From the desk of our assistant editor Tim comes this screenshot from a WGBH Archives clip of Hyde Park from 1979. Pictured is Boston Police Station 5 (now E-18) on Hyde Park Avenue. On top of the station is one of several Federal Signal air raid sirens that used to be on top of buildings throughout the city.
To the left of the left entrance door is a Fallout Shelter sign, and passing the station is a Checker brand White Cab, which before ridesharing used to be the only hired mode of transportation in cities across the US outside of limos and livery cars.
This photo, taken by Daniel White in February 1980, shows a clearer picture of former Station 5, sans cab.
Contributor Brian sent us these photos from the movie Alice’s Restaurant (1969), starring Arlo Guthrie, Patricia Quinn, and James Broderick. Here, Arlo is in a hospital and an interior Fallout Shelter sign is seen pointing the way to the shelter area. The placement of the arrows on the sign is a little bit of a mystery, as the “Nurse’s Station” sign seems to point left while the arrows point down, which would usually indicate a set of stairs.
As mentioned in previous posts, Fallout Shelter sign appearances were common in a large amount of movies and TV shows from it’s creation in 1961 and still do on occasion even today. Conelrad Adjacent has compiled numerous stills of these appearances on their page Fallout Shelter Sign Cameos.
Contibutor Chris L recently wrote in and relayed a story of going through the Fallout Shelter areas under the Universty of Oregon with his father, who worked in the facilities department there.
Hello, Back in the late seventies when I was in my early teens my Dad was the associate director of housing at the University of Oregon and I recall going with him twice one summer down to check out “the basement” below several of the dormatory [sic] halls and the cafeteria at Carson Hall. I remember riding a freight elevator down into what I thought was Carson’s basement which was dark and about 2/3 full of old industrial kitchen equipment along with tables and chairs. From there we went over to an opening in the wall and my Dad flipped a switch to reveal a spiral staircase going down to what he referred to as “the bomb shelter”. WAY cool. At the bottom of the stairs was a door he unlocked from a ring of about 40 keys and beyond that was a dark concrete hallway that went farther than his flashlight could go. “Nobody’s been down here for a long time…probably 20 years” I recall him saying when I asked him what goes on down here. The hallway seemed to go on endlessly sometimes turning left or right, and about every 25ft there was a door-less entry way on each side that went into large windowless rooms, most of them either stacked to the ceiling with hundreds of boxes each containing several large metal tins of “Crackers, Civil Defense”. I think the date on them was 1962. Other rooms had stacks of cardboard “Sanitation station, Portable”-essentially a 16″ diameter 2ft high tube with several plastic bags inside and a cardboard seat. I wondered who among the faculty would get to put the twist ties on those when they got full, which you know would be very quickly. Still other rooms were piled high with cases and cases of aspirin. Several rooms had combinations of all three. But in typical government fashion, not a single can opener. They must have figured since it was a university the folks stuck in the shelter would be smart enough to figure out how to get into the tins bare fisted.
Finally we came to another door and after opening it stepped out into one of the basement recreation rooms of what I think was the Walton Complex a block from where we started. I remember him saying that all the buildings on campus that have the Fallout Shelter signs, which was pretty much all of them, were connected to the shelters via those concrete passageways and I realized that I likely only saw a portion of how vast it was down there. My Dad let me take home a box of crackers and my younger brother and I opened one of the tins with a can opener and indeed tried some. They were just like graham crackers….albeit ones that had been left out for a few days. My Mom busted us eating them and yelled “Oh my god…The preservatives!!” and forbade us to eat any more. Those couple bites probably took years off our lives. Some time afterward I asked my Dad what was the deal with all the stuff down there and I recall him saying the (U of O) needed more storage space for some reason and he was supposed to look into clearing out and utilizing the shelters for possible use. He went on to say that the university decided to do nothing because, always vigilant about image, they couldn’t throw it all out because someone would see it and would condemn them for wasting money nor could they donate it due to it being 20yrs past its pull date. As far as I know it could all still be there.
Chris Eugene, Ore
A check of recent photos from the campus did not show any current exterior Fallout Shelter signs remaining, but one or two may still be lurking around the campus.
If you’re a current student of faculty member and know of any existent signage, contact us here.
This Federal air raid siren sits on a telephone and light pole in Medford, Massachusetts. Medford had an extensive network of pole mounted air raid sirens, and many of them are still there today. It is unknown when the system stopped being used or maintained, but based on the condition of the control box under this one, it was long ago.
Civil defense and the protection of the citizens of the United States started before the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945. This was in the form of air raid sirens, air riad shelters, and blackout orders.
However, once the atomic bomb was born and the nuclear arms race began, protection became even more necessary because a new threat arose with the creation of these new weapons: fallout.
It was soon apparent as nuclear weapons were tested that radiation from the bombs could travel far away from the blast in the form of fine dust and particles. Not only would people in the area of the blast be affected, but cities and towns miles away could also see radiation issues with fallout.
Tensions with The Soviet Union only increased once they made a nuclear weapon of our own, and the possibility of nuclear war became a very real thing. In May of 1961, President John F. Kennedy had given a speech, and during that speech pledged to increase civil defense in the US.
On July 25, 1961, he gave another speech regarding the Berlin crisis (which is available above). During this speech, he outlined his wish for citizens in the United States to be able to protect themselves in case of attack, and with the line below (around the 16:15 mark), the Fallout Shelter as we know it came to be:
Tomorrow, I am requesting of the Congress new funds for the following immediate objectives: To identify and mark space in existing structures, public and private, that could be used for fallout shelters in case of attack; to stock those shelters with food, water, first aid kits, and other minimal essentials for our survival.
By September of 1961, the Fallout Shelter sign had been created and the National Fallout Shelter Survey began. It would be close to a year in many places before signs were posted and shelters were stocked, and this continued through the mid-1960s until funding started to decrease and the program fell out of favor.
As the Fallout Shelter program turns 60 this year, it is important to remember where it began in the first place.
An exterior Fallout Shelter sign is seen on the United States Post Office Building in Littleton, New Hampshire this past fall.
The weathered sign shows a capacity of 355. New Hampshire’s first Fallout Shelter sign was posted in Concord in 1962, and shelters were more prominent in some of the larger cities like Concord and Manchester. There were, however, shelters in various places throughout the state.
In typical Hollywood fashion, one location can easily double for another, and a Fallout Shelter sign in the background does not care where it’s actually supposed to be.
This screenshot from Spenser: For Hire, Season 2, Episode 15 shows an exterior Fallout Shelter sign on the outside of 150 Causeway Street, which when this was filmed was the former Boston Garden. This arena was connected in some fashion with North Station, but neither had a bus terminal, so some artistic license was used in the shot.
This building was closed in 1995 and demolished in 1998, but it’s memory lives on in Boston sports legend and modern day streaming services.
This screenshot from the TV series Spenser: For Hire shows an exterior Fallout Shelter sign on the outside of a residential building at 96 Beacon Street in Boston. This shot came from Season 1, Episode 22 (“Hell Hath No Fury”) and was taken as Spenser (played by Robert Urich) turns from Beacon Street on to Arlington Street.
The building is still there today, but the sign is long gone.
The sign marks are still very prominent to the left of the entrance door. It is unknown when the sign was removed but it was well before the mid 1990s.
Spenser ran three seasons from 1985 to 1988 and was filmed almost entirely on location in Boston.
People are seen walking past a Fallout Shelter sign at 3 Park Street in Boston, just down from the Massachusetts State House, on April 5, 1968. These people had been engaged in demonstrations that took place after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in Memphis, Tennessee the day prior.
The building, which appeared to have been a bank when this was taken, still stands but the sign is gone.