What’s in a Home?
John Sims went into his purchase of a new home in Tucson, Arizona thinking he was going to be leading a quiet, serene life. What he got, however, was much more than he bargained for, and it would end up being one of the most bizarre discoveries of his life.
The previous owner told John about a rumor that something mysterious was buried in the backyard, but that he had never had the time and courage to find out if it was true. John, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, began to dig, without direction. As he tore his backyard up, he would soon find something that would change his life.
Read on to learn more about this incredible, haunting discovery.
The previous owner who had initially been tipped Mr. Sims off was a friend of his, so he was feeling confident that the purchase was going to be a good one. That said, the ominous message he passed along with the sale of the house was stuck in John’s mind; what did he mean about this thing that was supposedly buried in the backyard?
As he continued to ponder the mystery surrounding his new property, he tried to imagine what it might be.
Little did he know, his new home housed something that would soon grab the attention of the entire nation.
The Rumor that Started It All
John’s friend had made it clear during the sale that he didn’t know much about what could be buried under the home. All that he was able to say was that there was more than meets the eye and that he was never brave enough actually to dig whatever it was up himself.
With the property officially in John’s hands, he initially tried to ignore the rumor, going about the moving process as usual and getting all of his things settled in how he liked them. Despite this, the sheer curiosity of the situation began to consume him, occupying his every waking moment with a desire to know what, if anything, he was sitting on.
What was buried in the ground?
Setting Out On a Mission
As you can imagine, this feeling didn’t just go away with time. As the weeks passed by, John felt himself more and more compelled to learn the truth. Even if it all turned out to be nothing, in the end, he had to know.
Back when the sale had first been finalized, John had half-jokingly asked for a shovel to dig it up right then and there. They laughed, partly because both men knew that this job would require a bit more planning than that. John, however, had an idea.
It would end up taking a bit more time than he would’ve liked to get things rolling, but John was more determined to learn the truth than ever when he first put his plan into action.
Thoughts of what could be waiting for him filled his mind with wonder. The possibilities were truly endless.
John knew that taking on this task would mean he’d need to say goodbye to his brand new, pristine backyard. All the same, it would be worth all the trouble to know exactly what lay in store for him finally, so soon, with all of his tools at the ready, he began to dig.
The digging starts, what did John found?
Dealing with the Heat
As John began his project in earnest, he would soon find it to be much more difficult than he at first thought. The Arizona heat was debilitating, climbing into the triple digits as he continued to dig, day after day. He ever stopped pushing, however, because he was entirely determined to discover whatever laid in waiting for him.
Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, all he was turning up was a bunch of dirt. After several days of digging, he had nothing to show for it all. Could it be that his friend was giving him the runaround? Alternatively, maybe his information was faulty, to begin with?
These questions swirled in John’s mind, and he considered giving up, but something inside him told him to stick it out.
Closer to Discovery
John began to dig in different sections of his yard, thinking that he may be just missing the discovery of a lifetime. His yard now destroyed entirely; John was distraught; he had still found absolutely nothing, and there was a genuine possibility that whatever it was that had been buried here was now destroyed, either by the elements or just the passing of time.
Once again, John could’ve called it quits then and there, but he decided that he need a new approach to the problem. In a sudden burst of outside-the-box thinking, he had another idea how to find whatever was hidden down below.
A Much-Needed Breakthrough
John decided to take his search to the city records office, where he made a fantastic discovery; the original municipal records for his home in Tuscon. The old documents were worn and faded, but he soon hit the motherload; in addition to detailed schematics for the house itself, there was something else marked in the yard.
According to the official documentation, a company called Whitaker Pools had built something on the right corner of the backyard in 1961. Initially, while it gave him the validation, he had been so desperately seeking, this confused John to no end. Why would a pool be built underground? What he would soon find would be nothing like what he was expecting.
Armed with new information and a renewed sense of purpose, John decided that it was time to take things to the next level in his search. He wanted to try a more refined approach, so he hired a professional team of consultants to search the area with highly sensitive metal detectors.
Things were getting very real, now. As the team began their search, initially the results were just as disappointing as John had become accustomed to. However, just as he began to question everything once again, the detectors went off, marking the beginning of an even longer journey.
The First Big Find
John was over the moon; his search would no longer be completely blind. The metal detectors had been triggered in two different spots in the yard, so he immediately marked them off with chalk. X marks the spot.
The team that he had hired had helped John focus in on his search. He now knew that there was something down there, beneath the Earth, just waiting to be discovered. This filled him with joy, and with this renewed vigor, he would begin to dig again. This time, it wasn’t long before he struck gold.
Not literally-speaking, of course, but what he found would end up being worth more than money could ever buy.
Whatever John had found was very clearly made of metal. At first, he thought that it might be an old septic tank. This worried him because he knew that continuing to poke around near it could have disastrous consequences.
Now that he had finally laid eyes on something, John knew that he would need to be extremely careful not to damage or break any potential pipes or other equipment. Luckily, he would soon find out that whatever this thing was, it was no septic tank. As he would come to find out it was something else entirely.
Gazing Into Darkness
It was difficult to tell at first, but John believed that he had discovered some entrance to something, in the form of a rusty hatch. As he cleared more and more dirt and debris away, it was still functional, so, after collecting himself for a moment, he decided to try and pry it open.
As he opened the hatch up, John was careful not to breathe in anything for fear of inhaling mold spores, toxic gasses, or worse. In truth, he had no earthly idea what to expect as he peered into the darkness at his feet, but when he focused his vision, he was left awestruck at his discovery.
Within the hatch he had just found buried three feet below his yard, John gazed upon what looked like a series of blades of some sort. Upon closer inspection, however, he realized he was looking at a spiral staircase. The stairs led deeper down into whatever was down in the container, and for a moment, fear gripped John tightly.
Despite his incredible excitement, he knew that rushing into the shaft without taking any precautions could be a terrible, terrible idea. He had good reason to be cautious as well, as the shaft seemed to be profoundly damaged in areas, making any descent a hazardous undertaking.
Building the Dream Team
Though he was filled with the desire to learn more, John knew it wouldn’t be wise to continue alone, and without a plan. Luckily, he had spent years as a fire captain, so he had plenty of experience dealing with tight spaces, unsafe buildings, and fragile structures.
John decided to rely on the same methods that had taken him this far; he held off on exploring the monumental discovery in his yard, instead opting to formulate a plan of action that would enable him to do it safely.
To accomplish this, he’d need to put together a team. John called up several of his closest friends and let them in on his discovery. All too intrigued, they immediately agreed to help him, and soon they were over at his place, clearing away dirt and helping ensure that everything was done to the letter.
Because of his previous experience with rescuing those in danger from structural collapse, John knew that if the old lid were to cave in while exploring, that would be the end for anyone inside. Before they could get into the depths of the structure, they would need to find a safer way to go about it.
Formulating a Plan
In John’s head, this was all becoming a little too real. He was more determined to learn the contents of the structure beneath his home than ever before, but all of a sudden, he had the safety of himself and his friends to consider as well. There were far too many unknowns involved in their journey into the unknown.
Because of this, John sat down with his friends and laid out the risks. He gave everyone the opportunity to bow out of the plan, but all of them were too determined to discover the truth about the hidden passage to turn back now. Together, they devised an elaborate plan of action. They had no clue as to what they would find, but they tried to prepare for anything.
They were about to find out, however, that they could never have prepared for the truth.
The first leg of their plan involved making extensive repairs to the outer concrete structure itself. This structure was crucial because it supported the staircase, which itself was rusted over heavily. They knew that they could easily give way, and without knowing how deep the structure went, that could mean certain death.
The group continued to work, day after day, and as they made progress, John’s confidence grew as well. He had overcome so many obstacles to get to this point, and he was not about to turn back now. Whatever it took to unlock the secrets of this place, he would do it.
The crew worked tirelessly to set down entirely new layers of concrete from scratch. They secured the rebar inside the hatch so that they could be sure that once inside, the entire structure wouldn’t come down on top of them.
They soon learned that they would need to keep an almost constant flow of concrete to stabilize everything to their satisfaction. Their imaginations fueled them throughout the process, but it wasn’t always an easy task. They had several factors working against them, just as John initially did when he began his dig.
The blistering heat of the Arizona summer was slowing their progress tremendously, and worse, they weren’t sure what effect it might have been having on the structure itself. The team erected a tent to cover the opening, to be sure that it was adequately protected. It would also serve as protection for them against the intense direct sunlight.
As the group worked their way down the structure, they installed a Sonotube cardboard “scaffolding” to ensure that nothing of the original design was damaged. After a few more days of work, it seemed as though they were finally ready to take the plunge, but one final task was needed before they could find out what was waiting for them.
As the last leg of their master plan, the team knew that they would need to install an electrical line that could be accessed down within the depths of whatever it was. This would allow them to illuminate it properly, as well as make use of any power tools they might need once inside.
In addition to this, they also installed an air pipe to funnel in the fresh air, ensuring that they could breathe and ventilate the space properly as well. After more than 50 years shrouded in mystery, the cavern was about to be explored once again.
As the crew wrapped up their work on widening the entrance, things were beginning to look much better than when John had first discovered the structure. All of their hard work was finally paying off, even though they had yet to do anything of substance to the inside of the capsule itself.
At this point, John Sims finally felt confident enough to make the descent into the unknown. It was a moment months in the making, and he still knew next to nothing about what he might find once he was finally inside.
Despite this, he was about to solve the mystery once and for all finally. Even though they had heavily reinforced the outer side of the structure, almost nothing could be done to the rusted stairs from above. They still could not be trusted with any weight, and the team was very aware of this roadblock.
Any alterations made to the staircase would need to be done from inside the facility itself, so John would need to find another way to get inside. He wasn’t about to let something as simple as this stop him at this point.
Final Preparations for Entry
John thought about all of his options for getting down into the structure without using the stairs. It was far too narrow and deep to simply jump, and the jagged edges of the rusted infrastructure could prove to be deadly. Ultimately, he decided on using a portable ladder that he carefully inserted at the top of the hatch.
This was the moment that John had dreamed of since he had first been tipped off by his friend. He was determined to solve this mystery and once and for all discover what he had buried in his backyard. Energized by his excitement and nervousness, he began his descent into the blackness. What he found at the bottom was beyond his wildest expectations.
Taking Noteworthy Steps
Upon touching the bottom of the interior structure, John thought to himself for a moment how he was the first person to be there in more than half a century. Filled with wonder, he pressed further into the tunnel and was amazed to find that there was an entire complex beneath the ground.
Even better, the complex hadn’t been filled in with dirt, so there wouldn’t need to be any further excavations as they’d initially feared.
The main entrance room was in pretty good shape, actually, and John walked across the floor through to a dome-shaped room. What he saw there was incredible, and also very alarming.
The ceiling of the chamber was almost completely covered in old, cracked fiberglass. John’s training immediately kicked in, and he knew that for all the work they did to get here, the structure wasn’t quite safe yet. They’d have more work to do before they could spend any real time down there. Fiberglass can be harmful to bare skin, and can also get caught in the lungs, leading to serious breathing issues. John knew they’d have to get rid of it to continue, but still, his mind was set aflame with possibility as he began to uncover the mysteries of this hidden chamber.
Find of a Lifetime
John surmised that despite having it built, the original inhabitant of this structure had probably never made any use of it. It was in incredible condition, despite over half a century of disrepair, and all of the walls seemed to be perfectly intact.
There was no furniture or decorations to speak of in the open chamber, and though he knew that Whitaker Pools had built it, he also suspected that they had an entirely different purpose in mind for the building.
It certainly was no swimming pool. John Sims had found an authentic nuclear fallout shelter in his backyard. Built at the height of the Cold War, when tensions between the United States and Russia were at their highest, mass paranoia and fear led to a massive surge of these structures all across the country.
It would seem, then, that Whitaker Pools wanted to get in on the action back in the 1960’s, beginning to build out bunkers for private citizens on the side (we can imagine that the pool business began to slow as people were concerned with the genuine possibility of a nuclear holocaust breathing down their necks).
Tuscon: Rocket City
As it turns out, the Tuscon area was filled to the brim with shelters similar to the one John Sims found in his yard. It is essential to understand that culturally speaking, this was considered a wise move back in these days, and many individuals felt that having a contingency plan for nuclear war was a must back in the days of the Red Scare.
Thor missiles in a hangar. 1963. (Photo by Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
The threat of all-out nuclear war between superpowers was genuine then, just as many fear it is again today. Those who built shelters like the one found in John’s backyard were considered to be responsible family men, and this discovery is highlighted by another incredible (but little-known) fact about the Tuscon area.
As it turns out, the town of Tuscon, Arizona was once the site of 18 different heavy ballistic missile silos, all capable of being launches across continents at America’s enemies. Each of these nuclear-capable projectiles was 110 feet long and over 10 feet wide. They packed enough explosive force to destroy 900 square miles of terrain, and ould be launched on as little as a moment’s notice.
circa 1966: A prototype Titan Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) raised from its underground silo in California for testing. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Each of these missiles includes 9-megaton nuclear warheads, all of which were a very tightly-guarded secret back in the days when they were in operation. Now that the Cold War was a distant memory, however, was it possible that any of these missiles were still around in the area?
Cold War Relics
Luckily, as tensions between the USSR and the United States began to cool off in the 1980’s, almost all of these weapons of mass destruction were disabled. In turn, nearly all of the nuclear fallout shelters in the area were sealed around this time, explaining why the one in John’s yard had been hidden away.
10th April 1961: A US Air Force TM-76 B Mace tactical range ballistic missile blasts out of a prototype hard site at the US Air Force Missile Test Centre at Cape Canaveral. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Seeing as this particular shelter was built in 1961, that would make it almost certainly a direct result of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was arguably the absolute closest the United States (and the wider world) ever came to all-out nuclear war. John had found something remarkable from a historical standpoint, and he hadn’t a clue how big of an impact it would have on the national community in the coming weeks and months.
With the main project wrapped up and the mystery finally unraveled, John decided to make a post on the popular forum Reddit about the discovery. Almost immediately, the post went viral online, and John was connected with dozens of other residents in the Tuscon area who also had shelters on their property.
After this big story first broke, the original crew of friends who helped John unearth the shelter all had their ideas about what to do with it. Some suggested that he turn it into a wine cellar or a cigar bar, but John had another goal in mind entirely. He wanted to convert the space into a living memorial of the Cold War, bringing the find of a lifetime back to life in a very true-form-form fashion. However, to do this, he knew he’d need to enlist the help of his new online audience.
Finding an Online Audience
John decided to set up a GoFundMe page for his new mission. In his initial pitch, he told people that he was looking for funds to fully rebuild the interior structure, restoring it to beyond its original condition. His plans included redoing the upper entryway, the main room, and the tunnel connecting them. He also wanted to replace the rusted staircase with one that would be safe for use by anyone who wanted to see the living monument to our nation’s past.
John’s incredible discovery led him to this moment. His new vision for a museum in his backyard was just the latest step in a journey that had started more than six months earlier, with the initial tip he received from his friend.
He began to research the Cold War period in great depth, learning more about the life and times of the people who lived through it. He wanted to display items such as HAM radios, Geiger counters, sanitation kits, and other survival equipment commonly found in shelters like the one he discovered.
John’s story on social media received hundreds of shares, giving him the exposure he needed to raise funds necessary to complete the renovations. He first started in on the stairs, rebuilding them with much safer materials so that entering and exiting the shelter was much more comfortable than before. As he went along, he shared his progress with his donors online.
A Journey Completed
John Sims made the discovery of a lifetime in his backyard. Through all of the months of doubting himself, making very little progress, he never gave up on his vision, and it paid off for him in a way that he could never have imagined. Today, the shelter looks completely different than when it was first discovered, and John has plans to expand it beyond its current iteration as well.
The entire process that John went through in Tuscon represents a fascinating side of American history seldom seen today. Indeed, relics of the past are spread out all over the country, many of them lying in wait, yet to be rediscovered. If Mr. Sims story teaches us anything, it is that having a vision is nothing without putting it into action, and committing to see it through to the very end.