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A bomb, H bomb, Minutemen, the names get more attractive
January 16, 2013 8:47 PM   Subscribe

In 1961 US president John F Kennedy started the Community Fallout Shelter Program, advising the use of communal and home-based fallout shelters in case relations with the Soviet Union took a turn for the worse. One brave toy company took up the call and released a dolls' house with its own fallout shelter to keep dolly safe.

Also on the topic of shelters, the famous Life's 1961 Fallout special and a a CBC news report on life in a fallout shelter. Join the Toronto's McCallum family as they leave their shelter after one week. How did they enjoy confinement?
Want to build your own shelter?
posted by Mezentian (28 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
And, of course, as soon as I hit post I discovered some more images of the dolls' house.
posted by Mezentian at 8:50 PM on January 16, 2013


I can only compare it to my generation's Cold War pop culture...
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:57 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, Marx will keep you safe from the Soviet Union!
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:01 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have two official fallout shelter signs in the windows of my apartment facing the street. Just in case. Though I don't have 55 gallon drums of corned beef hash sitting around.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:07 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was in first grade in 1961 (get off my lawn, you young punks!) and we had fire drills, where we went out into the playground, and we had air raid drills, where we went into the air raid shelter and did "duck and cover".

I look back on that, and it was really creepy.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:26 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are a bunch of (mostly old Bell Telephone, now Verizon) buildings near me with Fallout Shelter signs still posted. I've always thought it would be funny to show up with some old Civil Defense uniforms and conduct a "surprise inspection." You know, make sure they have sufficient stocks of Spam, that their Russian/English phrasebooks are in good order, etc. "No reason, just checking up on things!" and drive away.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:57 PM on January 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


My dad said that during the Cold War, people would paint signs pointing toward Washington on their roofs.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:06 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember the drop-drills, and in L.A., during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the school told everyone to run zig-zag home.
Because of an earlier time in my life, spent around bullfighting, I could zig-zag backward and forward.
Mom told us 'Dont bother. It won't make a difference if they really dropped the Big One, run for the exercise if you want. Don't think it will save you.'
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:32 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


@Kadin, contact me, I'd love to help!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:33 PM on January 16, 2013


Mom knew Oppenheimer. She knew a couple other Manhatten Project people. Anyway one day a salesman in a suit came in. He was selling canned rations for fall-out shelters. Our place of residence was in East L.A. She explained to him all the nastiness radiation does to canned foods. He left really dejected.
Yes, there were actual door to door salesmen in those days, who sold all kinds of weird stuff.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:40 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


My best friend growing up in the 1960s had a real, live bomb shelter built into his house. With radios and flashlights and canned food. The whole set-up. We spent many hours playing cowboys and indians there.

My dad who is 85 told me that there were only two times in his life when he felt that something really bad was going to happen: during the Cuban missile crisis and when Kennedy was assassinated. I was talking with him last summer and he says to me "You know, I really thought that there was going to be a nuclear exchange with the Soviets and the relief when this didn't happen was immeasurable."

Good thing he didn't know at the time - none of us knew - how close the bumbling Kennedy came to blowing it all up.

1961 was also the year Kennedy starting sending "military advisors" to the former South Vietnam.

Yep, one of the original war-mongering Democrats, Kennedy then went on to guarantee America's military engagement in Vietnam. And we all know how that turned out. Had he not been killed, who knows how many more wars he would have started.

So yeah, with that war hero running the country, I can understand rational people seeing the need for a bomb shelter.

Yes, there were actual door to door salesmen in those days, who sold all kinds of weird stuff.

Some are still at it.
posted by three blind mice at 12:45 AM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


The title of the post is a quote from The Three Johns. My favourite band as a teenager!
posted by johnamazement at 1:12 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In 1961 I was 13 years old. Old enough to read all the scary stuff, old enough to understand the concept of nuclear weapons and the potential of the cold war.

My mom was a widow, working very hard to put three kids through college. She got by on a shoestring, there was no room for extras. We also lived 10 miles from the nearest large building that might be designated as a fallout shelter.

Bottom line.... the best we had was "duck and cover" to save us from the megatons that, through listening to the news, we were sure were going to explode over our heads.

We did have a cement septic tank in the back yard, I considered that as an option, but eventually determined I would rather die in the blast.
posted by HuronBob at 3:56 AM on January 17, 2013


In Switzerland they used to have a law that new houses had to be built with a bunker. But everyone I ever met there had theirs full up with the usual garage-style junk and my child self got quite anxious that they'd all fry and leave behind nothing but old bike frames and cans of paint.
posted by colie at 4:43 AM on January 17, 2013


As a grade schooler in the 80s, I remember asking my dad if we had a plan if there was a nuclear war.

"You know The Base?" my dad asked, using the local term for the Naval Air Base that was a prominent part of the community.

"Of course," I replied.

"Well," Dad continued. "The Base is supposed to protect New York and Boston from submarines and ships. Everyone's pretty sure that there are nuclear weapons stored on it. If there's an exchange of nuclear missles, it's going in the first round. Our plan is to be water vapor."
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:02 AM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I can't help but think of how boys have been expected to play with toy guns and to play "war" throughout all of time but perhaps the picture-perfect ideal that is a dollhouse was too beloved to mar.

Or maybe you have the causative arrow backwards.
posted by DU at 5:22 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In 1976 or 1977, my folks had purchased a vacation home that came with all its furniture and various ephemera intact. I found an old civil defense booklet on how to create a fallout shelter in one's home, and spent quite a while trying to figure out which corner of the basement would be safer.

I really don't miss the cold war.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:44 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember during the Cuban Missile Crisis, all of us kids were finger-printed in school, to make identification of the bodies easier after an attack. I used to pore over books and pamphlets on how to build a bomb shelter, but my dad didn't want any part of it.
posted by pbrim at 5:59 AM on January 17, 2013


I wasn't finger-printed at my school!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:45 AM on January 17, 2013


I remember during the Cuban Missile Crisis, all of us kids were finger-printed in school, to make identification of the bodies easier after an attack

I remember during the Great Child Kidnapping Panic of the 80s that kids were fingerprinted in school (though my parents opted out for me). The moral is that the authorities will use any excuse to get your fingerprints.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:06 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there was a large population of first generation eastern european jews in the parent pool at my elementary school and long story short most of us kids did not get fingerprinted.
posted by elizardbits at 7:07 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]




If I were a Freudian psychiatrist I might attribute the whole bomb shelter thing to a primordial desire to burrow, to return to the placidity of the womb before ejection into this here cruel world. There is a whole genre of speculative fiction and art about underground, underwater cities with a similar appeal. In Dune a lot of the sewage was handled with the stillsuit.
posted by bukvich at 7:12 AM on January 17, 2013


The photo of the folks in their fallout shelter is interesting. Interesting because if the photo were taken today of a survival shelter the most prominently featured items would be the ones completely missing from the 1960s era shot. There are no guns. It's kind of surprising to be confronted with a photo of (presumably) paranoid survivalists with home stockpiles of food and such but no stockpile of guns and ammo. Simpler times indeed, I guess, when we were more afraid of OTHER governments and less afraid of our own.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:48 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember during the Great Child Kidnapping Panic of the 80s that kids were fingerprinted in school ...

They are still doing that.
posted by DU at 8:09 AM on January 17, 2013


I was in first grade in 1961 (get off my lawn, you young punks!) and we had fire drills, where we went out into the playground, and we had air raid drills, where we went into the air raid shelter and did "duck and cover".

I was in kindergarten in 1988 and we did nuclear drills that year and the following, as well. After that I was in a different school - same district, but different building - and we no longer did nuclear drills, which - being, like, 6 and unaware of the significance of things like the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall and such that were going on - at the time I attributed to Lax Attention To Safety In This New School Building. There was a clearly-indicated Fallout Shelter in the basement - there was a sign on the outside of the school - and they just didn't care enough whether we lived or died to make sure we knew where it was. But I knew. Oh yes. I looked for those black and yellow signs everywhere I went to be sure I would be able to get to the nearest one when the Russians inevitably blew us up. I'd be shopping with my mom downtown and keeping my eyes peeled for fallout shelters just in case.

I also remember my sister (she's 7 years older than me) freaking out about high school tests and where she was going to go to college, and thinking that at least I wouldn't have to worry about that stuff, because we were going to get bombed before that...

I'm really not at all sure how or why I grew up with so much nuclear war paranoia given that 1988 is not a typo, I was really actually going through this long after everyone else in the United States had moved on from such things.
posted by titus n. owl at 6:01 PM on January 17, 2013


She explained to him all the nastiness radiation does to canned foods. He left really dejected.
Huh? Not sure I follow. (a) The canned food is to be stored in a radiation shelter, along with your own hopefully surviving bodies, and (b) I don't believe radiation exposure would in any way harm canned goods in any case. Any idea what she meant?

a photo of (presumably) paranoid survivalists
I grew up in the 80s, and in Australia, but concern for nuclear war was pretty widespread and mainstream, including movies and TV documentaries on the 'the day after'. Our most prominent anti-nuke campaigner ended up our federal minister for education. Most people didn't build shelters, but I think that was more to do with the futility of shelters than considering it overly paranoid. For most people it was a glum resignation that bad, bad things could happen with almost no notice.

I'm constantly surprised that younger people don't get what a constant shadow it was over life for many ordinary people, and the acceptance that the shadow has passed. It really wouldn't take much geopolitically to be back with a vengance.
posted by bystander at 12:06 AM on January 19, 2013


I'm constantly surprised that younger people don't get what a constant shadow it was over life for many ordinary people,
1980s: AIDS/Nuclear Death.
1990s: what was comparable?
2010s: everyone sees your facebook sexting?
posted by Mezentian at 8:00 AM on January 19, 2013


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