Former Nuclear Bunker Now Houses Library of Congress Film Collection

Storage vaults.  AOC  photo

Storage vaults. AOC photo

By Elliot Carter

The Library of Congress stores its Audio / Video collections in an underground facility at Mount Pony, in Culpeper Virginia. The space was built in 1969 at the height of the Cold War for a very different purpose: this is where the Federal Reserve stockpiled billions of dollars in cash for use after a war with the Soviet Union. 

According to the Brookings Institute, this included a "large number of $2 bills shrink-wrapped and stacked on pallets 9 feet (2.7 meters) high. Following a nuclear attack, this money was to be used to replenish currency supplies east of the Mississippi."

A 30 day supply of food and water would sustain 500 Fed employees. The three story structure also used to boast an incinerator, indoor shooting range, and a helipad. It was "radiation hardened" with a two - four foot earth roof and lead lined window shutters.

The bunker wasn't just a storage place for doomsday economists, it also housed the Culpeper Switch, the central node in the Fedwire system that enables electronic bank transfers.

An old Fed pamphlet notes that Mount Pony was a fitting location for the communications switch, "for its history included such use. The top of the mountain was used by the Confederate Army as a signal station and, during World War II, it served as an observation post for spotting aircraft."

After the Cold War ended the Fed transferred the facility to the Library of Congress. The LC remodeling opened up the side of the structure and created a terraced arcade. Inside, they installed 90 miles of shelving into the climate controlled underground vaults.

The ivy and water features in front of the bunker speak to the new space's friendlier purpose. Today it is a mecca for film preservation, where experts archive multiple petabytes of A/V material each year. According to the Library website, the end goal is that "the entirety of the Library's recorded sound and videotape holdings will be digitized, some using a hands-on, one-at-a-time approach, others—3/4" videotape, initially—as part of a high throughput, robotic operation."

A few of these videos are streamable on their website. The American Memory Collection has turn of the century scenes of New York City, Theodore Roosevelt, A Westinghouse factory and the Spanish American War.