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Did you know that out in the Nevada desert in 1955, at the Test Site, a town was built?  It was called Survival Town, or Doom Town.  As part of the 14 nuclear tests done in 1955, the town was built to study the effects of a nuclear explosion in a populated area.  Various houses and other structures were built and the town was even populated with mannequins to represent the people.  A snippet of everyday life was created, then blown to bits in the Apple-2 test on May 5, 1955.

mannequins used in nuclear test explosions
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These mannequins from Operation Doorstep are similar to those used in the Apple 2 test.

Shelter might save our lives if we are far enough from ground zero.  Several kinds are to be tested.  That’s the real purpose of testing these houses, to find their weak points.  Household furnishing and mannequin families are provided by private industry to represent Mr. and Mrs. America.  Also, rows of mannequins were set up out in the open facing the blast.  Each item of clothing and color had been carefully selected to give much-needed survival information. In the food test probe section, canned and packaged foods are to be tested.  Some foods are to be tested in the house, stored in the usual way.  Other perishables were to be tested buried just below ground to expose the food to high intensity radiation without risking destruction of the containers.

On the silent desert, the test objects waited. H minus ten seconds…. three, two, one, zero…

1955 nevada test site nuclear test observers watch an explosion
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Observers watch the nuclear test from 6 miles away.

After twenty-four hours the test observers are allowed to observe the results of the explosion.  The basment shelter and the reinforced bathroom shelter were intact. The power lines were mostly intact or reparable.  The cases of food were taken away for laboratory tests.

It was a test of things we use in everyday life.

A short film about the blast was distributed by the Federal Civil Defense Administration.  The video is 15 minutes long but if you only want to see the explosion, skip to about the 10-minute mark.

Operation Cue Apple 2 video

Honestly, I was surprised by how much survived the explosion.  When I first heard about Survival Town, I figured the whole thing would’ve been blown to smithereens.  The radiation fallout effects are not discussed in the video (and are quite significant!) but having a shelter of some sort definitely seems to help protect from the force of the blast if you are far enough from ground zero.

brick house remains standing at nevada test site
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One of the Apple 2 test houses still stands today at the Nevada Test Site

Some of the buildings are still standing and are stops along the Nevada National Security Site tour.  If I’m ever there in the winter, I think it would be very interesting to visit.  A summer visit would be too scorching out there in the middle of the desert. No thanks!

An excellent series of pictures from before and after the tests can be seen on Weburbanist.


Living in a bomb shelter

So based on the test results above, living in a bomb shelter might not be such a bad idea.  While researching Survival Town I came across a few homes that have been built in abandoned missile silos.  Nick Carr, a movie scout, was able to tour a house in the Adirondacks of New York that was built over an old missile silo.  Check out his article with lots of pictures.

That’s not the only one though.  In fact, a couple in Kansas refurbished an old missile silo into a home and became such experts that they now own a real esate company that specializes in missile bases and underground structures.  Their company is called Twentieth Century Castles.  Would you like a tour of Subterra Castle?

This barely scratches the surface of the variety of underground or other hardened structures out there.  Do a little internet searching and you’ll find tons of them!


Let’s lighten things up a bit…

Does anyone remember that movie about the guy who ends up growing up in an underground bomb shelter?  It’s the 1950s and Adam’s parents think a nuclear bomb is coming so they go down into the shelter in their backyard.  The timer is set and they are sealed in for about 30 years.  Here’s a trailer for Blast From the Past.


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Websites visited

Atlas Obscura article about Survival Town

Pictures on Weburbanist

Wikipedia article about Operation Teapot

Tour the Adirondacks house over a missile silo

Twentieth Century Castles – missile bases and underground properties


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