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Duck and cover!

By Richard Sheaff

During the Cold War days of the 1950s and 1960s, it began to seem inevitable to one and all that atomic bombs might well soon rain down. At first, mass hysteria ensued, slowly replaced by resigned shrugs as public attention wandered elsewhere.

At the height of the phenomenon, bomb shelters grew like mushrooms in basements and back yards. Government agencies papered the country with pamphlets of information on how to protect oneself, how to build a bomb shelter, how to stock a fallout shelter. One nervous joke at the time said that the way to protect yourself was to lean forward, tuck your head between your legs, and kiss your butt goodbye.

There is a lot of collectible atomic ephemera out there. Here is a sampling.

The atom bomb became a part of American culture as soon as the first ones were dropped on Japan to end WWII. Here is a 1946 party invitation, to an “AT-EM-BOM” party . . .

The USA tested two atom bombs in the South Pacific; here is the second test on Bikini Atoll on July 25, 1946, named “Baker”. . .

The Bikini tests were dubbed “Operation Crossroads”; below is a postcard sent from there to NYC on 18 May 1946 . . .

For quite a while, open-air tests in Nevada and New Mexico were commonplace events. The postcard below shows the mushroom cloud from one such test quite close to Las Vegas. The open-air tests stopped in 1962 when they were moved underground.

During the Nevada open-air testing days, the government reassured the populace in various ways that the testing presented no dangers and that any inconveniences were a matter of patriotic duty. The postcard below had paragraphs of such text on the other side.

Nevada, 1957 . . .

A birthday card to Dad (“A spectacular POP!”) . . . .

A corporate Christmas card . . .

And legendary San Francisco counter-culture cartoonist Robert Crumb offered his take on the subject . . .