Monday, January 23, 2017

From the Archives Part 2: Shelter From the Weather or Nuclear Fallout?

In Part 2 of the "From the Archives" series: some photos from 2008 of a shelter in the woods. Was it constructed as a means of escape from violent weather or nuclear war? If the bomb did drop, could it even survive? 

Over time, a lot of urban exploration content has been featured on QC/D. During the past ten or so years, some photographs and stories from my interest in documenting abandoned, forgotten, or little-known locations have fallen by the wayside. They were either never featured or only had a small mention. Over the next few weeks, this “From the Archives” series will dig up some of those older stories and share more history and exploration of abandoned places across the Midwest.

- Entrance to the shelter.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way in which we viewed “The Red Scare.” Fresh off of a WW2 victory and poised for a conflict between allied victors, the United Sates entered the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Things like Senator McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee popped up and air raid drills were common, preparation for the day when Soviet bombers would fly through our skies. In 2013, I wrote about an Operation Skywatch outpost that we had passed in Cairo, Indiana - a small wooden tower part of a nationwide network where citizen volunteers would scan the horizon for Russian planes. The whole project was made obsolete rather quickly when the Strategic Air Command had enough radar coverage to scan all of the lower 48. On top of that, the developments of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and later Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, removed the likelihood of seeing a strategic bomber. Hell, should nuclear war come to fruition, you’d likely have little to no warning before the bombs fell. Air Raid drills soon became about as effective as Senator McCarthy. With advancing technology came more powerful weapons and the chances of surviving a nuclear attack grew even slimmer. “Duck and cover” was more of a PR campaign rather than a practical safety recommendation while haphazard backyard bomb shelters and public fallout areas were really just more for show. Unless you were invited by the government to Cheyenne Mountain or The Greenbrier Hotel, you probably weren't going to be able to build an effective safe harbor against a nuclear blast or its ensuing radioactive results.

- The shelter sits in a valley surrounded by hills on Cincinnati's far west side.

That’s why I found this shelter outside of the 275 loop on the westside so intriguing. In all likelihood, it could’ve once been built during the 50’s when atomic weapons were still in their infancy. If Cincinnati or any of its industrial centers were hit, this shelter is in a remote enough area that it could’ve afforded some protection. It’s actually well outside the blast radius of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Thanks to NukeMap, I was able to estimate the distance of various nuclear weapons and how close their effects would be to this shelter. The blast from a B-83 (the largest currently in the US arsenal and capable of 1.2 megatons) as well as a Russian Topol and Chinese Dong Feng-4 would all theoretically spare this shelter if they were dropped directly on downtown Cincinnati. Even if an industrial center such as General Electric’s Evendale Aviation facility was targeted, this shelter is still out of the projected radius for thermal radiation which the website describes as: “third degree burns” that “extend throughout the layers of skin, and are often painless because they destroy the pain nerves. They can cause severe scarring or disablement, and can require amputation.” Just for curiosity’s sake, a simulation of the “Tsar Bomba” (a 50 megaton Russian weapon and the largest nuclear bomb ever tested) placed this shelter well within the radius of destruction.

- The valley in which the shelter sits.

Despite being out of the blast zone of modern weapons, the resulting effects of fallout radiation and nuclear winter resulting from multiple attacks across the country would probably make this shelter little more effective than the average home. Not to mention, it only has a simple wooden door and is built into a shallow hillside rather than fully underground.

- Shelter entrance.

Which lead me to guess: it probably wasn’t a bomb shelter. More likely, it’s a tornado shelter. When my uncle showed it to me years ago, there was hardly anything left inside besides an old radio. There’s little in the way of long-term accommodations aside from two metal benches. If anything, this was probably just a safe place to wait out a storm until the radio gave an all clear weather report.

In the end, that's exactly what my uncle confirmed when I recently talked with him after digging up these photographs from 2008. It was originally built by his former neighbor who had constructed a house on the property in 1962. Mr. Betts had constructed it as a tornado shelter, but “did keep two large storage tanks of fuel at the ready on the property.” He passed away in the late 90’s, but my uncle remembers him fondly as someone who was “never short on advice or a good story.”

More stories "From the Archives" coming soon.

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