Weird History Secrets Of The Capitol: Washington, DC's Underground City  

Melissa Brinks
11.3k views 13 items

Washington DC is the seat of political power in the United States, so it's no surprise that it's rife with conspiracy theories and secrets. Rumors of Washington DC's underground city, a vast network of tunnels providing shelter and transportation to the nation's leaders, are true, to an extent. Numerous tunnels beneath the city connect important buildings and other areas together in unexpected ways. Though their existence is not quite a White House secret – much of this information is publicly available, and some sections are even open for exploration – they're not common knowledge.

These tunnels are usually used for mundane purposes like avoiding foot and vehicle traffic or stopping by a less crowded Dunkin Donuts. But other areas are more secretive, including at least one nuclear weapon-proof bunker and a train system just for Congress.

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Photo: Rebel At/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

There's An Empty Tomb For George Washington Under The Capitol

George Washington died at his home on December 14, 1799, after a series of emergency procedures. Congress requested that his remains be laid to rest at the US Capitol; Martha Washington approved the request, even though her husband's will stated he wished to be buried at home. However, Congress couldn't decide how best to memorialize him, nor how much money should be spent.

It took 30 years to come to a decision, and Congress again asked the Washington estate for his remains in 1832, 100 years after his birth. This time, John A. Washington, who was in charge of the estate, denied the request because Washington had been buried with members of his family. The tomb remains empty.

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Photo: Tom Lohdan/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

The Presidential Emergency Operations Center Protects Important Personnel During An Attack

In the event of an attack on the United States, the president and other high-ranking officials have a place to go: the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, or PEOC. The PEOC is an underground structure built to withstand a nuclear attack, though its specifications aren't public knowledge, giving the president and other officials a place to meet in secret and safety.

Vice President Dick Cheney was taken to the PEOC shortly after the attack on the second World Trade Center tower on September 11, 2001, as it was believed that an attack on the White House was imminent. A plane flew into the Pentagon approximately a half hour later. From the bunker, Cheney and other officials planned how to handle any further attacks. 

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Photo: Abbie Rowe/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The White House Received A New Bomb Shelter In 1950

By 1950, the White House was in a serious state of disrepair. The entire building was gutted and rebuilt to make it more stable, but it wasn't restored to its exact original state – some improvements and additions were made. White House architect Lorenzo Simmons Winslow designed and built a bomb shelter under the East Terrace on the orders of naval aide Rear Admiral Robert Dennison.

Dennison wanted to protect the president in case of a nuclear attack. The previous shelter, built in 1942, preceded the dropping of the atomic bomb and was not secure enough to withstand such an attack.

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Photo: Abbie Rowe/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The 1950s Bomb Shelter Was Quickly Rendered Obsolete

In 1950, designing a bomb shelter to withstand a nuclear attack was a matter of speculation. Though America had dropped atomic bombs on Japan five years prior, little research had been conducted into how to withstand such an attack. Construction of the shelter took more than two years, requiring the removal of the East Terrace entirely. Though the shelter was believed to be capable of withstanding an atomic bomb, the first hydrogen bomb was tested in 1954, rendering the shelter obsolete.