Friday, August 19, 2011

The Fallout Candy





After exploring the topic of Finding Stuff, I realized that I hadn't told one of the more interesting stories related to that subject. Here it is.



In the mid-1960's, when this story takes place, fallout shelters were still something that people thought seriously about. There wasn't the full-blown paranoid hysteria about atomic warfare that seemed to pervade some segments of the populace during the 1950's, leading to folks actually constructing their own personal below-ground fallout shelters in their backyards, but the Iron Curtain was still up, Berlin was divided by a wall, and nuclear war was still considered a reasonable possibility.

(As a child, I never imagined a world without The Soviet Union, The Berlin Wall, or a cessation of what was known as The Cold War. That I even feel the need to supply informative links, in case someone reading this has no idea what those things were, is a small thrill. It's nice to realize that some of the situations that crazy adults thought of back then have actually gotten better.)

Anyway, nuclear war...

Places to hide yourself from the resulting radiation were designated by the sort of signage seen above. Most of them in the Boston area were in school basements and other such places that no kid in his right mind would ever want to be trapped in for a few years while things cooled down, but in our neighborhood of Dorchester Lower Mills, the nearest public fallout shelter was the firehouse on the corner of Temple and River.


[The firehouse - photo from HERE, an excellent site for information concerning Boston firehouses.]

The firehouse hadn't housed any actual firemen or firefighting equipment since the late 50's. It's only real function, aside from being the place where everyone would run like deranged lunatics when an atom bomb fell on us, was as a rehearsal hall for some neighborhood members of a drum and bugle corp named The Crusaders. Its non-proximity to residences made it a good spot for these teens to blow their trumpets and such without disturbing too many folks.

(Not to digress far afield, but we younger kids thought the guys in The Crusaders were gods. We'd often hang out by the big garage door of the firehouse and listen to their rehearsals. When one of them actually deigned to talk to us, it was as though the kid spoken to had been knighted. The words were usually something like, "Hey! Don't touch that tuba, ya little bastid!", or something similarly kind and heartwarming, but we didn't care. They could do no wrong.)

After a while, the firehouse wasn't even used for rehearsals. It was completely abandoned, and fell into general disrepair. Tall weeds sprouted in the surrounding yard and litter piled up in the driveways. And that's where our story truly begins.

Stephen Murphy and I were walking around the neighborhood one summer day, with nothing in particular planned as entertainment, and we passed by the old firehouse. We were about 9 or 10 at the time. We took a detour off of Temple Street and onto the grounds of the firehouse itself. We circled around outside of it, poking in the weeds and trash for whatever might be of interest to young boys. We came to a door. We didn't expect it to be unlocked, but we decided to try the handle, anyway.

The door opened.

With about as little hesitation as a Democrat offered an opportunity to raise taxes, we went inside. While we had seen some of the firehouse during the drum and bugle rehearsals, much of the place remained a mystery to us. And is there anything in the world quite so fascinating to a couple of preteen boys as a firehouse? The mere thought of actually being able to slide down the firepole without anyone telling us not to do so was enough to make it one of the best days we would likely ever have.

We crept about in the hot and dusty interior. There wasn't much of anything in the place, other than a few ramshackle wooden chairs and a dilapidated desk, and after sliding down the pole a couple of times each (which was not done without hesitation on my part, as it seemed inordinately higher than I had imagined it) it didn't seem like there was much else to do there. Then Stephen tried a door we had assumed was a closet. We found that it opened into another room we had yet to explore. And, inside of that room, we found The Fallout Candy.

A large barrel-shaped container, made of a hard cardboard of some sort, was the only thing in the room. It was imprinted with a "civil defense" symbol.




When we got closer, we saw that it had metal-ringing on top and bottom, and a metal lid. It was somewhat similar to this...




... but it did not bear markings identifying it as being full of supplies for the toilet. With the direct logic of youth, we decided the best way to find out what was inside was to open it. So, we pried off the lid and found, much to our immediate delight, that it was loaded to the brim with CANDY.

We could hardly have been happier had a genie popped out of it.

It was hard candy, in three flavors - raspberry, orange, and lemon/lime - and it looked like it wasn't rotten or anything, so we each had a couple of pieces. We didn't die, so we decided to take the barrel and have the rest of the candy for ourselves at a later time.

As we dragged the thing home - which wasn't easy, as it probably weighed between 30 and 35 pounds, it was an unwieldy shape, we were just kids, and we had to haul it up one hill and down another for a total of three blocks - we just naturally assumed that our parents would let us keep it. After all, it was United States of America government-issue food, even if it was candy, and we had been taught for years that Communists were evil but our government was beneficent and kind, so if you couldn't trust government candy, what in hell could you trust?

We brought it inside. My Mom and Irene Murphy inspected it. The barrel did have writing on it, which we hadn't noticed in the dim light of the windowless room in which we found it, but it gave scant information. What it did seem to say was that the candy was jammed full of vitamins and minerals. We all figured out it was meant as a ration of some sort should there have been a nuclear attack and folks had become trapped in the firehouse for a century or two. It had been sealed tight, so it didn't appear to present a danger from being spoiled or contaminated (and, anyway, it was hard candy, and that stuff has a shelf life similar to petrified wood, which was probably why it had been chosen in the first place as the vehicle for conveying vitamins to people whose skin would be peeling off due to radiation poisoning.)

The upshot of it was that we kept it in the basement for a few months and, every so often, Stephen or I would eat a piece. We showed it to our buddies, and they had a few pieces, too. But, even though it was free candy, it wasn't the sort you felt like gobbling down over and over. We got tired of it in a relatively short time. We finally threw the whole shebang into the rubbish after the container started getting wet and moldy from being stored in our leaky cellar.

The firehouse was eventually torn down and now there's nothing on that corner but a vacant lot. So far as I know, neither Stephen or myself suffered any deleterious effects from eating the fallout candy. As a matter of fact, what with all of the vitamins in it, we might have been the healthiest kids in the neighborhood. Had there been a nuclear war, I suppose we might have felt a pang or two of guilt about moving the only food in the fallout shelter to our own house, but there wasn't one, so we didn't.

And, if the government has been looking for that missing candy all these years, and they decide they might want to press charges against us, this is all a lie.

Soon, with more better stuff.




40 comments:

Michelle H. said...

That candy sounds sort of like the ones with that whitish dusting on it. You can sort of eat a few of them, but it takes a lot to pig out on them.

Great post. The things you had to explore tops anything that I remember doing out in my neck-o-the woods.

haphazardlife said...

I can't help but wonder at the naivety of the times. As if sitting in a basement would have protected people from nuclear fallout.

Craig said...

Ah, fallout shelters. . .

Always remind me of a couple novels - On the Beach, by Nevil Shute, and A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller. Nuclear catastrophe was much on people's minds, in those days.

Somehow or other, we were given some 'Civil Defense' supplies, back in the 80s, probably when some local fallout shelter decided that it wasn't so necessary anymore. We got some nasty dry crackers, tho; nothing nearly so fun as candy. . .

And what you said about Communism, the Cold War, etc. 1989 was an utterly flabbergasting year for me, having grown up with a seemingly invincible Soviet Empire. . .

Uncle Skip, said...

Good story Jim.
I'd probably have similar ones, but I always got caught early on.

Maggie May said...

The possibility of nuclear war was always very real during my childhood and some of the things that they told us to do.... like piling mattresses against the wall and hiding under them..... must have just been to give us a bit of security because it wouldn't have done any good, would it?

Wo would have thought that The Soviet union would have disbanded in my lifetime or the Berlin Wall come tumbling down?
Maggie X

Nuts in May

TechnoBabe said...

Hubby and I have seen a couple things in peoples yards here, huge mounds with a couple air pipes coming out of them. Bomb shelters? Storm shelters?

Buck said...

Most excellent, Jim. And I didn't even have to "duck and cover."

As for this... That I even feel the need to supply informative links, in case someone reading this has no idea what those things were, is a small thrill.

Us geezers are always taken aback when we meet a clue-impaired Millennial, especially those individuals who didn't pay attention in history class.

One more thought in this space: my entire AF career happened during the Cold War... soup to nuts... and the possibility of the balloon going up was ever present and all TOO real.

Jeni said...

I've often read stuff on others blogs -and now here -plus seen things on TV, the History channel and other programs -where the methods of teaching people how to prepare for survival in the event of a nuclear attack or something were reviewed but, believe it or not, although I grew up in that time -beginning my schooling in 1950 and ending in June of 1962, I have no recollection of my classmates and I ever being taught any of those procedures or having any drills other than those regular old fire drills. I'm thinking perhaps back that out teachers or administrators at school thought we were located in such a back in the boondocks location that nothing like that would ever come our way or that it would never find us there cause not many other things managed to find us in the first place. Go figure, huh?

i beati said...

big memory

silly rabbit said...

Ha! What a find! Shoot... just an abandoned unlocked fire house is a HUGE find to a kid.
The school where I worked was built in that era and I had the pleasure of seeing what passed for their fall out shelter... a long winding tunnel under the pipes in the sub basement where maybe you could pack in a couple of hundred people standing stuffed together like sardines. There were no supplies if they ever were there remaining.
My only thought was that I would have gone bonkers in there. I suppose its true purpose was to give the people a sense of security to an event that could never be in any way secure.

messymimi said...

Our school basement was still designated a fallout shelter until i graduated in 1981. Don't know about now.

One of the teachers who had attended there when she was in school remembered during the Cuban Missile Crisis everyone being told to bring an extra set of clothing to store down there -- and no one was ever told to take it home.

Kat said...

Hahaha! I just love your writing. What a fun story.

I bet you suddenly lost your interest in the candy when you found out it had vitamins in it. ;)

Hilary said...

What a find.. and what a memory of the time. Great story, Jim.

Uncle Skip, said...

I forgot to mention that Fallout Candy brought a certain picture to mind.

Red Hamster said...

You went into an abandoned building and ate something out of a barrel that looked like candy?!?! Oh, the innocence and recklessness of youth.

I'm amazed but glad you survived to tell us all these stories.

Teacher's Pet said...

Great story, Jim...as usual. You are a natural.
I love your closing sentence, "And if the government has been looking for that missing candy all these years, and they decide they might want to press charges against us, this is all a lie." This is without a doubt Suldog's story...and he's always sticking to it.
A smile for you, my friend.
Hugs from J.

Chris@Knucklehead! said...

Pretty cool story, Jim. I remember the 1980's version of nuclear terror, and it was kind of intense at times. That TV movie "The Day After" scared the shit out of me.

Quirkyloon said...

I'm glad you found your candy. *smile* However, if we do ever experience a nuclear war? I want to be one of the ones who get zapped instantly.

Who wants to wait around for radiation sickness and cockroaches are your new pet.

Not me.

Ever the optimist, I yam!

heh heh

Clare Dunn said...

My Aunt and Uncle ACTUALLY DID have a "Bomb Shelter" built in their back yard. (Auntie was the most paranoid person on the planet). We used to get in scads of trouble sneaking into it and cranking the air-circulator...a device that would only be re-circulating carbon dioxide in less time than it takes to write this comment. It made a horrific racket, which was what attracted us to it in the first place. It did have it's usefulness, though. When we got locked inside that 8x8 foot building, it alerted the adults to where we were. (A very secure padlock was installed that very afternoon.)

BTW...I am impressed that you keep coming up with better stuff!
xoxoxo, cd

Shammickite said...

You certainly had some great places to go and play. And I think you were brave to go inside the building when the door opened, I don't think I would have done it, but then, I was a scaredy cat for most of my childhood. And we didn't have abandoned buildings to play in, we had to make do with the beach and the rocks and the caves.

lime said...

oh my word. leave it to the government. and may i say you have pretty cool parents if they let you steal a barrel of government fallout candy. my mother would have made me take it back and write a letter of apology and probably work off the value of any of the candy i had eaten.

what a funny story that is really telling to the time.

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

Grampaw T had a white helmet with the circle/triangle/CD logo. He was the air raid warden for the eighth floor of his apartment building. There was no shelter (or even a basement). I never did find out what they expected him to do. Do you think maybe he had a candy stash somewhere?

Daryl said...

another great memory stirrer

Moannie said...

What as terrific story, Jim, and how it shook up my memories of that time. Been older than you I guess my memories are more harrowing. Having the threat of 'the bomb' hanging over us for so long and knowing Armageddon could be upon us at the whim of a politician.

Shrinky said...

Your government provided the great unwashed with FALLOUT shelters??

Sheesh, talk about luxury!

Only our government officials were given that dubious privledge. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know t'was only an old fire-station on offer, but at least the thought was there, wasn't it? All we were ever told was to paint all our windows white, and to stay under the stairs! In the unlikely event we did survive, I think we were expected to eat the family dog, 'cos I sure don't as hell recall any vitamin-enhanced drums of sweeties being bandied about.


(Okay, I'll shut up now before this turns into a Monty Pythonesque "Hole in the road" rant..)

Shammickite said...

Hey Jim, didja feel the earthquake?

Suldog said...

Shammickite - Actually, no! I read about it having happened, but that's it. A couple of buildings in downtown Boston were evacuated, and when I heard about that I called MY WIFE (she works downtown.) Hers wasn't one of the buildings, though, and she didn't feel anything, either.

Did it register anywhere in Canada?

TexWisGirl said...

neat memory. congrats on your POTW!

missing moments said...

LOL .. fun post and great writing! Love the comment 'as little hesitation as a Democrat offered an opportunity to raise taxes ...'
Congrats on your POTW!

Alice said...

hilarious jim..only you!!

luv alice xxx

Chip "Rocket Man" Allen said...

This story really strikes a tone with me. I was a Navy brat, evacuated from Guantanamo Bay at the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A decade or so later I found myself on a 4 man USAF Missile Combat Crew in the Titan II ICBM silos in Central Arkansas. Yes, I was one of the guys in the silos waiting for someone to "push the button".

Incidentally, we had a pallet of late 50's era C-rations intended to keep us alive for 90 days after World War III. Everyone I worked with said they expected WW III to be fought with missiles and bombs and it would probably last a day or two. WW IV would be fought with rocks and sticks and last much longer.

King of New York Hacks said...

Great story..I think I'm gonna build an earthquake shelter and fill it up with candy lol

ethelmaepotter! said...

Best tale I've read in a long time!

This line is a gem:
"After all, it was United States of America government-issue food, even if it was candy, and we had been taught for years that Communists were evil but our government was beneficent and kind, so if you couldn't trust government candy, what in hell could you trust?"

You told me you identified with my August 17 post, and I sure identify with this. Fallout shelters? Oh yeah, I remember them. I was the freak in our family who worried about nuclear war all the time. We moved frequently and every time we arrived in a new town and took a look around, my eyes would be searching for that black circle with the yellow triangles. No one else cared, but should we ever have seen a mushroom cloud on the horizon, I would have been the heroine and saved my family, because I knew where the fallout shelters were.

However, I did NOT know they had candy. I thought it was just saltine crackers.

Those fallout shelters were my backup plan, though, because my family would have their own shelter. See, I was such a nerd that for fun, AS A CHILD, mind you, I drew houseplans. Designed my dream home over and over and over...painstakingly, using graph paper and my Monkees ruler and a real draftsman's T-square. And you know what I designed UNDER the basement of each and every one of those houses? Yep, a fallout shelter. It always had a secret entrance and was well insulated with earth on all sides, and had enough room for each of us to have our own private bunk with curtains, like in an old Pullman car, and a common room for family time, etc. I always put a huge pantry in it, coz MY family was not going to survive 30 years in a fallout shelter on crackers. No sirree Bob, our pantry was stocked with canned soups (I also designed a battery-operated hotplate,) tuna, cream of wheat, canned fruits, CANDY, cookies, cereals, powdered milk, and a huge room just for jugs of water.

Good grief, now that I think about it, I believe I may have fared better with the mushroom cloud than 30 years in a hole in the ground with my family.

Incidentally, I remember sometime back when the government ordered all that food be destroyed, due to age and fear that it may have become rancid. Hmmmm...

I'm pretty sure you're safe.

Oh, and the Crusaders? Know them well! My son is a drummer and band instructor and wouldn't miss the DCI championships if he was on fire. The Crusaders are one of his favorites!

And finally (yeah, I'm almost done here,) that firehouse is fantastic! I'd a'been hard put not to go exploring, too. But I wouldn't have slid down the pole. I would have used the old But-I'm-a-girl-and-I'm-wearing-a-dress-and-besides-it's-not-a-very-ladylike-thing-to-do excuse.
♫ Thanks for the memories...♫

Hilary said...

Don't you just love Ethel! :)

Suldog (duh) said...

Hilary - Do I love Ethel? You bet. Good writer, and a nice person. And you, too. Thanks again for the POTW honors!

Mushy said...

Having worked at the nuke plants in Oak Ridge for 29 years, I've had occasion to eat some of that candy...yummy! And Michelle is correct, that's what it looks like!

That WAS more good stuff!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Great story. Can certainly feel the excitement in your writing at discovering such a find. How cool it mus have been when you were ten. Would be fun now.

I also remember those signs. We had a series of tunnels under our high school that served as a place to go when "sirens" went off.

Barbara Shallue said...

This is such a cool story! It really does amaze me when I think how scary times must have been for our parents when we were young, what with imminent nuclear disaster and all. I lived in a bubble of innocence!

Mich said...

WHYYYYY didn't you save the candy?!?!? That thing would probably be worth a fortune on ebay!!

:D

I wish I could still explore abandoned places like when I was little. Once you turn 18, though, it gets little trickier. I never found anything as exciting as a barrel of candy...

xo

Chris said...

Years ago the school here in town went through a clean out process. My mom was active in school events and president of the "PTA". We set aside autumn weekends for work party's, and built a huge wooden playground about an acre in size, all connected. Well, this left the kids to wander. No I grew up near the end of the Cold War, but one thing that always caught my eye was the seemingly new Fallout Shelter signs on the exterior of the school. Long story short, the old high school was an elementary school, with no sports teams or after school activities. So the under-gym area was pretty much abandoned. On one side was a work shop for the janitors, the other an old locker room, and the first of one of three fallout shelters. The cooks used one for storage, and kept kindergarten cubby's in them. These were, as the janitor explained - let me trail off. The janitor was a long time fireman and ambulance driver, and pretty active in the Civil Defense movement locally, as until the late 70's, that's where the only fire truck came from.. Civil Defense money; said "Fire Service", with the famous CD symbol on the doors. Anyhoo, he told us the sub-basement fallout shelters were "Oh shit" shelters, literally, people talked that way in school and that was that. You were expected to be grown up enough to take it and let it go. Then, there was the mother of shelters. It's still there, in fact, the building is for sale, $380,000.. You get a school with three "bomb shelters", in fact, with an air defense station about 13 road miles away, that's why the building will stand long after the town is gone. He let us in, huge red blast door, sub-sub-basement type deal, ran the length of the main structure. Full of water, but he let us see the storage area, packaged disaster hospital, the crackers, medical kits, the fortified candy, the works, beds.. In fact, given the door was hard to open then, and the fact that they didn't offer the stuff to county EMA or the fire company which I run with, I'd say it's probably all still there. He did say we couldn't have any of the candy, despite it all being stamped DEC 1962, he said in the 1970's OCD, Washington, decided that the dye used in the red candy caused cancer. So it was to be removed and destroyed. But with a lack of staff, and lack of interest, nobody ever removed anything. - Mildred, Pa