Way back during the height of the Cold War, fallout shelters were built here and there, and basically everywhere. One of these places was inside the Brooklyn Bridge. What? Yes, really.

The Brooklyn Bridge connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn and is one of those structures that just screams, “USA! USA! USA!” And what’s more “USA!” than a fallout shelter hidden in the bridge’s anchorage? (I had to look up what a bridge anchorage is, and apparently it’s the “massive masonry or concrete construction securing a cable at each end” of a suspension bridge.)

The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1863, with several tunnels and cavernous rooms built into the anchorage at each end of the bridge. Some of the caverns were rented out to store wine starting in 1876, with the rent helping to pay the construction costs of the bridge.

Fast forward to the 50s and 60s when the Cold War was afire, and some of the rooms in the anchorage were converted into fallout shelters, complete with blankets, biscuits and other shelter supplies.

The fallout shelter was long forgotten until 2006 when some city workers found the shelter while doing routine bridge inspections.

Atlas Obscura has some great photos of the shelter:


Look at all the Cold War shelter goodies!




Fallout Shelter Finding Heroes

This is one of the coolest fallout shelters I’ve ever stumbled across, and I’d love, love, love to take a tour one day (which the guy in the video below says isn’t possible because of 9/11 security restrictions).

Take a sort of tour of the Brooklyn Bridge fallout shelter here:

Happy Atom Smashing!



Well, well, well. It’s certainly been awhile! I haven’t been living it up in bunker or visiting abandoned missile silos or defunct nuclear plants. Nothing that exciting at all. Turns out, life just got busy! But, with a new president in office and a bunch of other Cold Wary things creeping in from the wings, I thought it was a good time to once again turn my attentions to Adventures in Atomic Tourism.

A couple of years ago, I wrote this piece for McSweeney’s about the Doomsday Clock. I decided that now might be a good time to reprint it here on the blog, with a couple of necessary updates, since the wold seems to be gettin jiggy with the nuclear again. So, here’s the piece in its entirety, with additions in red. Happy reading!


It’s a great time to be alive, kids!

As you’ve likely heard (if you’re an atomic weirdo like me, anyway), the Doomsday Clock now sits at three minutes to midnight, which is the closest it’s been to midnight since the height of the Cold War. If you’re not familiar with what makes the Doomsday Clock tick, or maybe haven’t heard of it at all, you’re in luck! I’m here to answer some of your pressing questions about the Clock.

What is the Doomsday Clock?

Well, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “The Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognized design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making.” Going a bit further, the “dangerous technologies” were nuclear weapons at the Clock’s creation, but now include things like climate changing technologies (emissions), cyber technologies (the Borg) and bio technologies (Monsanto). Basically the Clock acts as a permanent record for the middle school that is humanity.

Where did the Doomsday Clock come from?

The Clock wasn’t always some super abstract, “internationally recognized design,” but was once a real, actual clock hanging on a wall on the campus of the University of Chicago. The abstract/doomsday part was conceived of in 1947 by a group of former Manhattan Project scientists, called the Chicago Atomic Scientists. Like most groups, this group had a newsletter. The newsletter was called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and get ready for a flashback to elementary school — the scientists mimeographed (!) copies of the newsletter in all sorts of purple goodness for distribution to members. The Doomsday Clock/“minutes to midnight” thing was originally used as a piece of cover art for the June 1947 issue of the newsletter. It was such a success with the readers that it appeared on every print edition until 2009 when the publication went entirely digital.

What time was displayed on the original Doomsday Clock?

The Doomsday Clock was set to seven minutes to midnight to reflect the world’s settling into a more peaceful (?), nuclear post-war society. I’ve had a devil of a time finding any information about why seven minutes was selected in particular. Maybe it’s because seven is lucky.

Who decides what time it is?

You do! Just kidding. The time is decided by the decidedly Big Brother-sounding Science and Security Board (part of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists group) meets twice a year to discuss world events and reset the Clock as necessary. The twice-yearly meeting prevents the Clock from reflecting doomsday-ish events in real-time, which is why the Cuban Missile Crisis (which is widely believed to be the closest we’ve been to midnight in real time) wasn’t reflected by movement of the Doomsday Clock.

Where can I visit the Doomsday Clock?

Well, I don’t really know if there is a Doomsday Clock any longer (no one from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist responded to my questions) to visit. But you can definitely visit an electronic representation of the Clock on the Bulletin’s homepage. The Doomsday Clock is now part of the group’s logo, and clicking on it launches an interactive timeline of the Clock and just oodles of information!

When and why was the Doomsday Clock moved in the past?

Well, you asked for it. Here’s a run-down:

1947 – Seven minutes to midnight – Gotta start somewhere! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

1949 – Three minutes to midnight – The Soviet Union tests its first atomic bomb. Which, if we’re going to split hairs here, we’d (US) tested and used in real life (Hiroshima and Nagasaki?) atomic bombs before this, so we’re definitely pot-kettling here.

1953 – Two minutes to midnight – Cold War is on fire! The US and Soviet Union are testing atomic weapons like they’re involved in some really high stakes game of Ping-Pong. The Nevada Test Site is seeing LOTS of action. Community and backyard fallout shelters are being built like crazy, and atomic everything is creeping into the tightest corners of society.

1960 – Seven minutes to midnight – Good job, World! Even though we came really, super close (cough Cuban Missile Crisis cough) to global thermonuclear war, we didn’t actually War Games it out, so we earned some minutes. Kind of like gold stars.

1963 – Twelve minutes to midnight – Look at us! We signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty (all atomic testing was moved underground). This means no more mushroom clouds or Survival Towns, but bring on the subsidence craters and retarcs! Not gonna lie—I’m pretty bummed about this one.

1968 – Seven minutes to midnight – We jump ahead five minutes, which is a lot. France and China enter the nuclear game, testing weapons of their own. And even though they didn’t sign the Partial Test Ban Treaty in the first place, this still scares the beejesus out of the Clock people. Apparently.

1969 – Ten minutes to midnight – Everybody in the world signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (signatories agree to non-proliferation, disarmament and the right to use peaceful nuclear technology), save India, Pakistan and Israel.

1972 – Twelve minutes to midnight – The US and Soviet Union sign the SALT I and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (all sorts of political and fancy-pants language, but basically a further ratcheting-down of nuclear weapons stockpiles).

1974 – Nine minutes to midnight – India tests the Smiling Buddha nuclear device, (which isn’t Buddha supposed to be about, you know, peace?), US and Soviet talks aren’t going anywhere and both countries make improvements to existing weapons, which is the opposite of what they’re supposed to be doing.

1980 – Seven minutes to midnight – No progress with US and Soviet talks. The US pulls out of the Summer Olympics in Moscow. (Take that, comrades!) The US government researches ways in which the US could win at War Games, but for real.

1981 – Four minutes to midnight – Shit got real enough for the Science and Security Board to meet earlier in the year than normal, and to move the Clock ahead three minutes. Reagan became president, the Soviets are in Afghanistan—basically, listen to the lyrics of “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

1984 – Three minutes to midnight – Same stuff as 1981, only slightly more intense. We’ve moved on to the part of the “We Didn’t Start the Fire” video where Billy Joel yells and flips over the table.

1988 – Six minutes to midnight – The US and Soviet Union sign a treaty eliminating some nuclear missiles, and relations improve. Three minutes’ worth, anyway.

1990 – Ten minutes to midnight – The Berlin Wall comes down and that Scorpions song is playing everywhere. Come on—you know you can hear it too.

1991 – Seventeen Motherfucking Minutes to Midnight! – Peace, you guys! The US and Soviet Union sign the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which means fewer nuclear weapons all around. Nuclear testing supposedly comes to a halt, and last but not least, the Soviet Union dissolves.

1995 – Fourteen minutes to midnight – We’re still spending too much on defense, wondering what the Russians are up to, etc., so the Clock people decide to take away three minutes. Sure.

1998 – Nine minutes to midnight – India and Pakistan test atomic weapons, which I mean, they never said they wouldn’t so… the US and Russia aren’t really reducing their stockpiles like the should be.

2002 – Seven minutes to midnight – Stockpiles still aren’t being reduced and the US decides to cowboy up and won’t sign any new treaties, because, Fuck Yeah, America!

2007 – Five minutes to midnight – Crazy-pants North Korea gets in the nuclear game. Iran decides it wants to play too. There are something like 26,000 nuclear weapons out in the wild in the US and Russia, soooo yeah.

2010 – Six minutes to midnight – The Clock is no longer nuclear-only and now includes ways other than nuclear annihilation that we can destroy ourselves. (I am not a fan of this scope creep. The Clock totally jumps the shark here, IMO.) The worldwide focus on limiting climate change and renewed talks between the US and Russia (we promise we’ll finish this time, guys) give us another minute.

2012 – Five minutes to midnight – We lost a minute. Basically we’re not doing anything we said we’d do for the environment or to limit the nuclear arsenal.

2015 – Three minutes to midnight – Oh snap. Tensions between the US and Russia over Ukraine, etc., combined with lingering nuclear concerns, but this leap is more likely due to us ruining the environment (fracking! oil spills! emissions!) rather than letting our fingers hover too close and too long over the red button. Which, if I’m being honest, the once immediate annihilation awesomeness of the Doomsday Clock is gone, and this makes me sad. Now we’re left with some Birkenstocked, Subaru-driving Clock. Dad Doomsday Clock.

2017 – Two and a half minutes to midnight – Do you guys realize what a big deal this is? This announcement came last week and it’s literally taken me this long to wrap my head around it (okay, full disclosure, I also broke both of my feet last week, so I’ve had a few things on my mind). Instead of Birkenstock-wearing, Dad Doomsday Clock from two years ago, we seem to have pivoted straight back to 1953 (the only time we’ve been closer to midnight, at two minutes to) when above ground nuclear tests were the norm, both here and in Russia, backyard fallout shelters were being building was bananas and atomic everything was all the rage.

What’s scariest to me this time around is that nuclear isn’t at the forefront of most peoples’ minds right now. Nuclear war was something our parents worried about. Or at the very least isn’t something we’ve given much thought to since the 80s. Nuclear war is just kind of background radiation (haha). This combined with our new president being rather…volatile?, I worry that we could easily slip into WW III without even realizing what is happening. I dunno. It certainly is a lot to think about, and sort of takes away some of the fun of it all.

Are we all going to die in some War Games-style round of Global Thermonuclear Warfare?

I dunno. We haven’t yet. When I first wrote this piece, I honestly thought there was a much higher likelihood of us destroying ourselves in some other drawn-out, earth-killing way, but two years later, with a new government, I think the chances of a War Games scenario happening are pretty, pretty good. I mean, the Doomsday Clock seems to think so too.

Until next time!


P.S. – Look at how much the image of the Doomsday Clock scientists at the top of the post resembles this image of Doc and Marty from BTTF3. Maybe that’s why my brain subconsciously chose it.




Greetings, Kids!

You’ve probably noticed an uptick in all things nuclear. What with the Iran Nuclear Deal, the semi-annual Trinity Site tour, the Manhattan Site National Historical Park rolling along and the always fun North Korea bopping around on the horizon, you can’t hardly spit without it hitting something nuclear. So, I thought we’d take a look at modern fallout shelters rather than the normal Cold War era fun we have.

So what are you to do?

Well, one path you could take is to build your very own fallout shelter. And lucky for you, the Internet has a wealth of information on that topic! Wikihow in particular has you covered with this, I don’t know if I’d call it informative, but…interesting (?) “article” covering the ins and outs of building your very own fallout shelter. It even has pictures!

So let’s take a deep dive into Wikihow’s “How to Build a Fallout Shelter” piece, shall we?



So, this is the introductory paragraph for the piece. It’s kind of…scary? And not because of the actuality of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons existing, etc., but because of the Doomsday-ish tone the whole thing takes. And, dude: when you include other apocalyptic possibilities from movies, like an asteroid hitting Earth, you slide all the way into crazy prepper territory which kind of eliminates your credibility. At least with the non-nutjob set.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Wikihow style, each entry is divided into helpful Steps. Here’s the first step for building a fallout shelter, complete with a zombie cross-eyed guy doing the thinking, which definitely sets the tone as totally legit for the whole piece. The first step also keeps things totally light with the, “Keep in mind that this decision will either kill you or keep you alive” to close out the paragraph. No pressure though.


Step 2 asks the reader to “print out the instructions for the shelter you want to make and cross out each step when completed.” So…this How to Build a Fallout Shelter piece isn’t actually going to tell me how to do that? I don’t really know…

Step 2 also helpfully includes a scary image of a fallout shelter “plan” complete with an entirely too large image of a gas mask, which, wow, that’s really out of scale. Also, if you’re putting this much effort into a fallout shelter, and not just building one for funsies, please find a better design than “POLE COVERED TRENCH SHELTER.”

Pole Covered Trech

Now the article breaks into a subheading for the POLE COVERED TRENCH SHELTER. The author helpfully explains:

Basically, the idea on this one is to dig a trench, then place poles/logs on top of it and finish the combination with some soil/earth on top.

Done and done.

The first sub-step involves gathering your tools (you know, shovels).

The second sub-step goes a little over the edge into prepper/postapocalyptic dictator territory telling readers to “assign different tasks to different individuals according to their strengths and weaknesses.” Because you are The Decider.

The next several steps are trench-digging basics like, don’t dig in an area with flammable stuff (kind of like don’t put in a flowerbed without calling the utilities sorta thing), put the pile of dirt at least five feet away (no idea why), and the deeper the trench, the better the radiation protection. You know, your basic stuff.

Once we’ve dug our trench, we move on to covering it with logs and cloth or leaves. Then when we’re “absolutely positive that there is no way for the dirt to get into the living space, place the soil you dug out (and is five feet away) on the logs.”

The next step addresses the toilet issue, and includes this handy image (which I’m 95% sure is unachievable and the stuff of scifi in a dirt trench).


Then you’re supposed to make some beds: “If your skills permit, make a bunk bed.”

Step 11 helpfully explains:

Since no one likes to be trapped inside a fallout shelter if a fire happens, make sure you have at least two different exits in your fallout shelter.


And…that’s it! BUT. But…the best part of this article is the Tips, which start out crammed together in some sort of James Joyce does the Cold War paragraph. Have a look:


I mean, this tip has everything. Soil conditions, e-book fallout shelter plans, missing punctuation and typos, shout-out to “scroungers,” tips for dealing with labor, warnings about the danger of re-bar (it’ll kill you!), you know, all the basics.

After the great Tips section, we have another Paragraph 1 (I don’t know either), listing things you should include in your fallout shelter. My favorite is the First-Aid kit, which should be “extensive” and “not just the ‘taking the kids to the park’ set.” The author helpfully lists the First-Aid kit recommended by the US Department of Defense (from god knows what year), which is honestly pretty basic.

His HIGHLY (his emphasis) recommended section includes things that sound “fun” and you “may need a doctor’s clearance for a couple of these.”


So, I should just go to my doctor and ask for Tincture of Opium and a rando narcotic then? If she asks why, I’ll just tell her it’s for my fallout shelter. Should be no problem.

After the HIGHLY recommended list, the author includes other stuff you should have in the fallout shelter. My favorite is “Smoke signals” because these are definitely a physical object I can stock in my shelter. Or is he talking about the Sherman Alexie novel and just bad at punctuation? Either way.

Also good on the list of stuff is the “Radio and ‘walkie-talikes'” bullet:


For national security, guys.

The article helpfully rounds-up some Warnings and Things You’ll Need to tie up the whole shebang.


Remember to Practice Trench Safety, kids!

Until next time!

Happy Atom Smashing!


Today’s fallout shelter looks like it couldn’t protect squat. I mean, I’ve seen Lego creations that could probably do better.


That being said, the construction of this shelter looks like something I could handle! Which if I’m being honest, the only reason I want to buy a house with a yard, is so that I can construct a shelter. (For funsies, not for tinfoil hat, “prepper” reasons.)

Let’s step away from the shelter’s probably dubious protection ability, and turn instead to the occupants. First of all, Dad looks like he got caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing. What were you doing in there, “Dad,” if that’s even your real name? Is that your real family? Or is that the secret one you have in Waukegan? Okay, okay–maybe they are your real family. Is that your Betty Page-ish wife? Or is she the hot babysitter, or passerby you whisked away to your fallout shelter when the siren screamed. Because she sure looks close in age to the oldest son. Oh your first wife Marian died, and she’s your new wife? Okay, maybe that’s true. But didn’t the police think her death was “suspicious?” No? My bad. Anyway, Betty Page there sure is a looker. I really dig her style. Glasses and great bangs. But poor her! You saddle her with the care of the four munchkins, I’m guessing, and she’s probably even the shelter builder. Am I getting close, “Dad”? Oh she takes plenty of ‘ludes to deal with the kid sitch, huh? She better pack plenty of those when all of you head for that metal can shelter, you’ve got there. Packed like sardines, amirite?!

Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out, “Dad.”

If you’re interested in more photos like this one, head over to the Wisconsin Historical Society, and take a gander and this and other fallout shelter-ish material. I have to say, I love the tone of the page, which is kind of, “we’re all going to die, or at least are better off doing so, but we better make the public hopeful so they’ll let us spend more money on nukes.” Or I think so anyway.

Until next time!


It’s once again Fallout Shelter Friday! This week’s shelter isn’t a fallout shelter at all, but Art!

Pink (Art) Fallout Shelter Doors

In 2009 the Canadian art collective, Instant Coffee created the Disco Fallout Shelter installation for the Toronto Sculpture Garden. The installation was on display from May 6 through September 15, 2009, and man I wish I’d seen it live rather than via the 1997ish, super low-tech website on which it currently resides. (Or maybe the retroness of the site is part of the exhibit? You never know with art!)

Anyway, the installation consisted of the above-ground portions (mainly the door and ventilator duct) of a 1950s fallout shelter, all blinged-out in Pepto pink and a disco-ballified satellite dish. Visitors wound their way through the installation by way of a yellow brick road, terminating at a locked (pink!) shelter door, through which party music is heard. So, what was behind the locked door? Well, the exhibit answers that for us, thanks to a video screen housed in the ventilator duct.

The ventilator duct provided a glimpse into the (supposed) goings on of the shelter. Shelter residents could be seen “playing records, eating spaghetti, dancing, reading, sleeping and just hanging out in the tight confines…of the shelter.” Of course this was all make-believe, with the collective members making up the residents and prerecording the whole shindig.

Ventilator Video Screen

Happy Friday, Everyone!

Today’s shelter is not for people, or cows as we’ve seen here, but dolls!

I mean, dolls are creepy anyway, but throw in a fallout shelter made just for them?

Dollhouse Fallout Shelter

This shelter was part of the 1962 (Cuban Missile Crisis, anyone?) Marx Metal Dollhouse, sold by Sears. It is a prime example of nuclear coloring everything during the Cold War.

Read/Look at more pics of  the dollhouse shelter here.

Greetings, friends! Today we’ll continue with our Rural Civil Defense film series. In today’s (admittedly pretty boring) segment, we’ll get to hear our puppet farmer friend liken the risk of nuclear annihilation to that of an “Indian” attack in olden times. He explains that every family needed to have a plan for such things, just like families of the present (1965) should have a plan for nuclear attacks.

I wish puppet farmer had more wisdom to impart in this section of film, but alas, no.

Fingers crossed for the next chunk!



Greetings, Kids!

Today’s piece takes us to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. (phew!) Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is a fairly new part of the park system, officially opening in 1998, and according to the official website, “an entirely new kind of park,” where “human stories and the natural history are intertwined.”

The park is all about conservation, and is a “living symbol of three generations of conservationist thought and practice.”

The property was the childhood home of George Perkins Marsh, one of the first conservationists, later home to Frederick Billings, and finally the Rockefellers. Now I haven’t visited the park, though I’d love to should my travels take me to Vermont, but from what I can tell, it’s a home-site/farm/natural wonderland showcasing conservation history as well as the lives of the three families that lived on the site.

I know. This isn’t exactly atomic touristy, but wait! There’s more!


Photo Courtesy the National Park Service,

Photo Courtesy the National Park Service,

The fallout shelter was built in the early Sixties to house 46 people during the apocalypse. Supposedly it was built at the urging of Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York, who was a Fallout Shelter Enthusiast (totally using that on my Tinder profile). From the photos I’ve seen and the descriptions I’ve read, it’s a pretty standard fallout shelter, except Rockefeller-ish; no there aren’t any gilded bunks or whale bone utensils, everything just looks–nice. And nice is something that is generally not present in fallout shelters.

The shelter has the standard blast doors, decontamination chamber, rows of bunks, foodstuffs, and ventilation system. However something that sets this shelter apart is the shelter’s manual (I want it!) noting that the ventilation system will not filter out fallout, and should simply be switched off during any “events.” Say what? Isn’t that the whole point of the shelter in the first place? I mean…come on, Rockefellers!

The family restocked and kept-up the whole place into the 90s, even though it was never used, which I kind of doubt. I mean, didn’t someone at least have a slumber party in there? I absolutely would have. This makes me wonder if there are similar shelters scattered around the country, being faithfully maintained and stocked in hopes that tomorrow never comes.

If you’re interested in vising, shelter tours are only held during the summer and fall, so you’ll have to wait until next year.


Lagniappe: The Rockefellers donated the land to the National Park Service in 1998, and asked if the park service wanted the fallout shelter filled in with dirt before donation. Man I’m glad the park service said no!

Basement Fallout Shelter

Greetings, friends!

Today’s shelter is of the furniture fort variety. It comes to us from the 1967 pamphlet, “Fallout Protection for Homes with Basements.” The pamphlet outlines various types of shelters that can be built in–spoiler alert–homes with basements. Types include:

  • Permanent Shelters
  • Pre-Planned Shelters (Aren’t permanent shelters, pre-planned too? I mean, I’d hope so.)
  • Elevated Flower Garden (I really like the sounds of this. I wonder if it’s similar to this? Because that’s pretty hardcore for a flowerbed.)
  • Improvised Shelters

With the furniture fort shelter of course being of the Improvised sort. Duh. I mean, who would consider the swimming pool, paint-can topped shelter to be permanent?

Anyway, this is a great pamphlet if you’re into that sort of thing, which if you’re reading it, I assume you are. This site has a great overview of the whole thing.

Have a great Friday everyone!



Fallout Shelter Fridays! is on vacation this week, so take a look at the fantastic fallout shelter (Congressional!) at The Greenbrier! You can tour it!

Happy Friday!