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"The Red Menace" was probably on the minds of many of these audience members. They were listening to how they could better protect themselves from a nuclear assault. These citizens attended a civil defense demonstration in Jacksonville in 1961. In dictionary terms, civil defense consists of a range of emergency measures to be taken by an organized body of civilian volunteers for the protection of life & property in the event of enemy attack or natural disaster. In short, it's simply getting prepared for something like a nuclear strike, a hurricane, or a flood. Possibly, this photo comes from a series of public lectures given in August 1961. The director of the Jacksonville-Duval County Civil Defense Council spoke at Landon, Lee, Jackson, and New Stanton high schools. He discussed safeguards against radioactive fallout. These included the city-county evacuation plan, the need for home shelters, and the necessity of personal stockpiles of food & other supplies.
This photo shows Jacksonville in 1962, perhaps the worst year of the Cold War. Note the parking lot in the spot of today's The Landing, and also notice the empty field where Friendship Fountain and the Museum of Science & History now sit on the Southbank.
This World War II poster reminds Americans how to behave during an air raid
Let's build a bomb shelter! And that's what these Jacksonville Boy Scouts were doing in 1941. There's no indication of whether this occurred before or after Japan raided Pearl Harbor on December 7, pulling the US into World War II. (Did they ever give out merit badges for bomb shelter construction?) This shelter was meant to protect against conventional bombs, such as those dropped by the Germans and the Japanese. Nuclear weapons did not come into play until the US leveled two Japanese cities in 1945. And many Americans didn't really fear foreign nuclear aggression until 1949, when the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb.

Bomb Shelters

THE PLACE TO BE? — Jacksonville led the rest of the state in nuclear preparedness in 1962, according to the Florida Times-Union of September 24 that year. Jax residents enjoyed better odds of finding refuge in a bomb fallout shelter than any other Floridians. Duval County provided shelter space for one-third of its inhabitants, compared with Dade County (Miami), with only 16% of its population covered, and Hillsborough County (Tampa), with only 9% protected. This was a good thing, opined the Times-Union, for some observers considered Jacksonville and its navy bases to be prime targets.

Within a month after the article, the world quaked as the US and the USSR went eyeball-to-eyeball in an atomic showdown. The issue centered on the American discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from Key West, Florida. Even though the USSR eventually backed down, people everywhere stayed jittery.

NOT SO FUN TIMES — In an episode of “Happy Days,” the Cunningham family debated whether it should build a fallout shelter in the backyard. If the Soviet Union bombed America, the Cunninghams would’ve sought safety in their shelter. But from behind the locked door of their small shelter, could they turn away their friends, such as Fonzie, Potzie, and Ralph Malph? In the end, the Cunninghams decided against a shelter, taking their chances with most everyone else.

Civil defense used to be a monster concern during the Fifties and early Sixties. Just like other Americans, Jacksonville residents worried about protection against an enemy attack. Here’s a sampling of news items that First Coast citizens read in 1962:

  • In early August, Brevard County (Fort Lauderdale) officials discussed whether old, mothballed navy ships might be utilized as fallout shelters in coastal communities.
  • In late August, Ross Allen, the legendary reptile expert who was based in Silver Springs, Florida, proposed a serous plan to increase civil defense preparedness: He urged the use of the bellow of an Everglades bull alligator as an effective warning signal.
  • In late October, the air raid siren in the Jacksonville neighborhood of North Shore short circuited. This caused great apprehension among the residents who live near the south end of Main Street bridge over the Trout River.

As late as 1970, the Jacksonville Civil Defense Council requested the use of the basement of the Main Public Library as a place of refuge during an enemy assault. This area now houses the business and science collections.

Unfortunately, atomic warfare would probably create a nuclear winter and a legion of other apocalyptic disasters. A nuclear exchange would likely make a joke out of fallout shelters and the old “duck-and-cover” drills at schools. There are other factors have also lessened the issue of civil defense against nuclear warfare. Bigger bombs mean destruction on a much larger scale, and faster missiles give very little time to find protection. The demise of the Soviet Union has also helped diminish fears of a blanket nuclear assault.

~written by Glenn Emery

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