There’s an abandoned fallout shelter from the Cold War underneath an elementary school in Washington DC. Take a look inside.

Oyster-Adams school houses a fallout shelter in its basement.

caption
Oyster-Adams school houses a fallout shelter in its basement.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

  • There’s an abandoned fallout shelter from 1962 under the Oyster-Adams school in Washington, DC.
  • Since the shelter has remained untouched, much of the supplies are still there.
  • From food to portable toilets, this abandoned fallout shelter stands as a reminder of the Cold War.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy sent out a letter to American citizens warning them about the threat of nuclear war. His solution: fallout shelters.

“We owe that kind of insurance to our families and to our country,” his letter read. “The time to start is now. In the coming months, I hope to let every citizen know what steps he can take without delay to protect his family in case of attack. I know you would not want to do less.”

Congress allocated $169 million to find locations in public and private buildings that would protect communities from nuclear attacks. These shelters were to act as temporary homes as they waited out the nuclear fallout after an attack. But in reality, they were a last-ditch effort at survival.

One of these shelters has been found under a school in Washington, DC, and it has remained untouched for over 55 years.

Keep reading to explore the abandoned shelter that acts as a time capsule for the Cold War.


In the basement of the Oyster-Adams school in DC, you can find three small steps that lead to an ominous door.

caption
Door to fallout shelter.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

During the Cold War, places all around the country were designated as fallout shelters. Typically, they were basements with thick concrete that would – they hoped – keep out nuclear radiation.


Once opened, you find yourself instantly transported back to 1962 when everyone lived in fear of nuclear war.

caption
Entrance to the fallout shelter.
source
Brendan Smialowski/ Getty

The Cold War lasted 45 years, but the terror of nuclear attack peaked during the ’50s and ’60s.


A sign in the basement still hangs on the wall, designating the area as a fallout shelter.

caption
Sign designating the area.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

Fallout shelter signs were hung all over the country, becoming a lasting symbol of the Cold War.


The shelter itself is a long, narrow, and largely empty basement that was meant to be the community’s Noah’s arc.

caption
The fallout shelter.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

Although most were trained to hide under desks, there is no protection against a nuclear bomb. People within a few miles of the bomb site would have mostly died instantly. However, moments after a bombing, nuclear fallout and radiation spreads across the area. These shelters were meant to be used to wait out the fallout.


Although dark, dingy, and run-down this basement was meant to fit and serve around 100 people for two weeks.

caption
Fallout shelter.
source
Brendan Smialowski/ Getty

The Oyster-Adams school basement is one of the few remaining Cold War fallout shelters still entirely intact because most were destroyed in the ’70s.


Survival supplies were stacked and stored in the basement.

caption
Supplies found in shelter.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

The supplies still remain in the empty basement today.


Barrels of drinkable water line the walls of the shelter.

caption
Barrels of water.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

The barrels are labeled “Office of Civil Defense” and were meant to serve about five people each.


Boxes of survival foods can also still be found in the basement.

caption
Boxes filled with food.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

It’s estimated that those staying in the fallout shelter would get only about 10,000 calories over the two-week period.


Each of the boxes was meant to serve seven people about five pounds each.

caption
Boxes of food in the shelter.
source
Brendan Smialowski/ Getty

In David Krugler’s book “This Is Only a Test: How Washington, DC, Prepared for Nuclear War,” he said the government made “carbohydrate supplements,” which were essentially fruit-flavored candies. They were supplied in the fallout shelters.


In the underground bunker, “all-purpose survival biscuits” were supplied, which were inspired by an ancient Egyptian snack.

caption
Crackers in the bunker.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

According to The Washington Post, crackers made of bulgur wheat were found in ancient Egyptian tombs that were still fresh. Scientists during the Cold War era replicated the recipe to supply to the fallout shelters.


Sanitation kits were meant to be used as portable toilets.

caption
Toilets in the fallout shelter.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

The rubber seats were meant to be placed atop the barrel for a more comfortable toilet – even though there was zero privacy. Though they were never used, these sanitation kits still lie in the basement.


Various survival goods are also thrown about the abandoned shelter.

caption
Chair in the shelter.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

When The Washington Post went down into the shelter, they found first aid kits, cotton swabs, and tongue depressors.


The shelter even came with a pamphlet, explaining what to do in case of various emergencies.

caption
First aid manual in the shelter.
source
The Washington Post/ Getty

The first aid manual even explained what to do if a skin rash develops and how to handle “sucking wounds in the chest.”


In a school a few neighborhoods away from Oyster-Adams, they test-drove their fallout shelter with 62 students.

caption
Oyster-Adams’ fallout shelter.
source
Brendan Smialowski/ Getty

In 1963, Gordon Junior High School – also in DC – had its own fallout shelter, but the school decided to have 62 children stay in the bunker for 36 hours to see what it would be like. Years later those children remember being frightened and confused.


In the mock atomic attack, the children were separated into groups and assigned duties.

caption
Wall labeled in 1964.
source
Brendan Smialowski/ Getty

Some were designated jobs focused on food supply, communication, and medicine. One boy was assigned Recreation, so he put on a talent show and sang “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” according to The Washington Post.


Those children were among very few who spent hours in fallout shelters, as nuclear war never came.

caption
Eroded wall in the abandoned shelter.
source
Brendan Smialowski/ Getty

Although the world braced for nuclear attack, the fallout shelters were never used. But many remain as a monument to a time that gripped the nation in fear.