Rationing Art: The 1983/84 Mass College of Art Civil Defense Performance

Fallout Five Zero was contacted a few weeks ago by Gretchen Baer, a former Mass College of Art student, asking if Mass College of Art was still considered a Fallout Shelter.

Figuring she had seen one of this site’s original posts and was intrigued by the shelter as a former student, I relayed that none of the buildings at MCOA (nor any former shelter) were technically a “shelter” any longer, but just a building with an old sign on it essentially, as the program had stopped being funded years ago.

What she wrote me back has been one of the most interesting stories I have ever been told regarding a public fallout shelter.

In 1984 we did an art performance using the survival crackers from 1964. There were lots of tins of crackers, water of some kind, sanitary pads, and I don’t recall what else. We were ( illegally) living in that cellar for a couple years while attending art school. 

At the time, we named the space we used for our installation, “The Crackatorium” after the survival crackers. Our art piece was called “the Loaf”. We opened up the tins and filled the room with the crackers, then added water with a hose. People jumped in it until we created a giant loaf the size of a small car. We used the tins as drums for percussion during event. 

I found out recently Mass Art still calls the gallery The Crackatorium, as well as another gallery they call the South Crackatorium. Of course no one remembers why it’s called this, except a few of us.
I decided it’s time to revisit the subject and am considering an art show called “Crackatorium Revisited”. 

By the way, we ate some of those crackers, they were terrible!

She was then kind enough to provide some photos of the event.

I think the year was 1983. This is Karen with the crackers. That entire closet was full of the crackers. Janitors were sniffing around prior to event saying ” I smell F#cking crackers!” We were sweating it because the school had no idea what our performance actually entailed. The President of the school was seen at the closet door with a janitor getting ready to open ( a room full of crackers would have fallen on him, as we emptied them directly up from the basement into that closet). Luckily a friend managed to sweet talk him into not opening that door. 😀

Gretchen relays that should Mass College of Art allow a follow up performance, it may be in September 2017. If so, Fallout Five Zero will provide updates.

Above photos owned by Gretchen Baer. Text relayed as written by Ms. Baer and not changed in any way. 

FFZ would like to thank Ms. Baer for providing this story and the accompanying photos of the performance.

Have a similar shelter related story? Let us know.

© 2017 Fallout Five Zero


The Roxbury Papers: The list of shelters after the survey.

Some years ago, while researching Fallout Shelters, I came across a book that listed a history/annual report of the Roxbury section of Boston, which includes the Longwood Medical Area and Mission Hill. Unfortunately, the book was for library use only and now it is no longer available.

Within the book, there were several lists for Roxbury residents of local resources, including fire stations, police stations, and TV stations.

The book also included a list of approved Fallout Shelters in Roxbury. Many of these buildings still exist, but many have had their signs removed. Some buildings were demolished for redevelopment, and others rehabbed for the same reason (for example, the old Ferdinand Furniture building in Dudley Square).

One odd thing on this list was the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum being listed as a shelter, and a listed capacity of 39, which would have been under the standard 50 minimum capacity for shelters. One other shelter on Dudley Street had a listed capacity of 34.

As well, the Boston Normal School on Huntington Avenue in Boston (one of the first posts on this site, and now part of the Mass College of Art) is listed on the sheet under its former designation, The State Teacher’s College, and has a listed capacity on the sheet of 1272. However, the sign itself, when it was revealed on the building, had a posted capacity of 923. No other building in the area was listed on the sheet with a 923 capacity, so likely the capacity numbers on the sheets were incorrect.

Anyways, the sheets are below. Any questions on building designations or further information available, contact me.

Roxbury Fallout Shelter List, Page 1
Roxbury Fallout Shelter List, Page 2
Roxbury Fallout Shelter List, Page 3

© 2017 Fallout Five Zero

The documents above were copied with permission from an unnamed book at the Boston Public Library reference section, main library, Copley Square. The PDFs are property of Fallout Five Zero.

A Fallout Shelter was a Naval idea

The Naval Air Station South Weymouth was an active naval air station in South Weymouth, Massachusetts (about 18 miles south of Boston) from 1942 until the late 1990’s. Since then, it has been sold and plans are to redevelop the site into a large residential complex.

Many of the original buildings are still present, but most it appears are slated to eventually be demolished. Many are in disrepair.

One building, which appears to be a power plant or other industrial type building, is sporting an interior Fallout Shelter sign on its outside.

On the top right of the building is also a Gamewell diaphone.

Interesting that the diaphone is present since the next building over is a wooden structure (possibly the fire station) with a Federal Signal siren.

The power plant type building was the only one seen with a shelter sign, but other buildings on base may have had them.

© 2017 Fallout Five Zero

All photos above taken in 2016 and are property of Fallout Five Zero. 

Fallout Shelters on Local TV

Fallout Shelter signs, as this website shows, are being taken down as time goes on, but still have a prominent place on walls and buildings throughout the United States.

On occasion they even appear on television; sometimes this is done purposely for dramatic effect (often in movies or TV shows having to do with nuclear disasters). Often though, they end up inadvertently in the background of a shot. Bill Geerhart’s “Conelrad Adjacent” site has an entire page dedicated to Fallout Shelter signs that make appearances in the background of movies and TV shows (very fascinating if you’ve never seen it).

Even locally, on news or local TV shows, such appearances can happen, and as you can see below, even appearances of former signs.

In the late 1970’s, WCVB-TV in Boston produced local TV shows/sitcoms. Two such shows were The Baxters and Park Street Under. Neither show ran for a long time, and while The Baxters eventually ended up becoming a national TV show, Park Street Under did not and ran only in the Boston area. It was about a fictitious bar near the real Park Street MBTA Station, and the workers and patrons who frequented it.

clip of the show’s opening shows lead character Augie (played by comedian and Massachusetts native Steve Sweeney) taking a parking ticket off his car near the bar. In the background, 6 familiar dots are on the wall behind him…


That’s right, the 6 sign marks from (most likely) an exterior Fallout Shelter sign after it was taken off of the building.

It took some time going through the remainder of the clip to see where this building was, as the bar did not really exist. However, it was finally discovered that the building was in fact 23 Beacon Street, and the sign marks still exist today, as seen in the Google Maps image below.


It is unknown when and why the sign was removed, and whether or not any interior signs remain, but that is 99% likely the 14″ x 20″ square of a former exterior Fallout Shelter sign.

Have another local show or example that you know a shelter sign appeared? Let us know.

Park Street Under screen shot from YouTube clip owned by Jacksonupperco and website “That’s Entertainment!”; show aired and owned by WCVB-TV Boston, a Hearst television station. 

Google screen shot from and owned by Google Maps. 

© 2017 Fallout Five Zero



Welcome to Summer

I hope everyone is ready to enjoy their summer.

A new out of town series has been published for Pawtucket Rhode Island, and includes 5 shelters, including one picture of supplies still in place.

Thanks to all who have visited, and I am continuing to solicit photos and submissions from others. Please visit the contact page to submit photos, a shelter location, or anything Fallout Shelter or Civil Defense related.

Happy summer, Happy 4th of July and be safe!


When The Sirens Rang Over Boston

E51 Air Raid Siren Box E51 Air Raid Siren Controls

Starting in the early 1950’s, Boston once had an extensive air raid siren system. The Greater Boston Civil Defense Manual, published in 1952, stated Boston had 119 air raid sirens. In 1965, that number was at 132.

The above mentioned civil defense manual also stated that each siren could be operated individually, or from a central location, and all were tested on Fridays at noon.

The above pictures show the controls for one such siren. These were located at Boston Fire Department’s Engine 51 station in Oak Square, Brighton in the patrol desk area. These were taken in September 2009 (hence the quality, see below). However, the station underwent major renovations in or around 2011, and the controls (as well as the exterior Fallout Shelter sign) were removed.

The last known siren in the city came down in 2000, when the old Registry of Motor Vehicles building at 100 Nashua Street was demolished. Prior to that, many sirens had been removed when buildings were renovated in the 1980’s. It is unknown when the city stopped using or maintaining the sirens, although historical accounts have it somewhere around the early to mid 1970’s.

Editors note: These pictures were taken using the then technologically advanced, but now not so much iPhone 3G. Apologies for the very poor quality. 


A Contributor Talks Supplies

Fallout Five Zero received some mail today from visitor Kris Waterman, who recollected the status of some Civil Defense supplies at two Boston shelters: the German International School in Allston, and Boston Latin School near the Fenway:

I know what happened to the supplies in the shelters in two of the locations in your list:

1) The German International School in Allston was [originally] named St Anthony’s – I attended school there. My 5th & 6th grade teacher asked the janitor what happened to the supplies and he told her that they were still in place until the previous summer when they were thrown out (Summer of 1984? 1985? – sorry my memory is a little hazy on the year).

2) Boston Latin School – the water barrels actually [became] trash cans located in various classrooms throughout the school. Not sure if there were crackers or carb supplements stored at any point in  there. (1980s’)

What is interesting is that there have been similar situations where Civil Defense water barrels became trash cans for various reasons, but this is the first case where I have heard of it happening locally.

At least someone actually used them for other purposes, unlike the MBTA, who dumped all the ones at Boylston Station at the end of the tunnel.

Thanks to Kris Waterman for sharing this information.

Have similar stories? Contact us

Fallout Five Zero