In the best-selling 1962 spy thriller SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff plot to overthrow the U.S. president. Their 
conspiracy centers on a place called Mount Thunder, a secret 
subterranean command post where government leaders would go in the 
event of a nuclear attack.
     On December 1, 1974, a TWA Boeing 727 jet crashed into a fog-
shrouded mountain in northern Virginia and burned, killing all 
ninety-two persons aboard. Near the wreckage was a fenced 
government reserve identified as Mount Weather.
     Mount Weather is a real place; eighty-five acres located 
forty-five miles west of Washington and 1,725 feet above sea 
level, near the town of Bluemont, Virginia. In the event of all-
out war, an elite of civilian and military leaders are to be taken 
to Mount Weather's cavernous underground shelter to become the 
nucleus of a postwar American society. The government has a secret 
list of those persons it plans to save.
     The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) runs Mount 
Weather. When it has to talk about the place, which is rare, it 
calls it the "special facility." Its more common name comes from a 
weather station that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had 
maintained on the mountain.
     The authors of SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, Fletcher Knebel and Charles 
W. Bailey II, were Washington journalists who learned a lot about 
the then-quite-secret post. Few readers of Knebel and Bailey's 
fiction could have imagined how close to the truth it was. The 
novel gives detailed highway directions from Washington:

             ...the Chrysler wheeled onto Route 50,
          heading away from Washington....
             In the jungle of neon lights and access 
          roads at Seven Corners, Corwin saw Scott bear 
          right onto Route 7, the main road to Leesburg. 
          The two cars moved slowly through Falls Church 
          before the traffic began to thin out and speed 
             At the fork west of Leesburg, Scott bore 
          right on Route 9, heading toward Charles 
          Town.... They began to climb toward the Blue 
          Ridge, the eastern rim of the Shenandoah 
             West of Hillboro, where the road crossed 
          the Blue Ridge before dropping into the 
          valley....Scott turned left. Corwin followed 
          him onto a black macadam road that ran 
          straight along the spine of the ridge.
             ...Because of his White House job, Corwin 
          knew something about this road that few other 
          Americans did. Virginia 120 appeared to be 
          nothing more than a better-than-average Blue 
          Ridge byway, but it ran past Mount Thunder, 
          where an underground installation provided one 
          of the several bases from which the President 
          could run the nation in the event of a nuclear 
          attack on Washington.
     Knebel and Bailey disguised the directions slightly. You 
continue on Route 7 west of Leesburg, turning left on Route 601 
just west of Bluemont. It's Virginia Route 601 that runs right up 
to the gates of Mount Weather. Residents have long known there is 
something funny about that road; it is always the first road 
cleared after a snowstorm.
     At one point, the government asked the local paper not to 
print any articles about the facility. But it is all but 
impossible to keep such a place secret. The Appalachian Trail runs 
right by Mount Weather, and hikers can get close enough to see 
signs and flashing lights. One sign reads: "All persons and 
vehicles entering hereon are liable to search. Photographing, 
making notes, drawings, maps or graphic representations of this 
area or its activities are prohibited." In the late 1960s an 
unidentified "hippie" is supposed to have stumbled upon the 
facility and sketched it from a tree. His drawing turned up in the 
QUICKSILVER TIMES, an underground newspaper in Washington.
     Residents also tell of the time a hunt club chased a fox onto 
the site and triggered an alarm. The club had to go to the main 
gate to get the dogs back.
     After the TWA crash, a spokesman "politely declined to 
comment on what Mt. Weather was used for, how many people work 
there, or how long it has been in its current use," the WASHINGTON 
POST reported. The POST published a picture of the facility, 
citing far-fetched speculation that Mount Weather's radio antennas 
may have interfered with the jet's radar and caused the disaster.
     You don't get into Mount Weather without an invitation. The 
entrance is said to be like the door to a bank vault, only 
thicker, set into a mountain made out of the toughest granite in 
the East. It is guarded around the clock.
     Mount Weather got more unsolicited publicity in 1975. Senator 
John Tunney (D-Calif.) charged that Mount Weather held dossiers on 
100,000 or more Americans. A sophisticated computer system gives 
the installation access to detailed information on the lives of 
virtually every American citizen, Tunney claimed. Mount Weather 
personnel stonewalled question after question in two Senate 
     "I don't understand what they're trying to hide out there," 
Douglas Lea, staff director of the Senate Subcommittee on 
Constitutional Rights, said. "Mount Weather is just closed up to 
us." Tunney complained that Mount Weather was "out of control."
     Mount Weather has been owned by the government since 1903, 
when the site was purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 
Calvin Coolidge talked about building a summer White House there. 
In World War I it was an artillery range, and during the 
Depression it was a workfarm for hobos. Mount Weather as an 
alternate capital seems to have been the idea of Millard F. 
Caldwell, former governor of Florida.
     There is a fallout shelter under the East Wing of the White 
House. No one believes it offers any real protection from a 
nuclear attack on Washington, however. FEMA has elaborate plans 
for getting the president and other key officials out of 
Washington should there be a nuclear attack.
     In that event, the president is supposed to board a Boeing 
747 National Emergency Airborne Command Post ("Kneecap"). That is 
presumed to be safer than any point on the ground. The president's 
plane can be refueled in the air from other planes and may be able 
to stay airborne for as long as three days. Then its engine will 
conk out for lack of oil. That is where Mount Weather comes in.
     Government geologists selected the site because it has some 
of the most impregnable rock in the United States. The shelter was 
started in the Truman administration, and it took years to tunnel 
into the mountain.
     There is a whole chain of shelters for leaders and critical 
personnel. The Federal Relocation Arc, a system of ninety-six 
shelters for specific U.S. Government agencies, sweeps through 
North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and 
Pennsylvania. A duplicate of the Pentagon is located at a site 
called Raven Rock in Maryland. The administrative center of the 
whole system, and the place where the top civilians would go, is 
Mount Weather.
     Mount Weather is much more than a fallout shelter; it is a 
troglodytic Levittown. In the mid-1970s Richard Pollack, a writer 
for PROGRESSIVE magazine, interviewed a number of persons who had 
been associated with Mount Weather. According to them, Mount 
Weather is an underground city with roads, sidewalks, and a 
battery-powered subway. A spring-fed artificial lake gleams in the 
fluorescent light. There are office buildings, cafeterias, and 
hospitals. Large dormitories are furnished with bunks or "hot 
cots" -- hammocks intended to be occupied in three eight-hour 
shifts. There are private apartments as well. Mount Weather has 
its own waterworks, food storage, and power plant. A "bubble-
shaped pod" in the East Tunnel houses one of the most powerful 
computers in the world.
     The Situation Room, a circular chamber, would be a nerve 
center in the time of war. The Mount Weather folks set great store 
by visual aids and retain artists and cartographers at all times. 
A futuristic color videophone system is the basic means of 
communication within Mount Weather's subterranean world. "All 
important staff meetings were conducted via color television as 
far back as 1958, long before it was generally available to the 
public," one former staffer bragged. 
     The most surprising of Pollack's revelations is that Mount 
Weather has a working back-up of U.S. Government EVEN NOW. 
Undisclosed persons there duplicate the responsibilities of our 
elected leaders, making Mount Weather an eerie doppelganger of the 
United States.
     An Office of the Presidency is ensconced in an underground 
wing known as the White House. The elected president or survivor 
closest in the chain of command would make his way there and take 
over the reins. Until then, a staffer appointed by FEMA would be 
carrying out duties said to simulate those of the real president.
     Installed at Mount Weather are nine federal departments, 
their very names ironic in the context: Agriculture, Commerce, 
Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, 
Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, and the Treasury. 
Miniature versions of the Selective Service, the Veteran's 
Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, the Post 
Office, the Civil Service Commission, the Federal Power 
Commission, and the Federal Reserve are there, too.
     "High-level government sources, speaking under the promise of 
strict anonymity, told me that each of the federal departments 
represented at Mount Weather is headed by a single person on who 
is conferred Cabinet-level official," Pollack reported. "Protocol 
even demands that subordinates address them as 'Mr. Secretary.' 
Each of the Mount Weather 'Cabinet members' is apparently 
appointed by the White House and serves an indefinite term. Many 
of the 'secretaries' have held their positions through several 
     What do all these people DO? Twice a month, Mount Weather 
stages a war game to train its personnel and explore various dire 
scenarios. Once a year they pull out all the stops and have a 
super drill in which REAL Cabinet members and White House staffers 
fly in from Washington.
     General Leslie Bray, director of the Federal Preparedness 
Agency, FEMA's predecessor, told the Senate that Mount Weather has 
extensive files on "military installations, government facilities, 
communications, transportation, energy and power, agriculture, 
manufacturing, wholesale and retail services, manpower, financial, 
medical and educational institutions, sanitary facilities, 
population, housing shelter, and stockpiles." Additional 
information is kept in safekeeping at other shelters in the 
Federal Relocation Arc.
     There is a body of opinion that considers Mount Weather 
obsolete. Mount Weather is a non-movable target, and a very 
strategic one if the relocation works. The "toughest granite in 
the East" may have offered some protection in Eisenhower's time, 
but multiple strikes could blast the mountain away. It was 
reported that the TWA jet crash knocked out power at Mount Weather 
for two and a half hours. What would a bomb do?
     The Soviet Union knows exactly where Mount Weather is -- and 
almost certainly knew long before the Western press did. The 
Soviets tried to buy an estate near Mount Weather as a "vacation 
retreat" for embassy employees. The State Department stopped the 

The Survivor List
     In 1975 General Bray told the Senate that the Mount Weather 
survivor list had sixty-five hundred names on it. Who might be 
     The president, of course, provide he survives his Kneecap 
command. The vice-president and Cabinet members are on the list 
because they take part in the annual dry runs. Beyond that, little 
is known and the few existing accounts conflict.
     For instance, what about Congress? General Bray said that his 
responsibilities included the executive branch only, not Congress 
or the Supreme Court. But in an interview in 1976, Senator Hubert 
Humphrey insisted that he had visited the shelter as vice-
president and seen "a nice little chamber, rostrum and all," for 
postnuclear sessions of Congress.
     Furthermore, Earl Warren is said to have been invited when he 
was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Warren refused because he 
was not allowed to take his wife. The protocol for ordering 
persons to Mount Weather specifies that messages not be left with 
family members answering the phone.
     The vast majority of the persons on the list are believed to 
be ranking bureaucrats from the nine federal agencies with 
branches at Mount Weather. Pollack said he heard stories that some 
construction workers were on the list "because, the Mount Weather 
analysts reasoned, excavation work for mass graves would be needed 
immediately in the aftermath of a thermonuclear war." General Bray 
admitted that some others such as telephone company technicians 
are included.
     Each person on the survival list has an ID card with a photo.