In 1999, a couple moved to Neenah, Wisconsin. The house they bought was perfect; big, beautiful and with a great backyard. But the backyard had a hatch with rusted doors. They didn’t know what they were in for when they decided one day to open it up.
The Hollar-Zwick Family
The couple had been living in Wisconsin for a decade now. It never really occurred to them to open up the hatch. It had been lying under haystacks and they simply forgot it even existed.
Carol never had the time to even think about the hatch. She and Ken were busy raising their three kids. And the result was that the hatch stayed shut for more than a decade at least.
Came From New Jersey
The Hollar-Zwicks came from a small town in New Jersey until a job offer came up that they couldn’t refuse. And the catch was that they had to move to Wisconsin.
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The town of Neenah is peaceful and friendly. The Hollar-Zwick family didn’t know however if they would mix well with the new community.
And they were in for a shock when they realize what has been hiding inside their backyard.
The family ended up really enjoying their new town. It was quiet, beautiful and kind. Neenah has a very small population. It has 26,000 residents and is located in the south of Appleton.
The couple searched through many homes before deciding on the house they chose to live in. And they were actually told that there’s a hatch in the backyard, but it wasn’t of interest to them.
The Children’s Favorite Place
They bought the house immediately. And the backyard quickly turned into the children’s favorite place for them to play.
The kids would stay there all day and night. But one thing they never did was go near that hatch.
Which in retrospect, was a good idea…
A Mystery Beneath
The hatch was covered with hay and grass and became almost invisible. Years went by and the hatch was ignored.
And then about 10 years after they moved in, in 2010, the family decided one day to clean up the backyard. And finally, the hatch caught their attention.
They took off all the branches and everything covering the hatch. Considering all the years and amount of stuff on top of the thing, it took a lot of time and strength to uncover it.
Suddenly, after all this time, the family stood there staring at this hatch. But what was it? Why was it there?
They were about to find out.
A Tornado Shelter?
They started to wonder what it could be. They figured it could be a tornado shelter. But Neenah rarely had any tornados. They changed their minds; it couldn’t be for tornadoes.
Little did they know that the hatch was actually for something else completely and something they would never have imagined.
A Small Room
The residents thought that there would be a small room beneath it. The room must be empty and rusty for sure.
The couple was told by their realtor about a room beneath the backyard hatch. So as they were in the process of opening it up, they weren’t expecting anything out of the ordinary.
Carol and Ken would never have thought that they would soon become the talk of the town.
The parents managed to pull open the jammed door. Although the doors looked weak, they were actually very difficult to open.
But they did it and they looked down at never-ending darkness. It was both scary and exciting at the same time.
So Much Water
What they saw was a room filled with water. And they had no idea why so much water was just sitting in there. But they wanted to find out.
They decided to drain the water with a pump. Once they finished draining the water, they were able to enter the room that was being hidden for all these years.
But the room wasn’t empty as they assumed.
A Fallout Shelter
Carol and Ken soon figured out that the room was a fallout shelter. Fallout shelters were what people would build to keep themselves from radioactive debris.
The purpose of such a shelter was to minimize exposure to radiation. This means that people would potentially stay in the room for a long time. So who built this shelter?
The Previous Owner
It turns out that the shelter was built by the previous owner. The house had only two owners since it was built in 1951. At that time, the house was owned by Frank Pansch, who was a physician.
Pansch began building the fallout shelter in his backyard in 1960.
And the couple found out why he felt the need to build it.
The Cold War
Pansch bought his house at the beginning of a decade that would become consumed with the cold war, which had its peak in the 1960s. He was aware that the cold war was only going to get worse with time.
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He felt as though it was rational to build a fallout shelter. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred only a couple of years after he finished building it.
Tensions Were Rising
Tensions between the Soviet Union and the USA were rising steadily and people were getting scared that their country was in danger. It felt like another war was on the horizon.
The government was even giving people a reason to fear the future. So Pansch felt like he was doing the smart thing.
And the reason he built it there had something to do with Neenah.
Neenah, Wisconsin was marked as a fallout zone during the cold war which meant that nuclear material would “fall out’ of the sky and it was considered terribly unsafe.
Neenah was not a target for the Soviet Union but it was significantly close to other target states. And the close proximity is what scared Pansch and gave him the idea to build his shelter.
An expert from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh explained that cities close to Neenah, like Minneapolis and Chicago could have been a target. And therefore, Neenah was in the fallout zone.
Pansh figured that if things escalated and war broke out, he would stay safe in the fallout shelter with his parents.
Apparently, there were even pamphlets about building fallout shelters.
More Than Just a Shelter
The shelter was much more than a fallout shelter. Pansch actually took directions from a government pamphlet which was printed in 1959 called “The Family Fallout Shelter.”
The shelters that were portrayed in the pamphlets involved complicated infrastructure. The place included electricity, a telephone line, and a ventilation system.
The pamphlets were quite instructional as well as descriptive. They instructed people to build the main chamber at the right angles to better deal with the radiation.
Radiation usually travels while making a straight line, so the angles were important when building.
But being well-built wasn’t enough.
A well-built shelter was one thing. It also needed to be well-stocked. So Pansch stocked the shelter with all the required goods that were instructed to him, from canned food to clothes.
Carol and Ken saw the result of Pansch’s fallout shelter after all the decades that separated them. And they saw all the items that he stocked in the chamber.
What They Found
They felt like they were in a time warp seeing all the items in the room. There was a lantern, bunk beds, and a folding toilet.
If the room hadn’t been destroyed by all the water for all those years, the room would probably have been in perfect condition.
And if water came in, it meant something serious.
A Dangerous Leak
The fact that water broke through the seal meant that it wouldn’t have saved anyone from radiation. The radioactive waves would have seeped right in.
Apart from the destroyed items, there were some boxes that survived the water destruction. The boxes were kept in a corner of the shelter and looked like they were still intact. Carol and Ken immediately began to open them up.
Like They Were Back in the 60s
When they opened the airtight boxes, it was though they traveled back in time. There were items that were literally from the 1960s.
They found vintage boxes of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, packages of chocolate chip cookies, and tins of Flavor Kist saltines.
And then there was one box that they were a bit worried about.
A Mysterious Box
One particular box was a bit worrisome to the couple. They contemplated opening up because they had a feeling it would be filled with ammunition.
The couple decided to call the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives before the opened it. Then Carol and Ken found themselves with a whole team in the hatch. They checked out the box. And it turns out something was indeed strange about it.
There were apprehensions before unpacking the box. But after all the debate and worries, the box turned out to be filled with stocks of Hawaiian Punch.
Everyone in the room exhaled a sigh of relief. And the team continued to see what else was packed away in the shelter.
There was even something for the feared nuclear attack itself.
There was a Geiger counter installed in the shelter. It’s a tool that measures radiation. Clearly, Pansch was well-equipped for the nuclear attack that he was so sure would it America.
The shelter also was equipped with hunting equipment and first-aid supplies. Now that they discovered the hatch and everything in it, they had to figure out what to do with it.
Finding 1960 Inside
Carol explained, “It’s interesting that you can open up something and find 1960 inside of it.” She described going into the shelter as a sort of time capsule. And she also said that she didn’t want to keep it to themselves.
She and her husband wanted the world to know about this little piece of history that was hidden under the ground for years. So they chose to donate everything in the shelter to the Neenah Historical Society.
But the story wasn’t over…
In May of 2013, the contents of the shelter were put on display in an exhibition which involved moving around a 1960s house in Neenah, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Historical Markers
All the items from the shelter were displayed along with books, TV shows and a radio that played announcements. It was basically like entering another time warp into the 1960s.
The hatch story made headlines pretty quickly as the discovery took people by surprise. And in retrospect, it seems funny that the family took about ten years to open the hatch!
When they were asked why it took them so long, they said just never thought that the hatch would be sheltering so many hidden treasures and secrets. They figured it was empty and not worth exploring.
More Where it Came From
Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the only fallout shelter to be discovered. Apparently, many have been discovered recently.
And there are even companies that are building these shelters and selling them to American families now.
One particular customer justified the purchase by saying, “It’s an investment in life. I want to make sure I have a place I can take me and my family if that worst-case scenario were to happen.”
And the manufacturer of the shelters said, “We know there is going to be a major earthquake someday on the West Coast. We know a hurricane is going to hit Florida, the Gulf Coast, the East Coast. We support reasonable preparedness.”