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. 


Boston Civil Defense: Some Numbers

As the fallout shelter program took off nationwide, Boston’s Civil Defense Department was well involved, and as seen in documents published on the documents page, was marking, licensing, and stocking shelters all over the city.

Here are some numbers and facts about the program found in annual Civil Defense Department reports:

  • Around the end of 1962, Boston had licensed 240 shelters in the city.
  • By the end of 1963, that number was up to 1,062.
  • By the end of 1964, 1,147 buildings in the city had been licensed and marked. Of those, 482 were stocked with supplies.

As well, by the end of 1964, MBTA tunnels in the city had been stocked with enough food and supplies for 70,000 people.

In one year, it seems the program had slowed a bit. The end of 1965 saw 1,153 shelters marked and licensed, an increase of only 6 shelters from the previous year.  512 of the shelters had been stocked with supplies.

On May 11, 1965, two 200 bed emergency hospitals were established; one at Maverick Station in East Boston and one at Broadway Station in South Boston.

On July 7, 1965, 350 tons of food and medical equipment were stored at Andrew Station in South Boston for use in downtown department stores, to care for a total of 74,000 people. (It is unknown if these items still exist, or where in the station they were stored).

As for the air raid siren system, a document from the Boston Civil Defense Department, dated November 29, 1965,  which was written to answer a questionnaire regarding Boston’s air raid warning capabilities, stated that 132 air raid sirens existed in the city at that time.

The last of the sirens came down in 2000 when the old Registry of Motor Vehicles building at 100 Nashua Street in Boston (also a fallout shelter) was demolished.

The list I have provided on this site only has, as of this writing,  just over 400 fallout shelter locations in the city (including many demolished buildings), so it is remarkable, at least to me, that some 700 more existed. Hopefully time, effort, and tips will reveal the rest.


Fallout Five Zero


Sources: Boston Civil Defense Department Annual Reports, Document 9, 1961-1966, City of Boston Archives and Records.

John F. Collins papers, City of Boston Archives and Records