PARTHENON, ARK. -- Money, that great insulator, can buy protection against a lot of life's little inconveniences. Nuclear war, for instance.
When Denver millionaire John Hay, one of the founders of Celestial Seasonings tea company, became concerned about the prospect of a Soviet attack five years ago, he began looking for the perfect place "to wait out the worst." He found it here, in a mammoth limestone cave he converted into a home built to weather nuclear winter.
Now, in the age of glasnost, he has put the world's most opulent bomb shelter up for sale for $3.3 million.
Hay purchased the 240 acres surrounding the Beckham Creek Cave high in the Ozarks of northwestern Arkansas for $146,000. He turned the cave into a five-bedroom home featuring cascading fountains, a black-and-white-tiled "Fred Astaire room" and multicolored lighting designed by "Lenny, who used to do the lights for the rock group Kiss," groundskeeper Bill Ashworth said.
Outfitted with 200 Geiger counters, a semitrailer load of nitrogen-packed dried food and a hydroelectric generator, the 7,500-square-foot nuclear getaway was complete -- "fully holocaust-proof," according to Hay.
In the early days, its location was a secret.
"In the event of a nuclear holocaust you don't want thousands of people pouring down on you," said Ashworth.
Then, last year, Hay opened the palatial cave dwelling to potential buyers. But it has proved to be a slow mover. "It's been there for 250 million years, and it isn't going anywhere," Hay said.
Singer Michael Jackson had first dibs.
"I thought it would be hot for him," Hay said. "He's into this whole preservation thing."
At first, the deal looked promising. "Michael's personal business manager really liked the property," he said. "He was looking for a place to put his animals, kind of a mini-zoo."
But the timing was bad; Jackson had just purchased a ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif.
And the cave home began to attract browsers instead of buyers. A crew from "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" filmed the cave for a segment of the TV show. Film director Oliver Stone dropped by unannounced, saying he is considering the site as a movie location. Then came the poseurs.
Meanwhile, Hay continues to tout the cave's unique attributes.
"Specifically designed to withstand a nuclear war and provide maximum protection against radiation, fallout and nuclear winter," according to a brochure from Denver-based real estate company Previews Inc., the home is definitely one of a kind.
And Ashworth -- who has lived in the cave since 1983 and heard more than one Fred Flintstone joke -- said it has other charms: It's the perfect escape from summertime heat, at a naturally cool year-round temperature of 64 degrees. It induces hibernation-quality sleep. And the moisture is good for your skin.