No negative fallout from these shelters

The interior of a 1955 H-bomb steel shelter. Not real cozy but good for a make-do lounge.
The interior of a 1955 H-bomb steel shelter. Not real cozy but good for a make-do lounge.
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

There was lots of fallout from last week's column on the District man obsessed with the city's old fallout shelter signs. But first let us ponder how that word - "fallout" - has gone from meaning radioactive particles to describing any sort of post-event ramifications.

Any fallout from your drunken karaoke performance at the company picnic? From forgetting your anniversary? "Fallout" has a sort of negative connotation, but today I'm using it in a happier context, to describe the warm memories that come from interacting with a civil defense mechanism that turned out, thankfully, to be unnecessary.

For example, my buddy Charlie Bryant of Gaithersburg remembers that the senior lounge at Cathedral Latin School on California Street NW was a fallout shelter. "We had a stereo, a couch and chairs, two pool tables, and many squarish boxes of survival biscuits," he wrote. "One day we got curious and broke into a can of survival biscuits. Not so tasty."

Last November, Heather Moore, photo historian at the U.S. Senate, discovered dozens of boxes of civil defense medical kits from 1962 in the attic of the Russell Senate Office Building. Most of the kits were sent to the National Museum of Health and Medicine and other museums, but plenty are left over. "If takers are not found for the rest, they will be destroyed," Heather wrote. If you have contacts at any nonprofit museum that might desire a Cuban Missile Crisis-era medical kit, drop me a line. I'll pass it on to Heather.

In 1962, Arlington County's Jack Ludwick snagged a summer job with a consulting engineering firm that had a contract to pick facilities in Rochester, N.Y., that could be used as fallout shelters. He earned $3 an hour driving around with a partner and taking detailed notes at each site, measuring the thickness and construction material of each ceiling and wall.

"I learned a lot about the subterranean underpinnings of a modern city," Jack wrote. "Perhaps the most unusual site I examined was the Genesee Brewery. It was well shielded and spacious enough to accommodate hundreds, if not thousands, but there was the slight disadvantage that the temperature suitable for brewing was a little cool for long-term habitation - about 60 degrees!"

Speaking of beer, meet Charles Ziegler, who has a fallout shelter under his Alexandria house. Wrote Charles: "When we moved in 25 years ago, we were told that the first owner, who had this house custom-built and who had installed the fallout shelter, had worked for the CIA." Charles lives just a few miles from the Pentagon, so he thinks the shelter wouldn't have been much use in case of nuclear attack. "It now has no amenities or ventilation equipment in it; I use it to store tools and beer."

Oh, in my column last week, I moved the Kennesaw Apartments a block. That building is at 16th and Irving, not 16th and Kenyon.

A smooth maneuver

Pam Feil is not a child, and she was not in a hospital when Megan Bellagamba, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's National Medical Center, saved her life. Pam's a retired Fairfax County English teacher who was dining with family and friends at a restaurant in Fair Lakes mall last month when a piece of a pork chop got stuck in her throat.

When it was apparent that it wasn't going down or coming up, Pam's husband, Dan, asked if anyone in the restaurant knew the Heimlich maneuver. Sitting at a nearby table was Megan.

"If it wasn't for her, I don't know what would have happened," Pam said.

After two strong hugs from Megan, Pam was able to dislodge the pork. When they found out where Megan works, the Feils decided to make a donation to Children's Hospital.

You can help out Children's, too, by participating in our annual fund drive. Send a check or money order (payable to "Children's Hospital") to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md., 21297-1390; or pay with a credit card online at or by phone at 301-565-8501.

Pam said she and Dan have signed up to take a CPR and Heimlich course, "so if it ever happens to anybody else, we can help that person."

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