It's the middle of the night, October, 1962, the very height of the Cuban missile crisis, and Carolyn Hardin bolts upright in bed; her sleep shattered by the shrieking air raid sires slicing the night air on Davis Islands. But, not a creature is stirring; not her husband asleep next to her, not her five children downstairs, no movement on the streets, nothing on the radio. What to do? After all, the Hardin family is prepared: Just three years before, they had finished their custom bomb shelter. The size of a small bedroom, it had 2 1/5 foot thick walls, two enormous "submarine" style air-tight doors, bunk beds, a bathroom, a piano (no sense being bored while the world incinerates), canned food and a hand crank to draw in "fresh" air. Even a spyglass to check out the post-apocalyptic landscape outside.
Yes, as Russia and the U.S. were locked in a deadly nuclear staredown, Americans were afraid, very afraid. Fully 70% of the country feared nuclear war was imminent. As a kid growing up in Miami, a stone's throw from Cuba, I can remember the "duck and cover" drills we had to do. The government had convinced us bomb shelters were the only safe way to survive a nuclear holocaust.
But, at first, the idea of building a cramped, musty hole in the ground was slow to catch on. So, to make the idea more appealing, Uncle Sam actually enlisted the aid of the American Institute of Decorators! (Would you like shag carpet with your nuclear decor?) Some of their ideas: How about a "Fun Room" (talk about irony!). with game tables, and a leafy, ersatz "Town Square"? Or, maybe a bit of Hollywood glamor: A chic shelter, sporting black and white striped banquettes that could double as beds? The 1964 World's Fair even featured a stylish, fully outfitted subterranean home, complete with indoor swimming pool! And, by 1965, more than 200,000 "fall out" shelters dotted the American landscape.
Fast forward half a century. Kids and bikes, and dogs often crowd the corner at Lucerne and Riviera on Davis Islands; many oblivious that the pale grey house there features one of the coolest "rooms" in town: The Hardin's old bomb shelter. Mike and Leslie Fuller and their two daughters bought the house, the bomb shelter one of the selling features; not because the Fullers fear a nuclear blast, but because they'll have a blast converting it into a new wine cave. A new coloing system, walls lined with wine racks, a tasting table and chairs, and, voila, getting bombed takes on a whole new meaning!
Today, few believe the mid-century shelters would've really spared lives. If you survived the initial blast, the radiation was sure to get you, echoing Rod Serling's famous quote: "If we survive, what do we survive for?" But, for Carolyn Hardin, wife and mother, it was the better part of wisdom. "One always opts for life", she says.
Those air raid sirens that night in '62? There was no crisis that night, and Carolyn finally managed to get back to sleep. The children grew up, used the bomb shelter for slumber parties and piano practice, and when the new owners get done converting it to a wine cave, "fall out shelter" will have a whole new meaning! OH WHAT A LIFE!