City Quotient: Is the Worthington Post Office Really a Fallout Shelter?
I spotted a fallout shelter sign on the exterior of the Worthington Post Office. Is this just a relic from the '50s, or is the building still a designated shelter?
During the 1950s, nuclear war was expected every other Wednesday. Civil Defense agencies worked overtime figuring how to stop commie bombers, survive a blast and hide from deadly fallout. The CONELRAD defense system (CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation) told us to "turn to 640 or 1240 on your radio dial"; we "ducked and covered" under our fourth grade desks. But our family had no fallout shelter. Too expensive.
The morality of private shelters was a big deal (explored in the "Shelter" episode of The Twilight Zone). In 1961, the feds launched the National Fallout Shelter Survey and Marking Program to designate federally approved buildings as shelters. They were stocked with food, water and medicine and marked with a distinctive black-and-yellow sign of inverted triangles.
However, it doesn't seem outdated supplies were replaced (CQ recalls seeing a shelter with rusted water cans and moldy biscuits), and the likelihood of nuclear war diminished under the Mutual Assured Destruction doctrine. Today the federal website ready.gov advises on protection from numerous hazards, including nuclear fallout, but it doesn't specifically say those marked fallout shelters are the place to go. You might not even be able to get in if you did go to one. The shelter signs have either fallen off or been removed from many former shelters, so the whole fallout shelter idea seems to be-wait for it-a blast from the past.
The Ohio History Center has an exhibition about the 1950s that includes a Lustron house (if you haven't heard of Lustrons, write to CQ and we'll tell you about it) with a fallout shelter hatch in the yard. Go see it.
Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to email@example.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.