have, you can stand in line for the gangbang, which I would not heartily recommend, since you will have to wait a thousand years to be “up next.”

Caveat emptor.

Speaking of too good to be true, did any world leaders really stop to think it through by considering what kind of world would exist after the fact of a global atomic war? Did the Federal Government realistically prepare the general public?

What would have really happened if the planet had been wiped clean by atomic dust and radiation?

Or what if the only people subsequently left in this country were these Lilly livered effete and condescendingly superior egalitarian bureaucrats; people who had never in their lives held real jobs?

When they emerged from the bunkers to find themselves alone and with no one to govern, would they finally be able to govern themselves?

More importantly then who would pay the taxes?

Who would decide the important issues of the day, like what was going to be for lunch and who was going to clean dirty dishes or take out the trash?

Who would lead and who would follow?

Sounds to me like the groundwork would automatically be set in place for some good old-fashioned filibustering along with a new cycle of tedious pondering, inept inaction or misplacing priorities. That is if the likes of Ted Kennedy could even be rousted from his harem or his wet-bar to cast a deciding vote on today’s desert menu.

All I can remember is that the threat of nuclear war was psychologically devastating to me as an adolescent child and that when I once voiced these fears and concerns to my mother asking her why we did not have our own bomb shelter, she said that building a shelter was a “waste of time and money.”

  • Don’t worry. If we take a direct hit you won’t even know what happened to you anyway.

Then parroting Nikita Khrushchev’s comments at the Salt II treaty, she also glibly stated that if any of us were unfortunate enough to be alive in the aftermath, it would no longer matter because all of those left alive “would truly come to envy the dead.”

I suppose in the final analysis both John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev must have realized the absurdity of it all and that dealing with atomic warfare intuitively gets no better than my Uncle Bill’s idea of how to deal with an approaching tornado. Get on the porch. Sit back and ” Play switch” by alternating putting one thumb up your butt and one thumb in your mouth as you try to enjoy the light show.

Or, in the case of JFK, maybe just sit back in your Presidential limousine for a quick little drive through Dallas waiting for a tiny two-ounce brain splitting lead projectile to pass directly through your frontal lobe, splattering a few yellow pieces of your newly extinguished memories of adulating crowds all over your lovely wife’s new pink Dior dress.

Non-atomic, without warning, air-mailed directly to recipient, yet just as deadly as any two ton bunker buster bomb.


Air Raid

(Air raid drill 1950s-1960s)

Well, the whole thing started at 3 o’clock fast,

It was all over by a quarter past.

I was down in the sewer with some little lover

When I peeked out from the manhole cover

Wondering who turned the light on. 

Well, I got up and walked around

And up and down the lonesome town.

I stood a-wondering which way to go, I lit a cigarette on a parking meter

And walked on down the road.

It was a normal day. 

Well I rung the fallout shelter bell

And I leaned my head and I gave a yell,

“Give me a string bean, I’m a hungry man.”

A shotgun fired and away I ran.

I don’t blame them too much though,

I know I look funny. 

Down at the corner by a hot dog stand

I seen a man, I said “Howdy friend,

I guess there’s just us two.”

He screamed a bit and away he flew.

Thought I was Communist. 

Well I spied a girl and before she could leave,

I said, “Let’s go and play Adam and Eve.”

I took her by the hand and my heart it was thumpin’

When she said, “Hey man, you crazy or sumpin’,

You seen what happened last time they started.”


(Bob Dylan: Talking World War Three Blues)



Greenbrier history from various internet sources
Air Raid Drill



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s