In the spring of 1956, President Eisenhower convened a meeting of the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of Mexico at The Greenbrier. Called the Summit of the Americas, the conference was something of a subterfuge.
Eisenhower rode from Washington, DC to White Sulphur Springs on Walter Tuohy’s private executive Pullman rail car. Tuohy was the president of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) that owned The Greenbrier. In 1951, the C&O converted a Pullman car into a business car for Tuohy at C&O’s Huntington Locomotive Shop. The interior was designed by Dorothy Draper, The Greenbrier’s interior decorator, and it was named
Chessie 29 after the C&O’s kitten mascot.
As Eisenhower traveled to White Sulphur Springs, the Secret Service and railroad investigators were trying to determine if there had been a plot to poison the President while he was on Chessie 29. Before the car was pulled to Washington it was inspected in Huntington. While the car was in Huntington three visitors became ill after drinking ginger ale that was on board. Two of the three had to be hospitalized. The opened bottles had been thrown away, but the remaining bottles were sent to two labs for analyses. Evidently, no poison was detected, and it was thought the ginger ale was well past its safe shelf life. The President made light of the episode and said, “I haven’t drunk pop in years.”
The summit either hid or was tangential to another purpose for Eisenhower’s visit to The Greenbrier. At this visit, Eisenhower and Tuohy conferred on developing a safe haven at The Greenbrier in the advent of a nuclear attack. The safe haven, a massive underground facility, later became known as the “bunker.” Eisenhower was familiar with the The Greenbrier as he had visited the resort twice as an Army General when it had been converted into a medical facility during World War II, and he and his wife celebrated their wedding anniversary there after the war. This clandestine meeting between Eisenhower and Tuohy was not known for many years until records were declassified.
Eisenhower was only one of many government officials and celebrities that traveled to The Greenbrier aboard Chessie 29. Other notable passengers include the Prince and Princess (Grace Kelly) of Monaco who were guests at the resort in 1963. The famed Chessie 29 has been acquired by the C&O Historical Society in Clifton Forge, and a campaign is underway to have it restored. To generate funds for the restoration, the C&O Historical Society has teamed with West Virginian’s Base Camp Printing Co. to sell a limited number of hand printed posters of Chessie 29. Posters may be ordered by contacting the society at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 540-862-2210.
Sources: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, Beckley Post-Herald, Raleigh Register, C&O Historical Society.
Photos Courtesy of The Greenbrier and C&O Historical Society.
Poster Courtesy of C&O Historical Society.