Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Eve letter from Pres George H.W. Bush to his Children

The following letter was typewritten by President George H.W. Bush on New Year's Eve in 1990 and addressed to his five children - George, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Doro.

In the letter, he writes about the family time spent at Camp David over Christmas and his feelings about going to war with Iraq.

Source: National Archives; George Bush Presidential Library

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas at Camp David

President Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon celebrated Christmas in the Aspen Lodge in 1971

President George W. Bush celebrated Christmas at Camp David a total of twelve times - eight while he was in office and four while his father was in office.  In 2003, First Lady Laura Bush was asked in the online forum "Ask the White House" about why they like to go to Camp David for Christmas.  Her reply:
"We choose to spend Christmas at Camp David because it is such a beautiful snow-covered spot for Christmas. And also it is our sentimental favorite place to be at Christmas because we spent the years 1989 - 1992 there with all of the Bush family. And once again this year we will be joined by President Bush, Barbara Bush, our girls, my mother, the President's sister and her family and one of his brothers. "

President Bush reading Christmas stories to his grandchildren at Camp David in 1991

Bush family Christmas tree at Camp David - 1990

President Bush calling troops overseas to wish them a Merry Christmas 

Laura Bush described plans for Christmas at Camp David in an interview with CBS in 2005 as follows:
"We'll spend Christmas there with all of our family -- President Bush and Barbara Bush; my mother; our girls, of course; George's brothers and sister and their families; their children. I think there will be about 30 of us. It's a very big family. And because Camp David has these little cabins, each family can have their own little cabin; they can have their own Christmas tree when they wake up in the morning. And then, of course, we'll meet for Christmas dinner on Christmas day. We'll go to church together on Christmas morning. They'll be with us for the famous Christmas pageant on one night, and then we'll have Christmas Eve services, as well."
President George W. Bush and his family at Camp David on Christmas Day in 2008

2008 Camp David Christmas menu from

A selection of Camp David Christmas cards from over the years 

Camp David Christmas Ornaments

2011 Camp David Christmas card

Sources:; George Bush Presidential Library; CBS; Nixon Library

Monday, December 13, 2010

Camp David Underground Bomb Shelter

According the the Eisenhower Presidential Library, President Eisenhower had a bomb shelter built at Camp David. President Eisenhower met with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1959 and showed him the new bomb shelter.  The book The President is at Camp David contains an excerpt from the Prime Minister's diary describing the underground shelter:
"a sort of Presidential Command Post in the event of atomic war. It holds fifty of the President's staff in one place and one hundred and fifty Defence staff in another. The fortress is underneath the innocent looking huts in which we lived, hewn out of the rock. It cost 10 million dollars."
 This 1959 Owasso Argus-Press article describes the Macmillan visit to Camp David.

The 8th & I Reunion Association website, which contains items of interest for those who served at the  Marine Barracks at 8th & I St SE in Washington DC (including marines formerly stationed at Camp David), has a section where members contribute stories from their duty at Camp David.

Some former marines who served under President Eisenhower describe an incident in 1957 when President Eisenhower relocated to the secure bunker at Camp David during a war rehearsal.  They describe a Command Center that was accessible via elevator from different locations within the Aspen Lodge, including the President's bedroom.  The Command Center was equipped to allow his image to be televised to various locations around the world.  There was also a War Room, which allowed him to communicate with the military in the event of a war.

When President Nixon decided to add a swimming pool outside the Aspen Lodge, the location he selected was directly over the bomb shelter. "Orange One", as it was called, had to be reinforced for a cost of $261,000.

According to the book "President Nixon: Alone in the White House", the money for this came from secret military funds.  The interior of the underground shelter was also redone with new beds, bedspreads, pictures, paint, and office furnishings.

This 1980 newspaper article reviews a book written by the former Director of the White House Military Office Bill Gulley.  When President Carter expressed concerns to him about the cost of Camp David and considered shutting it down,  he asked the President if he knew what was there.  President Carter replied "cabins".  Then Gulley "explained to him about the bomb shelter, the emergency communications center, and other facilities."

A 1994 article in Mother Jones Magazine describes the preparations required to conceal the work on the underground command center when Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev was scheduled to visit Camp David:
"Laborers worked night and day to haul truckloads of dirt and stone, making sure to hide every trace of their excavations before Khrushchev's arrival. A large deck was constructed to conceal the cavernous hole. Little did Khrushchev know, as he stood smiling on the deck posing for photographers, that he was atop a presidential relocation site."
The above article describes one of the entrances to the underground facility as being "concealed within a phony water tower".  This water tower is described on a blog about Presidential emergency facility sites.  The code name for the emergency relocation site at Camp David is "Cactus". Some of the other sites were Crown (White House), Crystal (Mt. Weather), and Creed (Raven Rock Mountain Complex).  A related "Cartwheel" site in northwest Washington, DC is still in use by the FAA.

Each of these sites had a communication tower equipped with antennas, transmitters, and receivers.  They were 100 feet tall and had multiple floors underground to house supplies and living quarters for the staff.

To disguise the existence of the communication tower, an observation deck and signs were added for the Khrushchev visit to make it appear like an ordinary water tower.  The tower has since been torn down, but the underground command center remains in place.

Aerial view of Camp David in December 1961.  Note the green "water tower " in the background

Underground bunker location near Aspen Lodge - President Kennedy and President Eisenhower - April 1961

Sources: Eisenhower Presidential Library; President Nixon: Alone in the White House; The President is at Camp DavidThe 8th & I Reunion Association; Life.comOwasso Argus-Press; The Daily Reporter; Mother Jones Magazine; Historian for Hire; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library; coldwarcomms; Early Presidential Emergency Facilities