Nuclear war was on the minds of many in 1963.
President Kennedy and the Russians were going at it and truckloads of supplies were being shipped to communities such as Augusta to stock Civil Defense shelters.
We had 19 in the early months of 1963 and that was the good news. The bad news was the shelters — mostly located in old buildings around downtown — could only handle 26,610 people, which meant many wouldn’t make it if something bad happened.
It wasn’t like we hadn’t been warned.
Only four years earlier, a Chronicle editorial shared the advice of Mrs. G.W. Freiberg, the local Civil Defense director, that every American home should be adding its own “fall-out shelter,” which could cost from $200 to $700. Civil Defense would furnish the plans and home do-it-yourselfers were advised to make it a family project.
“In the event of an enemy attack,” she said, it would be too late. Mrs. Freiberg even spoke to local civic clubs and tried to diplomatically answer questions, such as: “Once you are safe in your family shelter, should you let others inside?”
Her answer was diplomatic and practical. The more inside the shelter, she pointed out, the quicker you run out of food.
How serious was all this?
Well, in 1959, then-South Carolina Gov. Fritz Hollings announced he was building a shelter at his home, and hoped to serve as an example for his constituents.
For its part, The Chronicle ran a map in February 1963 showing the location of the 19 shelters. Some, such as Sibley Mill, could only handle 168 refugees. Others, such as the Talmadge Hospital could pack in 10,393.
Other sites of safety and their capacity included: Richmond Hotel (1,212); City-County municipal building (2,247); Bell Telephone Building (913); C&S Bank (238); News Building (82); Southern Finance Building (238); Masonic Building (439); Georgia Railroad Bank (144); First National Bank (645); Augusta Police Department (343) ; YMCA (856); First Federal Building (353); First National Bank tunnel (62); Bell Auditorium (464); and University Hospital (147).
Once inside a public shelter, would would they do?
Would you believe eat biscuits?
These were described as “about a half-inch thick which have a flour base.” They were similar in taste to a graham cracker.
“Each person in the shelter is allotted 10,000 calories during a two-week confinement,” The Chronicle said. “The biscuits will stay fresh an indefinite time.”
Shelter-dwellers would be washing down the graham-cracker biscuits with a daily allotted quart of water, which could be used for “washing and drinking.”
Shelter medical supplies “will be penicillin, phenobarbital and sulfadiazine tablets.” … Other medicines included aspirin, salt, rubbing alcohol, petroleum jelly, soap, soda water, purification tablets, bandages and elementary first-aid tools.”
And … in case you’re wondering … “basic toilet supplies will also be included. A fiber-board drum will be used for commodes containing double polyethylene bags. When the bags are filled, they will be sealed and the drum closed. Chemicals will be placed in the bags.”
Each shelter was also equipped with radiation monitoring and mobile radio units.
The best news of all is that we never had to eat graham cracker biscuits or use fiberboard toilets.
Worry about the nuclear threat faded and Americans began to concern themselves with other things.