What Lies Beneath?

An in depth look at a place few have seen at BF.

Aditya Udeshi, Charlotte Ran, and Catherine Conde

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The ground shakes, the earth trembles, and the windows began to shake. Sitting inside of a school, warning bells ring while teachers bark orders trying to keep the children calm. Everyone finds their way to the different access points located around the school. Down and down everyone climbs into the shelter, safe from all of the dangers that they will face on the surface.

At the end of World War II until the early 1990s, the world faced a period of uncertainty regarding the United States’ relations with Russia. The United States and the non-communist part of the world faced unimaginable circumstances, which they saw as a threat to world peace, democracy, and security. During this period known as the Cold War, the constant threat of these superpowers threatening each other with nuclear war was always close at hand. Signs for fallout shelters were common sights around schools and other government or federal buildings.  

A fallout shelter is a defense measure intended to reduce the number of casualties in case of a nuclear war. It is designed to allow people inside it to avoid exposure from a nuclear blast and its aftermath of radiation. A basic fallout shelter consists of shielding that reduces gamma-ray exposure. The federal government recommended that fallout shelters be placed in a basement or under a backyard. The idea was to get as much space as possible between people, and the detonation, and its after-effects.

By the early 1950s, schools across the United States were training and preparing students to dive under their desks and cover their heads in case of nuclear attacks. School drills were aimed to educate citizens about how they could protect themselves. These drills were easy to flout. After all, would ducking and covering really protect you from a nuclear bomb detonating your school?

In 1951, a film was created to show Americans the proper techniques to duck and cover. As cheery music played in the background, the animated hero, Bert the Turtle, is shown dropping to the ground (ducking) and retreating into his shell (covering). In the case of an attack, the short film instructs people to be like Bert: duck under tables or desks, or compact next to walls and tightly cover the back of their necks, heads, and faces.

Unknown to many students is that fact that a massive fallout shelter lurks underneath the great halls of Benjamin Franklin Middle School. A large dusty room sits patiently waiting for the call to be used, that everyone hopes is never answered.

In case of a disaster, BFMS, along with several other schools in the district, were built with their very own fallout shelters to serve as safe areas during times of crisis. This shelter was meant to house the students of BF and people in surrounding areas in case of a disaster. The school has stood the test of time, and sixty-five years later, the fallout shelter still remains.                               

With no current use for the shelter now, there are only a couple select people who have had the privilege of going into the space, and in a sense, going back in time.  Mr. Gregory Wu, one of the vice principals of BF, has personally been inside the shelter and experienced first hand its scale.

To learn more about the shelter and its history, the BF Bolt personally went and interviewed him about the shelter.

“Why is the shelter here?”  His reply stated, “The fallout shelter was built in around 1954 when the school was built, cold war era. When they were building BF, they were building Summerville. It is like the exact same school. The buildings are built from the same materials and both contain fallout shelters. For any buildings that have a fallout shelter, there is a sign on the outside.”

The fallout shelters original purpose was to protect the people of the surrounding areas and the school in case of a nuclear incident. Thankfully, it never had to be used for its original purpose. Next, The Bolt asked, what is it currently being used for? Mr. Wu stated, “It is used for storing props and storage for things that aren’t used often.”

The shelter is no secret that is being kept from students and citizens, and in fact, lots of people know about it. Mr. Wu is happy to tell anyone who walks into his office about the shelter, as experienced by The BF Bolt. However, many do not know the full extent of its footprint.  

 “How large is the space and how far underground is it?” The Bolt asked. The Ridge Administrator answered, “It is under the whole auditorium and down past the weight room, almost to the track. As I walked through the fallout shelter, there were two small rooms on either side of the shelter, seperate from the huge main room. I believe the only thing this could be used for were bathrooms for girls and boys. There is also dreadful lighting. Extra light bulbs are left near in case one were to flicker out. . . The shelter is about 10 feet underground. It also had sand on the floor. You would think that it would have a concrete floor or even a dirt floor, but no. A dusty, sand floor.”

With the full extent of the shelter, there had to be access points available around the school. Several places include a trap door on the floor of the stage in the auditorium, also a door in the basement by the maker space, through the maintenance room. There is also a small door in the Latin room stairwell, which is concealed with a padlock. The entrances in the stairwells work very well for running electrical wiring through. These entrances are the only ones known as of right now.

“Could the shelter survive a nuclear attack now?” Mr. Wu responded, “It wouldn’t be effective. Radioactive elements would seep through the entryways. Any nuclear debris or fallout would find its way into the shelter. It would have worked when it was needed but with technology advancing, it wouldn’t. There are better things that could be used now if something were to happen.”

This shelter had its own place and time in history. However, in the present day, it has no purpose and is not capable of protecting citizens. The school will remain, concealing its history that 60 years ago, America was scared of something else. With Earth and its people changing and evolving every day, hopefully, a time never comes where citizens must seek a fallout shelter once again.