A Blast from the Past – Literally!

Imagine you are spending the next three weeks in an underground barracks with 2000 of your neighbors. And that when you emerge, there may not be much left of Terrace Park.

This was a very real possibility confronting residents of the village in 1961.

Long before the threats of terrorism and global warming, there was the Cold War and the frightening specter of a nuclear holocaust. A letter to Terrace Park Citizens from the “Committee for Community Survival” from October 1961 states:

“November 7, 1961 – Election Day – may well be the most fateful day in the lives of the men, women and children of Terrace Park. On this day the voters will be called upon to make a very grave decision. We will determine whether or not this Village shall launch a program for mass survival by the building of a community blast and fallout shelter.

“This is no ordinary bond issue which we have the opportunity to accept or reject. It is born of the somber circumstances and grave possibilities of our times. It embraces the implications of life or death.”

According to village civil defense director, Robert Jenkins, there were four reasons to build a community shelter: A community shelter could protect all village residents but all individuals could not afford their own shelters; costs of the shelter ($250,000) could be covered by a 20 year bond; the shelter would provide all medical services, sanitary and survival equipment, a jail, and even a maternity ward; and residents in the shelter would have the aid of each other in any disasters.

“The shelter would be covered with three feet or more of earth. It would be 125 feet by 232 feet, providing 13 ½ feet of space for each of the village’s 2000 residents. Villagers would sleep in three shifts with separate quarters for men, women and new mothers and infants. Facilities also would include a kitchen, hospital and storage area. In the event of a bomb, doors of the shelter would be closed until the initial bomb blast wave passed. Doors would then be open for about 3 minutes until fallout reached the danger level. During this period, persons surviving the blast could be brought into the shelter. “

The original choice of location was the Village Green, but was changed to the sanitary landfill and Marietta and Elm Avenues. Walking times from distant points in the park were to be around 10 minutes, and “driving to the shelter would take much less time and there is ample parking space.”

The shelter would “replace the present Community House and give the Village the much-needed facilities for fire equipment, life squad equipment, trucks, tractor, office space and meeting space”.
Although today this sounds like a movie script, the world was a different place in 1961, and the Village voted to construct the shelter.

Needless to say, there was a great deal of controversy over this proposal and due to legal action and the changing political climate, the project was never undertaken. Detractors claimed that costs would be far higher than proposed, that the risk of a nuclear attack was overstated, and even that the plan was a ploy by the council members to create a space to hold “Clodhoppers” activities.

Although the Cold War era is just a distant memory now, one item in the discussion seemed just as applicable today as it was 54 years ago:

“While the need for a blast and fallout shelter is new in our experience, the idea of a haven for the community in times of peril certainly is not new. It is in the American tradition.” Today, with our long tradition of volunteer emergency services, it is apparent that the value of community responsibility is still with us.

(Reprinted with permission from the April 2015 issue of “A Walk in the Park” Magazine)