Until recently, fallout shelter signs could be found throughout New York City pinned to building walls and store fronts. They served as remnants from the Cold War era.
In 1947, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published their first issue which detailed the destructive capabilities of nuclear weapons. Its cover doned the now iconic Doomsday Clock insignia. In Semipalatinsk, Northern Kazakhstan, the Soviets tested their first nuclear bomb, RDS-1--dubbed “First Lightning”--on August 29th, 1949. On April 7th, 1950, a National Security Council paper named the “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security” (Often referred to as NSC-68) was presented to President Truman. The report detailed a defensive protocol against the impending threat of the Soviet Union.
PS38, Brooklyn, NY This resulted in the decision to create and stockpile weapons, both conventional and nuclear. According to the charts presented at cato.org, military spending jumped from 59.8 billion dollars to 134.7 between the years of 1950-51. In 1952, the United States tested their first hydrogen bomb which was detonated on November 1st in the Eniwetok Atoll, a coral reef located in the Marshall Islands. The detonation was codenamed: Ivy Mike, which was the first of two nuclear tests in a series called “Operation Ivy.” Also in 1952, “Duck and Cover” aired, which detailed the proper behavior and necessary actions required in case of a nuclear attack--behavior that would be later disclosed as useless in such an event.
PS38, Brooklyn, NY
Fast forward nearly a decade and nuclear fear was on the rise. In 1961, John F. Kennedy addressed the public urging families and cities to construct bomb shelters due to the threat of the Soviet Union and the nuclear arms race. Life magazine even ran a cover story, “The Drive for Mass Shelters” on January 12th, 1962. The Cold War and society’s dread of nuclear annihilation had supposedly gripped the U.S., including New York City. With the added support of Nelson Rockefeller, who served as the 49th Governor of New York from 1959-73, shelters were produced all over the five boroughs. However, these shelters weren’t extremely popular. It’s important to note that only 1.4% of Americans actually built any form of shelter by 1962. This was primarily due to their expenses.
PS261, Brooklyn, NY Regardless, fallout shelters were still produced in the thousands. Interestingly enough for locals in Brooklyn, one known shelter is hidden within the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, which had been forgotten since the mid-60’s and wasn’t rediscovered until 2006. Sadly, most of these shelters are off limits to the public due to being part of private property or deemed hazardous. The shelter signs that once alerted people to their presence are now being removed as they’re no longer considered safe nor functional. This is understandable, as some of them are over 50 years old.
PS38, Brooklyn, NY
Yet, there are still a couple of interesting places that you can visit that were either created during the Cold War era or provide information on the time period:
1. Fort Tilden:
Established in 1917, Fort Tilden was later used during the Cold War to house anti-aircraft guns and defense missiles. The fort became an Army Reserve post until the late 1970’s where it was then decommissioned and provided to the National Park Service. It’s located in Roxbury outside Rockaway Park. The closest station is Beach 169st/Rockaway Point BI.
2. The KGB Espionage Museum:
Houses the world’s largest collection of KGB and Soviet relics relating to espionage. located at 245 W 14th St, New York, NY 10011.
3. Columbia University:
Manhattan’s own Ivy League college once housed a cyclotron (particle accelerator) built during World War II. Although not created during the Cold War, which spanned from 1947-91. The cyclotron did aid in experiments responsible for creating the nation’s first nuclear weapons. It has since been removed. However, knowing the university's history may be enough for some to venture there.
Located at: 116th St & Broadway, New York, NY 10027
PS38, Brooklyn, NY ---- Photographs by Samuel Herrera