by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
Many people have begun to wonder why hiding in the basement of the National Capitol would have provided any protection for Members of Congress, when thousands of rioters were swarming all over the building for 2 ½ hours on January 6, 2021. There is more to the story that has not been told.
When 27 years ago, I was being interviewed for becoming the next Architect of the National Capitol, I got to see things that tourists never see and know things that our current batch of journalists don’t seem to know. The reason that the members of Congress were told to put on gas masks was that if the rioters had broken into the chambers of the House and Senate, while still occupied by elected officials, a “knock out” gas would have been released into the chambers, causing the rioters to hit the deck like flies.
The members of Congress and their staffs fled down the stairs to catch the Midnight Train to Georgia. Well, not exactly, but there is a special people mover system underground in the Capitol Complex, which would speed its riders to safety. The official description of the special subway system of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. states that it consists of three underground electric people mover systems that connect the United States Capitol to all three of the Senate office buildings and one of the four House office buildings. There is also a train serving the White House and Treasury Building.
The real system is much more than that today. The Capitol Hill Subway was initially designed in 1908 to interconnect an office building for Members of Congress with the Capitol, but today has extensions in classified (top secret) locations to speed Congress, the White House staff and senior members of the federal bureaucracy away from a threat, whether it be a pending nuclear attack or 30,000 crazies. The original system provided protection only from conventional bombs, but the newer extensions also provide protection from nuclear blasts.
Location: United States Capitol Complex, Washington, DC
Operator: Architect of the Capitol
Began operation: March 7, 1909
The National Park Service became interested in me as a candidate in early 1993, when Director Roger Kennedy learned that I not only had a heavy background in historic preservation, but had worked on the planning and design of the Midtown Atlanta subway section of MARTA, plus had a year of post-graduate Civil Engineering courses in the design and planning of rapid transit systems. At the time, there was a proposal to build a nuclear blast proof subway that could whisk government officials at 150 mph to the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the Blue Ridge and Alleghany Mountains of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia are several underground “hotel complexes” which would enable our government to function after a large-scale nuclear attack. I do not know if this rail line was constructed . . . but I suspect it was . . . at least a version of the original concept.
The initial letter from the NPS stated that I was ranked number one on technical qualifications and the examination. A second letter said that I was ranked number three because two other candidates got 10 points for being veterans and 10 Affirmative Action points for being in a minority ethnic group. One of those other two also got another 10 points for being female.
In the meantime, my former wife urged me to visit my parents in Georgia during Easter weekend. In my absence, she cleaned out the bank accounts, ran all our credit cards to the limit and filed for a marital separation. While I was doing odd jobs in Georgia to scramble up enough money to get back to Northern Virginia, pay a motel bill and hire a lawyer, the NPS sent a third letter.
The reviewers of my application had forgotten to award me 10 points for being a Creek Indian, plus had not given me credit for managerial positions in the private sector. Thus, now again I ranked number one among candidates. I did not know about that letter until 3 1/2 years later, when I was in Roger Kennedy’s office on another matter. My wife had told the National Park Service that she didn’t know where I was!
Well, at least the experience enabled me to 27 years later tell readers something that they didn’t learn from the major TV networks. LOL