The End of the World as We Knew It
Taking a Tour of Cold War Baltimore
About mile and half before the now-country road crosses the Patapsco River and enters Howard County sits the town of Granite. Well, not so much a town as a loose collection of Victorian frame houses and a squat Presbyterian church whose cornerstone reads 1845. Granite's glory days were some 150 years ago, when nearby quarries coughed up granite blocks used to build everything from the Library of Congress to the Smithsonian to the Baltimore County Court House. But the stone trade bottomed out by 1920. Over the subsequent decades, the quarries filled with water, and the town fell asleep beneath the shade of gnarled oaks. And above a bed of nuclear missiles.
From 1954 to 1974, peaceful, drowsy Granite was the perhaps unlikely setting for an Army surface-to-air-missile base, a link in what's been dubbed a "supersonic ring of steel." At the hottest times in the Cold War, such bases surrounded the city--Baltimore County alone had three others. Their mission: To protect the city should an armada of Soviet bombers come rumbling out of the northern sky bent on raising a mushroom cloud over Mobtown. For most of their lives, the bases' chief weapon was the Nike Hercules--a two-stage guided missile some 41 feet in length, with a nuclear warhead packing as much as 40 kilotons of killing power at the tip.
Granite's contribution to the battle against communism lies about a quarter-mile north of the town proper, up on Hernwood Road, inside a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and hung with signs reading no trespassing us government property. Inside the fence, an abandoned guard's post and a collection of crumbling, low-slung cinder-block buildings stand watch. A quartet of ungainly steel and concrete towers rise on a grassy bluff. This was the base's "Integrated Fire Control" area, where high-powered radar and computer-tracking equipment were set to tell the missiles where to go, in the event they had to go somewhere. The Nikes themselves were another half-mile north along Hernwood, out behind what's now a Maryland State Police training facility. Underground magazines kept the missiles out of sight--elevators would bring them to the surface if the call came--and largely out of mind for their immediate neighbors.
"It was known that there were missiles there," says Joe Tatarewicz, a Granite resident and University of Maryland, Baltimore County history professor. "People would see them raised into launch position during drills. What was not known was that they had nuclear warheads. I can't remember when that was declassified; perhaps two or three years ago. Folks here were pretty surprised."
We will bury you. --Nikita Khrushchev, 1956
Is a war still a war if no shots are fired in anger? If so, then the Cold War, the decades-spanning period of political tension and military one-upmanship that developed between the Soviet Union and the United States after World War II, was this nation's longest and most financially costly conflict. Some $8 trillion was spent in the my-bomb-is-bigger-than-your-bomb arms race.
But then the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The Soviet Union dissolved two years later. And in 1994, Russia and the United States, in a largely symbolic gesture, agreed in a "de-targeting pact" to stop aiming nuclear missiles at each other's cities. Humanity seemed to take a few steps back from the precipice.
Of course, the young George W. Bush administration, with its talk of nuke-wielding "rogue nations," isn't so sure. Bush wants to prevent mushroom clouds from ever rising over the United States via a multibillion-dollar anti-ballistic-missile system. Critics charge that this initiative would violate existing arms-control treaties and destabilize our precious détente. It might even kick awake the moribund Cold War.
But all of this is Washington politics. In Baltimore, it would seem, the Cold War, and its omnipresent threat of nuclear holocaust, is over. Vestiges of the duck-and-cover days--a crumbling missile base; the odd, sun-blanched fallout shelter sign tacked to a downtown building--are fading fast. Even the city's civil-defense sirens, for years tested on Monday afternoons at 1, have fallen silent. (They're still going to be tested, only via a soundless process.)
Baltimore has never been shy about touting its military history. Indeed, the image of Calvert Street's Battle Monument, which commemorates the city's 1814 repulsion of British forces, is on the Baltimore City flag and seal.
But a tour of Cold War Baltimore, for better or worse, is a tour of the forgotten, the decaying, the on-the-way-out.
[A] 5-megaton hydrogen bomb exploded over the intersection of Fayette and St. Paul streets . . . would rip out the heart of Baltimore, blasting complete destruction over an area of 31.2 miles, an area stretching from Thirty-Ninth Street to the Hanover Street bridge over the Patapsco, and from about Hilton Street to the Baltimore City Hospitals. --The Sun, Jan. 25, 1959
Things haven't changed much down here," says Robert Williams, a silver-haired septuagenarian in a blue polo shirt bearing a Boumi Temple logo. "I see some of my maps are still here. I put those maps together years ago."
Williams is retired city worker whose 43 years of service dealt with civil defense. "Down here" is a reinforced redoubt built 48 years ago under the fire station at Cold Spring Lane and Arlington Street as the city's Civil Defense Headquarters. This was, according to a 1954 Sun article, "the safest place in Baltimore"--"the nerve center" of our civic response to nuclear war.
"I've had just about every job you could have down here," says Williams, who retired in 1991. (Among his various titles was the slightly menacing "shelter officer"; he was also a more benign-sounding civil-defense deputy director.) "I was even an inspector when they built this place. I can tell you there are 22 inches of concrete overhead. I forget how thick the walls are--but they're thick."
The basement bunker is still the home to the Baltimore City Office of Emergency Management and Civil Defense, but the three-person office actively occupies but a portion of the space and is no longer concerned with A-bomb Armageddon. (Baltimore is one of only a few jurisdictions in the state whose emergency-management office still has "civil defense" in the title; director Richard McKoy says he'll likely drop the term once all the old letterhead runs out.) Its business is responding to violent storms, toxic-chemical leaks, nuclear-power-plant accidents, and other such unpleasantness.
| Gimme Shelter|
Or, Last One Underground Is a Rotten Egg
The Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal." However, when nuclear bombs start raining down, some folks are more equal than others. Some have special, hardened, super-deep bunkers to crawl into when the megatonnage hits the fan. The mid-Atlantic is sprinkled with secret (and not so secret) Cold War-era subterranean shelters designed to house select military and federal-government operations and personnel. Given the power and sophistication of contemporary warheads, it's questionable whether these vintage redoubts offer any more protection than the school desks kids were once instructed to scramble under when the playground suddenly got real bright. But, hey, they probably beat a rowhouse basement. Greenbrier Opened in 1962 next to (well, under) a posh resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., this capacious bunker -- code name "Project Greek Island" -- was where Congress was to duck and cover when all the big, bad buttons where pushed. The vast complex includes chambers large enough for both House and Senate to meet and a dining room replete with faux windows overlooking faux scenery. (If the legislators faced any hardships down below, it was that no provisions were made for their families to accompany them.) A 1992 Washington Post Magazine expose is often credited with blowing the 28-ton blast door off this costly hideaway. Decommissioned in 1995, it's now open for inspection as a tourist attraction. Mount Pony Opened in 1969 by the Federal Reserve Board, Mount Pony is a semi-underground steel, concrete, and lead bunker outside Culpeper, Va. It was once a major node for federal electronic-funds transfers. Up until 1988, the bunker also warehoused billions of dollars in U.S. currency, shrink-wrapped and stored on pallets, that would be used to replenish the money supply following a nuclear attack. (The assumption being that pieces of paper would still have value for a war-devastated populace desperate for things like, say, food and water.) In what can be read as a telling shift in national priorities, in 1997 the now-cashless redoubt became an archive for the Library of Congress' collection of rare films. (It could not be determined whether Dr. Strangelove is among them.) Mount Weather This 43-year-old big daddy of bunkers near Berryville, Va., might have remained a secret if it weren't for a pesky jetliner that crashed nearby in 1974, effectively blowing its cover. It's a vast underground affair, complete with streets, multistory buildings, and a lake large enough for water skiing. A host of governmental higher-ups have sleeping quarters here, including Supreme Court justices. The Federal Emergency Management Agency runs a multitude of disaster-response operations from under the mountain today. Olney Montgomery County scuttlebutt long had it that an "underground city" lay beneath an Olney cow pasture. While there are not many cow pastures left in increasingly suburban Olney, there is something down there: a substantial 1971 bunker that now serves as an Alternate National Warning Center (designed to get the word out when bad things happen) and a Satellite Teleregistration Facility (whatever that means). Raven Rock Also known as "Site R" and colloquially referred to as "the underground Pentagon," this 48-year-old megabunker lies under a mountain just north of the Maryland line near Waynesboro, Pa., conveniently close to the presidential retreat at Camp David. It's still a key military communications and control facility. President Eisenhower rushed down here in 1955 as part of a doomsday dry run. Rumor has it that the sprawling facility, nestled snugly under hundreds of feet of granite, includes a presidential bedroom still sporting '50s- and '60s-era furnishings, nicknamed the "Desi and Lucy suite." (Brennen Jensen) Sources: The Federation of American Scientists (a nuclear-proliferation watchdog group), The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
Greenbrier Opened in 1962 next to (well, under) a posh resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., this capacious bunker -- code name "Project Greek Island" -- was where Congress was to duck and cover when all the big, bad buttons where pushed. The vast complex includes chambers large enough for both House and Senate to meet and a dining room replete with faux windows overlooking faux scenery. (If the legislators faced any hardships down below, it was that no provisions were made for their families to accompany them.) A 1992 Washington Post Magazine expose is often credited with blowing the 28-ton blast door off this costly hideaway. Decommissioned in 1995, it's now open for inspection as a tourist attraction.
Mount Pony Opened in 1969 by the Federal Reserve Board, Mount Pony is a semi-underground steel, concrete, and lead bunker outside Culpeper, Va. It was once a major node for federal electronic-funds transfers. Up until 1988, the bunker also warehoused billions of dollars in U.S. currency, shrink-wrapped and stored on pallets, that would be used to replenish the money supply following a nuclear attack. (The assumption being that pieces of paper would still have value for a war-devastated populace desperate for things like, say, food and water.) In what can be read as a telling shift in national priorities, in 1997 the now-cashless redoubt became an archive for the Library of Congress' collection of rare films. (It could not be determined whether Dr. Strangelove is among them.)
Mount Weather This 43-year-old big daddy of bunkers near Berryville, Va., might have remained a secret if it weren't for a pesky jetliner that crashed nearby in 1974, effectively blowing its cover. It's a vast underground affair, complete with streets, multistory buildings, and a lake large enough for water skiing. A host of governmental higher-ups have sleeping quarters here, including Supreme Court justices. The Federal Emergency Management Agency runs a multitude of disaster-response operations from under the mountain today.
Olney Montgomery County scuttlebutt long had it that an "underground city" lay beneath an Olney cow pasture. While there are not many cow pastures left in increasingly suburban Olney, there is something down there: a substantial 1971 bunker that now serves as an Alternate National Warning Center (designed to get the word out when bad things happen) and a Satellite Teleregistration Facility (whatever that means).
Raven Rock Also known as "Site R" and colloquially referred to as "the underground Pentagon," this 48-year-old megabunker lies under a mountain just north of the Maryland line near Waynesboro, Pa., conveniently close to the presidential retreat at Camp David. It's still a key military communications and control facility. President Eisenhower rushed down here in 1955 as part of a doomsday dry run. Rumor has it that the sprawling facility, nestled snugly under hundreds of feet of granite, includes a presidential bedroom still sporting '50s- and '60s-era furnishings, nicknamed the "Desi and Lucy suite." (Brennen Jensen)
Sources: The Federation of American Scientists (a nuclear-proliferation watchdog group), The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
"This is where department heads would sit and watch as things developed on the maps," says William Codd II, a brisk 73-year-old in Bermuda shorts who was the office's director from 1980 to '92. "From here they could direct the resources of the city."
While the carpeting appears new, a number of ceiling tiles have fallen out overhead. "I see they still have water coming down here," Codd says, pointing out telltale stains indicating that, while the bunker was built to stave off blast waves and radiation, it's not immune to rainwater.
Gray metal shelving along one wall holds musty books and pamphlets with titles like Damage Effects Estimation Techniques, Baltimore City Operational Survival Plan, and Fallout Protection for Homes With Basements. Most bear '50s and '60s dates.
"I can't believe that's still here," Williams exclaims, pointing to a large city map covered with hundreds of tiny, color-coded pushpins. Each pin denotes a public fallout shelter. Red pins indicate that the shelter is stocked with food (largely "survival crackers," described as a cross between animal crackers and graham crackers), water (in 17.5-gallon drums that could be used as toilets when empty), medical supplies, radiological detection equipment, and other survival gear. Blue pins mean the shelter lacks any such provisions--and the map is a sea of blue pins.
"I stocked every damn one of them," Williams says, shaking his head. "At one time this map was all red."
The federal government launched a public fallout-shelter program in 1961, ordering the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to survey buildings around the country for their potential to stave off radiation. (The shelters weren't supposed to protect against bomb blast, just the fallout that might follow.) Approved buildings were assigned a human capacity, and the government provided each with a two-week supply of provisions (that's how long people were expected to stay shelter-bound while the radioactive remains of their homes and business fell from the sky like a pernicious snow.) It was one of Williams' jobs to get the building's owner to sign off on a "fallout-shelter license"; he was also charged with getting the survival goods into the shelters.
"I must say, everybody I talked with cooperated," he says. "I can't recall anybody saying they didn't want to" house a shelter.
It wasn't long afterward that the Cold War reached perhaps its hottest point, a certain two-week stretch in October 1962. "The Cuban Missile Crisis--that was scary," Williams recalls. "People would call me at 2 o'clock in the morning asking how to build a fallout shelter. It drove me crazy."
When not working with the shelters, Williams did some doomsday drills, calculating the destruction and casualties from various-sized bombs at various Baltimore-area ground zeros.
"Oh, it was grim work--God-awful," he says. "But we had to do something. We couldn't stop [a war] but we could try and mitigate the damages."
And what was it like spending your days under 22 inches of concrete contemplating the incineration of, say, 300,000 fellow Baltimoreans?
"You got used to it," Williams deadpans.
By the mid-'60s, Baltimore had fallout space for nearly 1 million people. But as nuclear weapons got ever more powerful and accurate, folks became fatalistic about the potential for human survival after an all-out nuclear barrage. And then there were the first rumblings of détente, the pre-perestroika attempts at peaceful coexistence between Cold War foes, including the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) signed by the Soviet Union and United States in 1972. People started forgetting about fallout shelters. By the late '70s, the stored crackers were starting to rot and the water drums to rust, and no one was willing to pony up for replacements. So Williams went to work again: He slowly undid all his earlier efforts, yanking the spoiled provisions out of the shelters and turning his map blue.
"The city also maintained warehouses near Pretty Boy and Liberty [reservoirs] stocked with generators, portable stoves, blankets, and medical supplies," Williams says. "All that's gone too." (Some of the blankets and stoves ended up at city homeless shelters and soup kitchens.)
While the operations room never had to deal with megatonnage over St. Paul and Fayette, it has seen action over the years. Its phones were manned during the urban riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Four years later, folks got busy here coordinating the city's response to the wrath of Hurricane Agnes, and it's been used during big snowstorms as well.
Across from operations lies the communication room, home to some dusty, vintage-looking broadcast equipment. At one time, the room had a hot-line straight to headquarters of the North American Defense Command. When that phone rang, it could mean bombers or missiles were on their way. (Today, the basement gets late-breaking emergency information through a phone plugged into the federally run National Warning System.)
A heap of stretchers fill an adjacent room. White helmets stamped civil defense are stacked beside the diesel generator the bunker would have relied upon for emergency power. There's also a kitchen, complete with a massive water tank.
"You'll notice what's missing is anyplace to sleep," Codd says. "That's why you could never really consider this a serious [fallout shelter]. It would have gotten pretty crowded down here."
After winding his way through the various rooms, Codd brands the old bunker a "dump." (McKoy says there's been talk of moving his offices from the "safest place in Baltimore" to above-ground facilities downtown.) But civil-defense old-timers Codd and Williams have no regrets about their days spent down here thinking about the unthinkable--even when others began to discount their efforts. As Codd explains, some area politicians adopted the stance that "if we can't save everybody, then we shouldn't try and save anybody."
"Of course," Williams quickly adds, "the person we'd save wouldn't feel that way."
us army air defense command nike hercules missile system: shield against annihilation, 1958-1974--message on commemorative T-shirt sold at the Fort MacArthur Museum in Sad Pedro, Calif.
The rusty metal hatchway opens with a metallic shriek, revealing a stairway plunging down through bare cinder-block walls. After about 15 feet the steps disappear into a fetid pool of murky gray-green water. A swampy odor rises from the dimness. At bottom, a barely discernable passageway opens blackly to the left.
Such are conditions at the Granite Nike missile launch site, where as many as 12 nuclear-warhead tipped projectiles once waited silently for what, in all likelihood, would been World War III. Such are the conditions at what The Sun described in 1954 as one of the "$500,000 birds' nests" designed to "house a flock of the nation's deadliest supersonic birds--the uncanny, bomber-hunting Nikes."
"I got to go down there before it was flooded," says Raymond Franklin, assistant director of the State Police and Correctional Training Commissions, which now occupies some of the site's barracks and outbuildings. "There's an absolutely enormous room down there."
The stairwell hatch is one of several strung along a pair of football-field sized slabs of crumbling cement where waist-high weeds sprout from cracks. Most of the hatches are welded shut. Only a few flecks of yellow and black paint remain on the six firmly locked metal doors through which the missiles themselves would have emerged via an electronic elevator. Franklin, who's acting as tour guide to the erstwhile "birds nest," figures that most of the underground magazines and associated anterooms have been flooded by a combination of rain and groundwater. (This rank water, together with the likely presence of lead paint and asbestos, precludes exploring the Nike netherworld.)
But despite the soggy squalor, the Granite base, including its radar tower-sprinkled Integrated Fire Control center just south of the launch area, is perhaps the most intact of the seven such bases that ringed Baltimore--a "shield against annihilation" whose origins go back 50 years, to the aftermath of World War II.
Oceans away from the theaters of war, Baltimore faced very little risk of aerial bombardment during the actual conflict. But technology marched on. The postwar years saw the development of long-range bombers. And after the Soviet Union--Nazi-fighting ally turned Cold War foe--detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949, protecting Baltimore and other U.S. cities became a priority.
The area's first air-attack defenses arrived in 1952, when a ring of eight to 12 90mm anti-aircraft batteries were positioned around the city, from Towson to Gwynn Oak Park to Golden Ring. But technology marched on. Faced with the prospect of defending against high-altitude jet bombers, the Army developed its first radar-guided surface-to-air missile--the 20-foot-long, liquid-fueled Nike Ajax. Armed with some 300 pounds of high explosives, the supersonic missiles had a range of 25 miles. The nation's first Nike Ajax base was established at nearby Fort Meade in December 1953. It was there, the following year, that the nation's first (and perhaps only) accidental missile misfire occurred: An Ajax errantly launched and crashed, harmlessly, near the then-new Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
The Fort Meade missile site was only a temporary affair; it closed two years later. By 1955, the Army had largely completed construction of Baltimore's ring of permanent Nike bases, most about eight to 10 miles from the city line. The farthest out were on the Eastern Shore at Tolchester Beach and in Edgewood in Harford County. The Baltimore County sites were Granite, Cronhardt (in Greenspring Valley), Jacksonville, and Fork. System logistics required that the missiles be at least 3,000 feet away from the radar towers and computer systems that guided their flight. (Which is why is each base was made up of two separate components, the fire-control area and the launch area.) But technology marched on. By 1958, the Army began retrofitting its Ajax bases to accommodate its new, larger Nike Hercules missiles. The "Hercs" used less-volatile solid-fueled propulsion and had a range of about 75 miles. Perhaps most important, these big missiles could be fitted with nuclear warheads.
"The purpose of a nuclear warhead on a system like this is that it allows you a lot more slop in your targeting," history professor Tatarewicz says. "With a traditional warhead you have to hit the target, or get within feet of it. With a nuclear warhead you have a lot more leeway. Just about all the Nike bases went nuclear in the late '50 and early '60s."
That the rural environs of Baltimore were home to dozens of nuclear warheads was information the Army kept close to its chest at the time. Wayne Williams, today a 62-year-old car dealer in Ruckersville, Va., served as an Army corporal at the Granite base from 1959 to 1962. The nature of his work, he says, was hush-hush.
"We knew [the missiles] were nuclear," Williams says. "I think most of us on base had [security] clearances. We weren't supposed to tell anyone else about this, and as far as I know we were pretty good about that."
Williams has rather fond memories of his service days at Granite, recalling not the ever-present reminders of nuclear war but certain local nightspots "that were friendly to servicemen." But duty at a missile base included some harried nights. "Sirens would go off and we'd have to jump out of bed, get together real quick, and go to work," he says "They'd raise up the missiles and prepare to fire them. And we had no idea if it was a drill or not."
By 1963, there were 184 Nike sites encircling U.S. cities. But technology marched on. The Soviets developed their first viable intercontinental ballistic missile in 1961. It grew less and less likely that a nuclear war would be fought by manned bombers, the Nike's intended target. The missile bases began to close. The Granite base was shuttered in 1974; by the end of that year, all of them were gone.
Twenty-seven years later, there's not much left of the city's supersonic shield. Nothing remains of the Cronhardt base. At Jacksonville, one of the former barracks does duty as a senior center. And there's little left at the Fork base, which is now in private hands. Granite's fire-control center still has a series of battered barracks and outbuildings where sparrows nest in the overhead fluorescent fixtures. The 30-foot-tall radar towers that once supported sky-sweeping dishes (and, in some cases, bulbous geodesic domes encasing a long-distance "target acquisition radar" whose intense beam was known to kill birds in flight) are now decked out mainly in weeds.
Fort Meade has jurisdiction over the Granite base and sends crews out periodically to cut the grass. Alice Ginter, of Fort Meade's property office, says the feds intend to "get rid of the base." She anticipates that within two years it will be "excessed"--turned over to the Government Services Administration, which is charged with unloading surplus federal property, usually through a negotiated sale.
"I think the community would like to preserve it in its natural state," says Paul Dorsey, who served at the base in the early '60s and is now president of the Greater Patapsco Community Association. "It would be nice if we had the money to make it a museum, but that's probably out of the question."
There is precedent for such reuse: A Nike base outside San Francisco has been fully restored, complete with missiles, and an Indiana base is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. What the future holds for Granite's Cold War dinosaur is uncertain. (Dorsey's greatest fear is that the multiacre tract might be converted into a prison, or something similar.) Given the rate that development is marching westward along Old Court Road, the ground that once topped nukes might one day be covered with suburban tract houses. (Missile Mews? Ajax Acres?) But for now, the sparrows run the place.
One of the key objectives of Civil Defense is to maintain the organs of government in the event of a nuclear disaster. --The Evening Sun, April 15, 1965
The cement stairs leading to the underbelly of the Maryland State Police headquarters off Reisterstown Road in Pikesville can best be described as utilitarian. Only the stenciled word entrance besmirches the cold gray walls. The stairwell's somberness is softened somewhat by what you find at the bottom. A colorful mural sprawls across the cement, emblazoned with a host of Maryland icons: the Oriole bird, the Bay Bridge, a grinning terrapin, the state flag. Then you turn a corner and come face-to-face with an imposing, 2-feet-thick steel portal that wouldn't look out of place on a bank vault. It's a blast door, designed to withstand the destructive shock waves of a nuclear detonation.
Welcome to what's been nicknamed "the Refrigerator." Another apt moniker might be "the Armageddon Annapolis"--the massive metallic door provides access to a fortified bunker created 50 years ago as refuge for the governor and other state officials in the event of a nuclear attack. The 120-foot-by-40-foot bunker was designed to be the nucleus of state governance and civil-defense activities in the event of nuclear war.
"That's a hell of a door, isn't it?" says jovial tour guide Cpl. Robert Moroney of the State Police Office of Public Affairs. As it turns out, there's not much to tour. The "fridge" had long been home to the Maryland Emergency Management Administration (MEMA), but decamped two years ago to swanky new above-ground facilities in Reisterstown. (Baltimore civil-defense vet Codd likens MEMA's new home to "the Taj Mahal or an Ocean City hotel.") Though its roots are in civil defense, MEMA no longer busies itself with nuclear doomsday. Like the city's emergency-management office, its job is to coordinate relief services in the wake of severe weather, noxious industrial accidents, and the like.
So the fridge is deserted and quiet. Well, quiet save for the piercing whine of some sort of burglar or fire alarm that has for some reason deployed, and that Moroney says he doesn't know how to shut off. The shrill only adds to the ominous feel of the subterranean facility, which is basically a long central hallway lined with numbered rooms. Stout cement columns punctuate the space. At one end of the hall lies the operations room, basically a larger version of the like-named room at the city bunker. With its tiers of desks facing a wall strung with sliding maps, it looks a bit like a collegiate lecture hall (or perhaps, when you consider it's grim purpose, a downscale version of Dr. Strangelove's War Room).
"A lot of this is going to be stripped out to make this into normal offices," Moroney says. "Our department of traffic operations is moving down here."
According to a small bunker map found tacked to a wall, Room 7 was set aside for the governor. But if the state chief had any special luxuries in his windowless abode, they're stripped out now; it's just another empty room. If anything unifies the bunker, it's the color scheme: Everything is slathered in paint of a pale shade perhaps best described as institutional green.
"If you had to come down here because a nuclear blast had occurred, that would be depressing enough," Moroney says, glancing around. "But when you got down here and had to look at this color for hours on end, that would kill you."
The federal government sponsored the bunker's construction back in 1949. It was one of the first fed-assisted state-government redoubts in the nation. When it was stocked with food and water, as many as 70 people could have held out here for two weeks. But over the years, the bunker's war-readiness waned. In 1983, when it was Gov. Harry Hughes who would have been whisked down here in a world-affairs worst-case scenario, The Sun reported that the Refrigerator's food and water stocks were rancid. "We couldn't even sell it to the pig farmers," a civil-defense official said at the time.
All the food is gone now, but there's still a complete kitchen, vast water tanks, a complex air-handling system, and a diesel generator at the ready. The bathroom sports a multihead decontamination shower.
When the shrill alarm gets to be too much and the last vacant sickly, green room has been explored, there nothing left to do but go back through the blast door. Back up the cement stairway. Back to the sunshine.
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