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How the Cold War aided film preservation



That's the war room from the Stanley Kubrick darkly comic classic "Dr. Strangelove," arguably the best satire of the Cold War ever made. In the process of my current move from northern Virginia downstate to Lynchburg, I pass fairly close to an artifact of that era.



It's at a site called Mount Pony, a name that conjures up images of children and fun. But this complex had a far different purpose when it was built in 1969. Operated by the Federal Reserve Board, with concrete walls a foot thick, for nearly two decades this bunker-like fortress stored $1 billion in currency to be used to reactivate the U.S. economy following a nuclear attack.

Additionally, until July 1992 this also served as a continuity of government facility. With a peacetime staff of 100, the facility was designed to support an emergency staff of 540 for 30 days. But only 200 beds were provided in the men's and women's dormitories, which would be shared on a "hot-bunk" basis by the staff, working around the clock. One can imagine Dr. Strangelove himself chortling over surviving a nuclear attack there.

However, by the mid-1990s, with the Cold War now a thing of the past, the Mount Pony facility was suddenly rendered useless. What to do with it? The Library of Congress had an answer.

In 1997, Congress transferred ownership of the site from the Federal Reserve to the Library of Congress, which uses the facility to house its vast audio-visual collection in all sorts of formats. It's an excellent place for film and other fragile material to be stored (Culpeper is slightly under 100 miles from Capitol Hill).

But that's not all.



A state-of-the-art, 200-seat theater has been installed on the campus, and classic films are regularly shown there. For example, on tonight's bill is the 1980 gem "Raging Bull," featuring Robert DeNiro as boxer Jake LaMotta. Films are usually shown Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday afternoons; admission is free.

For more on the facility, go to http://www.loc.gov/avconservation/packard/. To learn about upcoming screenings (and I'm sure a Carole Lombard film will be shown there one of these days), visit http://www.loc.gov/avconservation/theater/schedule.html.

It almost makes you thank Dr. Strangelove. Almost.

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