City crews uncover Cold War cache

February 1, 2012 3:25:55 PM PST
Building for the future can sometimes unearth the past. Construction crews discovered a fallout shelter while working on Lower Wacker Drive.

The nuclear fallout shelter, discovered by Chicago Department of Transportation crews in the 200-block of South Wacker Drive, is from 1962.

"During the demolition process we pulled down one of our walls and uncovered this amazing find," Michelle Woods, assistant director of Wacker Drive Project, said. "Yes, waiting there for us to pull down the wall and discover it."

In 1962, CD stood for Civil Defense, not compact disc. Everything inside the shelter was to survive radiation in case of a nuclear attack: barrels of water, medicines for minor illnesses and several sanitation kits.

"Well, inside here is a complete kit for making a portable bathroom. Complete instructions on how to use it," Cliff Olszewski, assistant director of Wacker Drive Reconstruction Project, said. "Toilet paper, tissue."

It's not known how many people could survive on this or for how long-- but at least they would have smelled nice.

During the Cold War, in the 1950s and 60s, the "H" bomb was a scare; we had it and Russians had it. Then came the Cuban missile crisis. Then, fallout shelters were surprisingly common at homes and businesses.

In this shelter, survival biscuits -- now 50 years old.

"Not too bad," Olszewski said. "That's pretty good. Ha, ha, ha."

The owners of the building said they knew nothing about the shelter.

"Our assumption is that when they built this building they built it up to the Wacker Drive viaduct wall and they used that wall as the exterior. And so they walled it off on the inside and no one knew what was in there," Woods said.

Chicago museums have been contacted about the Cold War cache, but so far none is interested.