Here's a photo-tour of Girard "Jerry" B. Henderson luxurious Las Vegas fallout shelter, built in 1978 and now on sale (along with the house above it) for $1.7M, following a bank foreclosure on the property's most recent owner. It was built by Kenneth and Jay Swayze for $10M in 1979, when a million was a million (Swayze was an authority on subterranean living, and wrote the now out-of-print Underground gardens & homes: The best of two worlds, above and below).
In the 1960s, Russian scientists discovered a new form of water that congealed at room temperature, froze at -40, and wouldn't boil no matter the temperature. For a few brief years, "polywater" was a scientific rage — the subject of pop culture craziness, Cold War research races, and CIA interrogations. At Slate, Joseph Stromberg tells the story of polywater and explains why, despite all that hype, most of us have never heard of it today.
During the Cold War, the CIA sent cats outfitted with electronic gear to eavesdrop on the enemy. This and other amazing stories in BB pal Tom Vanderbilt's excellent Smithsonian feature "The CIA’s Most Highly-Trained Spies Weren’t Even Human." Tom's guide through this strange history was Bob Bailey who trained dolphins, chickens, and the aforementioned cats, all for the military.
Matt Novak hits some highlights from Joanne Brown's 1988 Journal of American History paper A is for Atom, B is for Bomb (paywalled link), which discusses the weird, grim stuff that America contemplated at the height of the cold war, and worried about how it would identify the charred corpses of children after a nuclear blast:
In February of 1952 the city of New York bought 2.5 million dog tags. By April of that year, just about every kid in the city from kindergarten to fourth grade had a tag with their name on it. Kids in many other cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Las Veagas and Philadelphia also got dog tags, allowing for easy identification should the unthinkable occur.
But educators weren't considering just dog tags to identify the scores of dead and injured children that would result if the cold war suddenly turned hot. They also considered tattoos.
Apparently, there were some private citizens from the USSR who were allowed into the U.S. for travel during the Cold War. But they couldn't just visit anywhere they wanted.
This map, from a post at Slate's Vault blog, shows the no-go zones, shaded in green. Some of this is quite funny — gee, guys, I wonder what you're keeping hidden out in rural Nevada? Another interesting point: Soviets could visit Kansas City, Kansas, but not Kansas City, Missouri. Which could just be a pretty good joke, on our part. The fun stuff is all on the Missouri side.
EDIT: In the original version of this post, I'd mentioned that Kansas had once been home to many, many missile silos, and speculated that this might be why so much of that state (and the Dakotas) was off-limits to Soviet travelers. But, Cold War historian Audra J. Wolfe contacted me and pointed out that there were no missile silos at the time this map was made, because there were no Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. So why ban the Ruskies from Kansas? Wolfe isn't entirely sure. She speculated that it might have had something to do with limiting access to public lands managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Land Management. It also could have been tied to the presence of Strategic Air Command bases in the state. And there were tons of Atomic Energy Commission-owned sites scattered all over the U.S. — it's hard to keep track of where they all were.
Of course, Wolfe also said that there wasn't always a clear logic behind the decisions about which parts of the country were made off-limits to Soviet citizens. For instance, much of our coastline was off-limits for no other reason than the fact that much of the Soviet coast was off-limits to Americans. "The main premise is 'strict reciprocity'," she wrote in a message to me. "X% of Soviet coasts are off-limits, therefore x% of US coasts are off-limits, too." So there, one might add.
In this 1995 Independent article, you can read about the former CIA officer who admitted that the Agency secretly funded and promoted Abstract Expressionism as a way for avant-garde, lefty types to reconcile their worldview with American values, rather than Soviet-style Communism. They operated in secret to avoid "the public hostility to the avant-garde," and hid their actions from conservative Congressmen who hated that long-hair junk.
The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world.
The next key step came in 1950, when the International Organisations Division (IOD) was set up under Tom Braden. It was this office which subsidised the animated version of George Orwell's Animal Farm, which sponsored American jazz artists, opera recitals, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's international touring programme. Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America's anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism...
Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.
"Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I'd love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!" he joked. "But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.
"In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another."
In the late 1950s, American scientists very publicly readied a crew of monkeys for a series of trips into Earth orbit and back. As far as the researchers knew, Project Discoverer was an actual, honest-to-Ike peaceful scientific program. Naturally, they were wrong about that. In reality, their work was part of an elaborate cover-up masking a spy satellite program. At The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson reports on some fascinating space history.
If Britain had been attacked by a nuclear bomb during the Cold War, its government would have survived by retreating to a massive, 35-acre complex buried beneath the county of Wiltshire. I call it a bunker in the headline, but it was more like a small town—large rooms linked by roads, built on the site of an abandoned quarry. Known as Burlington, it could house 4000 people and feed them all for 3 months. It was also home a broadcasting studio and hospital.
The whole thing was kept secret up until its decommissioning in 2004. You can take a tour in the BBC news clip above, or check out the photo galleries and interactive maps on the BBC's Burlington site. With few upgrades since the 1960s, the place looks like a time capsule. An awesome, gigantic time capsule. It's easy to understand why the news presenter in the video is rubbing his hands together gleefully as he's about to get on the elevator to go down. I'd be excited, too!
Thanks to grosmarcel for Submitterating, and to Retronaut for posting pictures from the BBC galleries!
Jake sez, "An old copy of 1950s tabloid Pageant included some amazing illustrations of what an American city would look like after an atomic bomb blast. They're both somewhat chilling and somewhat hilarious."