The Greenbrier is a grand resort nestled in the mountains of West Virginia in White Sulphur Springs. Situated in the middle of nowhere it has long been the “getaway spot” of diplomats, royalty and presidents with a casino under its driveway and shops catering to guests’ every need. However, beyond the hotel’s lavish wings is a giant metal door, covered in Draper wallpaper which hides a 112,544 square foot bunker.
From 1958–1992, the bunker was prepped and ready to host the House of Representatives and Senate in case of nuclear war until The Washington Post’s exposé in 1992. For a few years, a group of government officials (disguised as TV repairmen) kept the up bunker until it was eventually decommissioned in 1995. The Greenbrier is now a well preserved time capsule posing as part storage, part cooking school and part hotel for visiting American football teams. This fascinating and strange story is exactly what hooked Los Angeles-based photographer Maggie Shannon when she first found out about it.
“It always begins with a curiosity and turns into an obsession, whether it’s a person or a story or even how light will hit a certain kind of surface. I have to know what’s behind the curtain and a camera gives me a good excuse to take a peak,” she explains. On a trip to Michigan with friends, she snuck into the Grand Hotel while the staff were cleaning ahead of the season. Blown away by the hotel’s interior of “insane colours and patterns,” she did some digging and discovered Dorothy Draper was its interior designer and that she had also worked on The Greenbrier.
“It’s a very strange and beautiful place to visit,” she tells It’s Nice That, “you drive through this mountain range with tiny, depressed towns to get to this resort in the middle of nowhere.” When entering the bunker, Maggie was escorted by a guide who led her through endlessly long, dimly lit hallways. “We walked along the same path the senators would’ve walked, through the blast doors and into the decontamination chambers where they would’ve had to strip, burn their cloths and be blasted by this intense shower,” she explains.
On her tour, she encountered many a strange sight from original gas masks to a hospital of 12 beds including fully equipped medical and dental operating rooms. It was the communications room that particularly sticks in her mind, however: “They had painted a replica of the capital on the wall so that while being filmed it would look as though they were standing in front of it, probably to ease the minds of people watching.”
Maggie cut her teeth in the photographic world taking polaroids of friends and landscapes in high school. With teachers who encouraged her to pursue the medium, she quickly developed a love for it: “I was never good at drawing or painting, and there’s so many weird and beautiful things and people to document in the world, I’m pretty content with shooting it all with a camera!”
Stating pop culture as a major influence for her work, Maggie has previously documented a community swim team on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in her series Thunderbirds. Her most recent series for Topic has the same fly-on-the-wall, high energy quality to it – despite its distinct lack of people. The images are stark and the combination of high flash with strange crops gives the impression that each photo is a captured moment that would have been lost forever if not for Maggie’s keen eye.
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