Sleeping Over the Bomb Shelter

When I was little, my father built a nuclear fallout shelter in the basement room which had been his workshop.  My house was the only one I knew of with a Bomb Shelter, which marked us as somehow . . . um, special.

On Monday I posted about my research on birthday parties.  We held them in our yard, our living room, and our basement.  Once we had a Bomb Shelter downstairs, that was the end of our basement parties.  For one thing, my parents didn’t want everybody knowing there was a shelter down there.  How well would that work if the Bomb hit and we ran down there and were stampeded by the entire neighborhood seeking shelter?

After the bomb shelter entered my house, a dark creepy feeling settled downstairs, under our feet.  When I had to go down there for something, I tried to avoid even glancing at the ominous looking door.


However, once I started researching these shelters, I discovered that it was a more common occurrence than I could have imagined.  Elaine Tyler May’s Homeward Bound details “Grandma’s Pantry,” the home bomb shelter.  Jean Wood Fuller, of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, enlisted “the help of the National Grocer’s Association, several pharmaceutical houses, and the American National Dietetic Association, [and] Fuller drew up guidelines for withstanding a nuclear holocaust.”  May makes the case that the marketing efforts were directed toward homemakers, who were considered to be exclusively women.

While May’s theory is an interesting intellectual exercise and probably has a lot of merit to it, I will say that in my house, it was my father whose idea it was to build the shelter.  Let’s face it:  construction was considered to be a manly task.

The photo on the cover of May’s book depicts a serious-looking family inside their own home bomb shelter.  I don’t remember ours looking so bright (well-lit) or so well-stocked.51L5tDApNNL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

Lucky for me, I have the actual list of supplies which my mother wrote and the specifications my father used for building it.  These details will be incorporated into my book.

Here is a photo of an ideal home bomb shelter.  Ours was a double walled cement block room without any “built-ins.”300px-Fallout_shelter_photo

My parents planned everything very carefully.  There is very little evidence that they were any more paranoid than anybody else during the Cold War.  But Dad was certainly proactive.

Today my father says he remembers building it to keep his family safe, but he can’t believe how naïve he was to think it would actually work to protect us or that we would have enough safe air and provisions to last for any length of time.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Research and prep for writing

28 responses to “Sleeping Over the Bomb Shelter

  1. Fascinating. At the time of the Cuban crises I was in 7 y.o. in Ireland and remember bringing pamphlets home from school about how to protect yourself from fallout – “Angle a mattress against a wall and sit under it”, ha! How strange that I remember such detail though.

    • lucewriter

      Hi Mike! Yup, Duck and Cover. We used to practice at school. Pretty ridiculous for the most part. Isn’t it funny how you remember the odd details most?

  2. Interesting post. Reminded me of an acquaintance of mine who published a book on the very same subject.

  3. What a rich and interesting subject! I was thinking what a great set of flash memoirs you have here when I saw the mention about your book. Can’t wait to read more.
    -Chris at

  4. Very interesting. I remember my own feeling of helplessness related to fallout. And I remember seeing “On the Beach” in 1959, a movie about people in Australia waiting for the wind to bring them fallout-death after a nuclear war. (As a side note, check out what kind of movies were tops in 1959: .)

    I appreciate your father’s trying to protect his family as well as your feeling that the basement had become an ominous place.

  5. Such interesting material. I’m looking forward to your book!

  6. Fascinating and sad and yet slightly comic. Such an interesting piece. I’ve heard about the shelters, but have known so little about them, really. I was so interested to read how this affected you as a child, Luanne.

    • lucewriter

      It’s true about home bomb shelters, isn’t it? Sad and slightly comic. Heh. It had a profound effect on me, I’m sure. It really closed in my world just as it was opening, if that makes sense.

  7. My grandparents had one, it doubled as a place for us to sleep when spending the night.

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  9. A great post! Your dad is a great man, how noble of him!!! I’m glad there was no need for the shelter!!!!

    • lucewriter

      Ah, thanks, so much! My dad was always making something but it liked it best when it was something his family could benefit from!

  10. danishdude

    Great post, lucewriter. Again, you bring back memories. I remember being fascinated by the Civil Defense brochures I found in my grandparents’ home in northern Minnesota, describing how to survive a nuclear attack. We never saw those kind of things growing up, but I guess there was a reason for that. I also remember the drills in elementary school in Germany in 1962-65. It wasn’t until later that I realized we lived in the Fulda Gap, exactly where Soviet armor would have rolled into Germany had WWIII ever been launched. It was equally strange in high school, living some 35 miles from the DMZ in Korea, and knowing that evacuation procedures we were obligated to participate in were mostly an exercise in futility. No one was going anywhere quickly if the balloon really went up. It was certainly an interesting life growing up as a tripwire for American foreign policy…

    • Luanne

      Danishdude, for some reason I didn’t see this comment until now. What a fascinating upbringing you must have had! And frightening. Thank you so much for posting about your experiences.

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  12. This was interesting and I had not read it before, Luanne. I wonder if you had sleeping bags or mattresses? You mentioned you did not have built-ins. I think your father was protecting you, while you may have been a little worried, you should have felt protected and loved. I think these days, with my friends and grandchildren thinking of aliens and zombie invasions, this would have been a popular place to hang out. I agree you could not tell many people or you would have been having to turn people away. It is interesting that the newest Noah movie, has Noah facing people and having them first ridicule him, then asking for shelter in his huge Ark.

    • Robin, I just saw this on here! I was actually looking for this post because I was thinking ahead to a post for next week that would connect to it. The actual list of what was put in the bomb shelter can be found in this memoir piece I published at Lunch Ticket. And, YES, there were two sleeping bags! and some other bedding. I hadn’t heard about that Noah movie. The way people responded sounds very typical of “people,” you know? hahaha

      • Luanne, thanks for letting me express myself about your Dad’s project. I do feel he had good intentions. <3
        The film had Russell Crowe as Noah and I only saw a trailer of it. I should have used quotes, it doesn't mean it is really "new," just newer than the old or silly ones. Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson are also in the 2014 rendition.

      • I liked how many details from your past were in the Bomb Shelter story as well as your trip with your parents to the Missile Museum, Luanne.
        Facts like the truck your dad repaired for you, the color of the toy truck in the sand box and all the items needed including Raggedy Ann doll for the shelter.
        I was surprised about your Mom and her “tippling” alcohol. My parents sometimes had their own happy hour openly. 😀
        I am sad you were spanked. I think your fears and nightmares make sense hearing how intense your Dad got while preparing it, as well as hearing the tour guide’s words about the missile.
        I will remember your father in his creative found art sculptures, his sailing with you and the way you enjoyed the basement workshop most of all. 🙂

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