A few Fridays ago, in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, Smithsonian curator Frank Blazich put on headlamp, checked his bag for a tape measure, and descended into the subbasement of Oyster-Adams intermediate school in search of the past.
“Oh, wow,” he said, coming to a metal door marked with a yellow and black pinwheel.
“It would tend to make nuclear war seem inevitable to children.” Nevertheless, the experiment went forward. The shelter was filled with cots covered in paper blankets. Verona Budke was placed on the Communications team, staying in radio contact with the outside world, which came in the form of pretend news updates: A number of bombs had fallen in Washington, one told them.
Participants assembled in the auditorium, greeted with seriousness by Principal J. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war,” he told them. “Like an olive-green paper,” remembers Christie Carpenter, the student whose mother was Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary. My recollection is I didn’t sleep a wink.” Barry Truder remembers being assigned to the Recreation committee and organizing an impromptu talent show. “There is great danger from radioactive fallout.” The night wore on.
On Monday, a North Korean official said the country wouldn’t stop until its missiles could reach “all the way to the East coast of the mainland U. A yellowing pamphlet with instructions for treating everything from skin rashes to “sucking-wounds in the chest.” We found the latrines: barrel-shaped containers meant to be topped with a rubber seat.
S.” 3) Our own president, a man not known for measured responses, has said that attacks would be met by “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” and has taken to calling Kim “Little Rocket Man.” So, to the fallout shelter. Blazich sat on one to make sure he’d assembled it correctly, then noticed my colleague, Erin O’Connor, filming him.
He’d sat through the Cuban missile crisis, when a social studies teacher said, “We are not going to have class today. There was only sitting below a school auditorium in a roomful of his 12- and 13-year-old classmates, and hoping the walls were thick enough. The story of fallout shelters, it turns out, is partly a story about safety in the nuclear age, but it’s more about the placebo effect in times of panic.
He watched as his science teacher swung a Geiger counter around his head like a cowboy with a lariat, to capture the ambient air. That year, he’d seen yellow megaphones rise above the Washington skyline, which would be used to tell the city when the Russians were bombing. Or they were, but not as surveyors had intended or hoped for.A time capsule to a nation’s panic, lined up in a long, concrete hall. “So, each person would get 10,000 calories for two weeks,” Blazich continued, blowing dust off a stack of tinned crackers.“These were the water barrels,” Blazich said, pointing to a wall of 17 ½ -gallon drums labeled “Office of Civil Defense.” “Think five people per barrel, and we could get a rough approximation of who would be down here.” We counted: More than 100 people would have sheltered here to save themselves from nuclear apocalypse. The crackers — “All Purpose Survival Biscuits” — would probably have been made of bulgur wheat, he explained.Seeking old yearbooks or class rosters, we visited the D. public school archives, digging through old newsletters and floor plans. The public-school archives led us to a public-school warehouse, which led us to the District’s city archives. We reached out to the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, which is what the Office of Civil Defense transformed into. Someone recommended we try the National Archives in College Park, Md., but we didn’t, because the odds seemed slim. And because it was beginning to feel a little weird, for the two of us to take such fervent responsibility for a bunch of old barrels of water. Biscuits, tongue depressors, latrine covers, thermometers and salt tablets, all meant for a nuclear war that never came.
Nobody knows who they belong to, and nobody has any reason to take them away. Just when we had given up on our mystery, we found somewhere else to poke around. A different time capsule, but with the same kinds of memories. Representative Arnold Olsen, Montana.” There were children of Ethiopian and Indian diplomats, the son of a Turkish attache.While rifling through DCPS archives, we started to notice correspondence between the Office of Civil Defense and Gordon Junior High School in the Glover Park neighborhood. The only highly publicized trials in fallout shelters had been conducted on naval officers who, it could be argued, might not represent the average American. An article was written about the proposed experiment in the Evening Star, and caused a minor uproar.