"Playing Civil Defense": Abo Elementary School, 1962

Abo Elementary School and Fallout Shelter, Artesia, New Mexico, 1962

A photograph of the above-ground entance to Abo Elementary School. In case of nuclear attack, two 1,800-pound steel doors would block late-comers from being able to enter and seek shelter once the building was at full capacity (Monteyne 138).

Abo Elementary School Architectural Plan Abo Elementary Plan Image #2

Map of the architectural plan for Abo Elementary designed by Frank Standhardt. The floor plan key notes the posible uses for certain rooms- for example, the food storage room would serve as a dining room in normal conditions and as a morgue in fallout conditions.

  In the early 1960s, the Office for Civil and Defense Mobilization proposed a series of fallout shelters integrated into public buildings such as city halls, churches, and even the Detroit Service Center for Boy Scouts of America- some of which were eventually constructed. Bridging the gap between the desire for public defense infrastructure and family security, Abo Elementary School in Artesia, New Mexico became the first all-underground elementary school in the United States in 1962. OCDM engineer Frank Standhart designed the school with the concept of classroom engagement free of distractions and community togetherness in mind, claiming that “the dual functions of a windowless school and of a community shelter are completely compatible” (Monteyne 193). The dawn of the Cold War coincided with the baby boom, and children were seen as an essential component of a happy home. The prevailing ideology was to raise children to be pious, patriotic citizens, and a constant source of paranoia was the danger communism and homosexuality supposedly posed to children. The bomb, of course, was also viewed as a threat. After witnessing an atomic test, Jean Wood Fuller of the Federal Civil Defense Association urged that “Civil defense training is almost akin to religious training. . . . We must teach our children protection. . . . A mother must calm the fears of her child. Make a game out of it: Playing Civil Defense” (May 99). The design of Abo Elementary school reflects the full extent of society’s anxiety over the welfare of children in the case of an atomic attack. However, the school was more psychologically harmful to its students than it was comforting. A young Abo student named Russ Baldwin confessed that “You think a lot about the danger while you’re here. Sometimes I have the feeling that fallout is coming now— that it is out there now— and then I go out and it isn’t” (Rose 139). Parents struggled to ensure the safety of their children while also protecting them from the stress of living in an uncertain world.