Fans of the modern Fallout games enjoy those titles in part because of their irreverent take on armageddon. But it’s easy to forget that nuclear war is still a threat that hangs over us all. If you look closely, it’s easy to see where Bethesda Softworks’ games can be overlaid on top of real-life events and locations. Take, for instance, the rumored setting for the next title in the series, called Fallout 76.
In the rich and voluminous Fallout lore, it’s said that Vault 76 exists in Virginia. But a cover of a John Denver song heard playing in Fallout 76’s first teaser trailer could mean that the fictional universe has been altered slightly to place it in West Virginia. And, if that’s true, that would put it in the same state as an underground shelter that the United States Congress built for itself in 1961.
The purpose of the facility was to function as the seat of power for the American legislative branch in the event of nuclear war. According to the official website, the 112,544-square-foot bunker is situated some 70 feet below the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It features a 25-ton blast door and a decontamination chamber. Situated a modest four-hour drive away from Washington, D.C., the facility was built to house both the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as a full complement of aides.
In total, there are bunks for 1,100 people. However, none of them were ever intended for civilian use. Not even legislators’ own families were on the guest list.
According to the official history, the facility was active for more than 30 years, maintained by undercover government employees posing as hotel staff.
From an interview with Bob Conte, the Greenbrier’s official historian, conducted by NPR in 2011:
There were a few weird coincidences that Conte noticed [...]. For one, there were many, many, MANY bathrooms. And most of them were for men.
Another thing was that both Gerald Ford and Hubert Humphrey were frequent guests of the Greenbrier when they served in Congress. Conte found out later that they would have been among the few people in the world who knew about the bunker.
Finally, there was a mysterious crew of TV technicians who worked at the hotel but didn’t work for the hotel. The company they worked for was called Forsyth Associates. As it turned out, Forsyth Associates was a cover: These were secret government employees who had to keep the bunker in a constant state of operational readiness.
The existence of the bunker was made public in 1992 thanks to an investigative report by the Washington Post. According to The Greenbrier, its contract with the government was terminated in 1995. It now offers daily tours.
Nevertheless, nuclear war still poses a risk to the continuity of the U.S. government. If there is a new shelter on par with the one located below the Greenbrier, its secret is still being kept by the highest levels of power.