This article originally appeared on VICE US
Within hours of North Korea doing something like, say, launching an ICBM that could strike anywhere in the US mainland, Bruce Francisco’s email invariably blows up. The 59-year-old Connecticut resident isn’t NatSec, and he’s not a nuclear war expert who's good for a few theoretical armageddon quotes, either. Francisco’s a comedy hypnotist, hypnotherapist, meditation guru, motivational speaker, author, and skin-care expert.
He’s also a custom home builder and remodeler who, for the right price, can construct for you a super swanky, highly functional bomb shelter to survive underground for several years after the nukes rain down. Put together, he can show you how to calm your mind, develop positive habits, and keep your skin glowing (in a totally nonradioactive way) while you’re living out the rest of your days beneath ground in comfort and style. Even if the rest of the planet is an incinerated, cannibalistic and otherwise highly stressful hellscape.
That sort of holistic approach to the apocalypse makes Francisco arguably the only one of a small-but-colorful community of decommissioned American missile base rehabbers who can give you comprehensive peace of mind at the end of the world, the promise of which is unfortunately taking up space in the minds of anyone currently paying even moderate attention to the news.
“'Good morning, what’s the average price of an anti-apocalypse shelter and the resources needed to live for six months to three years?'" Francisco says, reading aloud one of the many emails he's gotten in the wake of Kim Jung-un's latest missile test. "That’s a common one. Or, here you go: ‘Hello, my name is Donna, please tell me if I can make a purchase of a fully stocked home for 100 people to keep us alive for a year. It needs to be done in one week. Money is not an issue.’”
Francisco laughs wryly. But sometimes the missives are heartbreaking.
“‘I don’t know what to do,’” he reads. “‘I’ve got a family and kids. We don’t have much money, but we can be handy. We can be helpful.’”
Such emails appear regularly in Francisco's inbox thanks to a self-described “antiquated but very well-optimized” website that shows off the luxurious "Silohome" he built out of the ruins of a Cold War–era Atlas-F missile base in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. The site was once assigned to the US Air Force’s defunct 556th Strategic Missile Squadron.
Originally built during the Eisenhower Administration’s second term for roughly $16 million, it and the other 71 Atlas-F silos in six states (New York, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and New Mexico) were rendered obsolete by rapidly improving missile technology almost as soon as they were finished. All were decommissioned by the mid 60s, sealed up (and sometimes flooded), and left to rot.
During that ensuing period of structural disintegration, Francisco—who these days, tanned and fit, looks like he could be magician David Copperfield’s more handsome cousin—grew up in Armonk, New York, where he learned to fix up things from his father, who ran a company that leased used aircraft.
In 1992, Francisco’s then-business partner bought the Adirondack Atlas-F base for about $55,000, and enlisted Francisco, who at the time was mainly remodeling kitchens and basements. The only thing he saw when he got to the base was a small concrete wedge sticking out of the ground.
“I didn’t know what a missile base was,” he recalls. “I opened the hatch and went down a couple steps, and the first thing I saw was just water. Neither of us really had any money at the time, so we bought a water pump for 50 bucks and slowly pumped it out, and it was just sludge and junk.”
The pair brought in the Army Corps of Engineers to check the area for any contamination, and after getting the all-clear, Francisco began working on-and-off on a years-long project to transform the property.
Atlas-F bases are all configured alike. A set of stairs leads down to steel blast doors, behind which is a two-story, 50-foot-diameter, 2,300-square-foot Launch Control Center (LCC) that connects via a tunnel to the 52-foot-wide, 185-foot-deep launch tube where an 82-foot Atlas-F missile once sat on a hydraulic elevator, ready for takeoff.
Francisco renovated the LCC, building a posh entertainment, kitchen, and dining area on the first subterranean floor, installing a spiral staircase leading down to fancy bedroom suites and marble-tiled bathrooms with Jacuzzis on the lower floor. The ventilation and septic systems are tip-top, and the whole LCC is ensconced in three-foot-thick concrete and steel walls made to withstand one hell of a detonation.
“I’d sleep down there sometimes (during the construction),” Francisco says, “and it’s a kind of quiet I can’t even really explain."
Along the way, Francisco bought out his partner and put nearly $1 million into the project. It involved building a contemporary 1,800-square-foot “surface house" over the refurbished LCC. There’s a keypad entry inside the house that takes you down to that “secret” tricked-out underground lair. Francisco, who's also a pilot, built an airstrip from an old access road that runs next to the silo.
The stylish surface house is key. Francisco envisioned his Silohome differently than other missile base rehabbers like Larry Hall, who in recent years converted his Kansas silo into what he calls a "Survival Condo" complex—lavish just-in-case subterranean apartments for the uber-wealthy, with amenities like a shooting range, rock-climbing wall and armed guards watching over the place 24/7. More HGTV than Doomsday Preppers, Francisco likes the option of living above ground in fairly upscale fashion—instead of underground like some mole-person—until the shit actually hits the fan, and then you can scurry downstairs to your chic hideaway.
What further sets Francisco apart from the Larry Halls of the world, though, is that he's also able to provide for you the tools to achieve inner peace as well as outer comfort. Even if you can't afford a bunker, the self-hypnosis recordings he sells through his Free Mind Center website can help you quit smoking, lose weight, and sleep better. What's more, through his techniques, he claims, people are better able to "eliminate... negative feelings and behaviors," which seems like it could be a handy tool in the face of nuclear armageddon.
“People are really stressed out right now, but my techniques can help them navigate their life experiences more effectively and more happily,” Francisco says, slipping casually into infomercial mode.
Currently his Silohome's 185-foot-launch tube remains unfinished, owing to the many additional millions of dollars Francisco estimates it would take to convert it into a multi-level structure that he likens to "a skyscraper in a bottle." But that fact didn't deter an investor, who Francisco declines to name, from recently buying into the project and moving into the Silohome full time while Francisco still manages the property.
Earlier this year, Francisco bought another Atlas-F base in Roswell, New Mexico, for $95,000, and says he intends to purchase even more old missile bases to rehab. “It’s totally dry down there,” he enthuses of his newest property. "And it’s pretty close to civilization, unlike some of the other ones in the middle of nowhere. There’s a Home Depot and an Applebee’s and stuff right near there.”
Not a bad place to spend the last days before the potential bomb drops. Until then, breathe easy. Francisco can show you the way.
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