There was a moment in 1964 when Allegheny County officials seriously considered spending nearly $30,000 (about $225,000 today) to buy from the federal government a hole in the ground.
It was a 20-acre bomb-resistant site in Plum Borough, complete with “three missile launching pits, underground command centers and miscellaneous bric-a-brac that might come in handy if a ‘take cover’ order ever rings out.” ((“County Debates Buying A Hole,” by William Pade, The Pittsburgh Press, June 4, 1964.))
Courthouse officials could have hid there had enemies attacked Pittsburgh.
These were different times. They were times of constant fear.
Take for example a test the Office of Civil Defense and the American Institute for Research (AIR) in Shadyside conducted the following year. Previous tests, such as those pictured in the first few images above, had apparently not been realistic enough to test a participant’s will.
And so researchers sunk them into a lake near Myerstown in Lebanon County inside a cigar-shaped tank, 30 feet long, five feet wide and four feet high. Two reasons were given:
1 — Occupants are fearful of cave-in, heightening stress.
2 — They cannot simply get up and walk out the door.
Mission accomplished. Sort of.
Reactions ranged from, “Uncomfortable … It was damp … I couldn’t stand up” to “Noisy … Like being in a plane … I was getting bored.” ((“24 Hours Under Water in Tank Is ‘Like A-War” by Kenneth Eskey, The Pittsburgh Press, Oct. 17, 1965.))
AIR received $100,000 in federal grant money that year for shelter research.
Update: After publication, Post-Gazette photographer Bob Donaldson sent me these images and story from 2002 when an Edgeworth bomb shelter was uncovered.
Let us know what you think in the comments:
Were these government expenses worth it?
Do you know what became of AIR’s research office at that address?
Did you ever see the inside of a fallout shelter? What do you remember?