Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself-While the Rest of Us Die by Garrett M. Graff

“Raven Rock” is the story of American government Cold-War civil preparedness plans during the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations in anticipation of a Soviet nuclear attack on the U.S. mainland.  The name Raven Rock refers to an underground bunker near Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania that was built in the 1950s and designated as a military command post for 3 branches of the uniformed services in the event of nuclear war.  If the U.S. was bombed, it was designed to be a little Pentagon to insure continuity of government for those in the governmental line of succession that might have survived nuclear apocalypse.

What endears this history book to the reader is the total lunacy of some of the ill-conceived plans to preserve top Executive Branch and military leaders if World War III transpired.  Such errors in emergency planning include no evacuation plans for the wives and children of top officials, poor communication systems in command centers so far under the earth, and the sheer inadequacy of many of the civilian civil preparedness drills conducted with the general public such as “duck and cover” drills in the schools.

Other problems included the factional infighting that might result from who would be designated essential personnel worth saving in the case of attack.  One of the most amusing anecdotes in the book is the story of Clinton’s White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers who categorically denied the existence of government issued I.D. cards for nuclear evacuation when asked about the subject by a television writer.   It wasn’t until Myers left the White House that she found out that presidential aide George Stephanopoulos had just such a card in his wallet and that she hadn’t been aware of the cards because her position was considered expendable.

Little gems in the book include the rise to prominence of presidential retreat Camp David in the mountains a short distance from Raven Rock and the revelation that some vice-presidents called upon to take office had been kept so out of the loop by the President that they had no notion of the sheer scope of the many U.S. nuclear deterrents and contingency plans for nuclear Armageddon.  “Raven Rock” also gives an up close and personal view of the Kennedy administration’s Cuban Missile Crisis.

On the local level, “Raven Rock” reveals that there was once a special nuclear fallout shelter in rural Chatham County, NC 30 miles west of Raleigh which served as the southernmost location for emergency relocation in a network of 100 top secret government bunkers.   It also documents the existence of a secret Stanly County, NC AT&T facility that operated and monitored a fail-safe communications cable from Miami to Boston between 1967 and 1991 for government emergency use.

“Raven Rock” represents a well-researched treasure-trove for conspiracy theorists, “good government” types, armchair historians, and the general public looking to make sense of the more “cloak and dagger’ activities of the military and various federal agencies.  Author Garrett Graff is the quintessential Washington insider—magazine journalist, past editor of Washingtonian and Politico magazines, and a former teacher at Georgetown University.

Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Manager and Genealogy Librarian at the May Memorial Library.  She can be reached at lkobrin@alamancelibraries.org or (336) 229-3588.