From the early 90s back to the end of World War II, the entire world had a heightened level of international tension that we now refer to as the Cold War. Non-Communist nations, US included, faced what they saw as a potential threat to world peace, democracy and the safety of it’s people. The Soviet Union had developed atomic weapons and they were flexing their nuclear muscles to try and extend their ideology into the rest of the world. The US federal government responded to our growing fear and created the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), which later became known as the Office of Civil Defense. This agency sent out information as to how to prepare for a nuclear attack. Some of us will remember sitting under desks in elementary school with our hands over our heads and being told that this would protect us.
In 1949, President Harry Truman, made it public knowledge that the Soviet Union had detonated their first atomic bomb; thusly ushering in an age of fear. The civil defense department thought that if we were informed that we could better protect ourselves. The government helped communities create evacuation plans for big cities and thought that if given enough time, that they would be in a safe enough distance. Fast forward into the 1950s, the government would also suggest ‘fallout shelters’ to reduce the amount of exposure to the harmful fallout from the nuclear blast (the radioactivity that would occur in the aftermath) and also from the explosion itself. The Eisenhower administration (around 1957) took notes from the destruction that occurred during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to educate the populous (specifically urban areas because it was believed that they would be targeted first) in ways of survival. Tensions continued to rise through ages and into the 1960s when the Soviets built the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis was all too real for Americans. In the summer of 1961, President Kennedy asked Congress for more than $100 million to help build public fallout shelters and implement home-based ‘imminent nuclear danger alarm systems’.
Fallout shelters were built in both small towns and big cities alike. From Manhattan to small town America: including my home town of Rose Hill, NC. Inside the basements of churches and other structurally more sound buildings, fallout shelters were erected. The constructed shelters were not glorious but the sense of security in an unsure time that it gave you was beautiful enough to mask any miscalculation. Over the years the fallout shelter doors were taken down and the constant fear of waiting for some imminent threat has been forgotten; but the faded reminders of what now lies in a cold, fearful period of American history can still be found.