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


  1. If I recall, Ike went to Orange One (sometimes known as Citrus, like other classified sites with "C" code names--Casper, Cannonball, Crystal) for Operation Alert 1957. Here is a matter of some interest to researchers: although some documents and eyewitnesses state Citrus, Greenbrier and Mount Weather all had telecasting ability, the Bell System, which essentially handled network radio and TV feeds until the 80s, had no means to feed TV from these sites. At least, anyway, there's no mention under Bell and FCC documents to handle this for Conelrad, EBS or EAS. In fact, it was a matter of federal law that EBS TV stations would NOT transmit Presidential video during a national emergency. TV stations had no means at all to get a video feed from their CPCS 1 station. Bell could get audio from WHCA, bridge all the radio networks and TV (audio only) at a toll test center and then feed a live Presidential message. No Bell System, FCC, NIAC, NDEA or similar document has ever surfaced that called for getting TV to the public over EBS from Camp David (or any of the other classified sites). If such documents exist, they remain classified.

  2. During Operation Alert 1957 (July 12, 1957) Eisenhower was the first President to fly by Helicopter from the White House to Camp David.
    According to his daily schedule (Page 28)

    '3:42pm The President, Mrs. Eisenhower, David, Barbara Ann and Susan Eisenhower made an inspection of the "Apple" (Bomb Shelter)'

    1. Thanks for the tip on the Eisenhower daily schedule. I added that to my post on Ike's First Helicopter Ride ( Interesting that the bomb shelter is referred to as the "Apple" since it is usually called "Orange One" as Mark noted in his comment.

  3. The Cactus site, Corkscrew site and the Cartwheel site where basically identical and had only a two level bunker underground, divided up into pie shaped rooms. All the equipment for the radio relay and two way equipment, along with quarters where in the tower itself, above ground. The two level bunkers where for switchboards and crypto, both as COG functions. Both Crystal sites and Creed where underground totally (except of course for the antenna mounting areas). Cannonball and Cowpuncher just had one level for mechanical equipment underground.

  4. There is a nice description in this document of the underground bomb shelter at Camp David in relation to the White House Situation Room circa 1956. Basically a duplicate, also manned by CIA and JCS, similar vuegraph and teletype equipment etc. although it was still under construction in November 1956.

  5. hello. interesting blog. I served at Camp David in 1968 during the time when Johnson was outgoing and Nixon was the incoming president.