“Cold War Camelot,” JFK’s Secret Nuclear Fallout Bunker

kennedy bunker

02 July 2017 |Darien Cavanaugh | War is Boring

In December 1960, the SeaBees – the U.S. Navy’s construction force  —  supposedly began the mundane task of building a munitions depot behind the Coast Guard station on Peanut Island, Florida.

Known as “Operation Hotel,” the SeaBees actually built a secret nuclear fallout shelter for president-elect John F. Kennedy, who often spent his winters at a nearby estate on Palm Beach.

It took the SeaBees less than two weeks to complete the underground bunker, which consisted of a corrugated steel shelter covered with 25 feet of concrete, earth and lead. Official documents referred to the site as “Detachment Hotel,” and the government didn’t formerly acknowledge its existence until 1974.

Fortunately, Kennedy never had to use the bunker, but it still stands today and has been open to the public for tours since 1999.

Though The New York Times called it a “Cold War Camelot,” Kennedy’s Peanut Island bunker falls more on the modest side of the era’s bountiful atomic warfare shelters.

It’s certainly no Cheyenne Mountain, Weather Mountain, Greenbrier or those beneath the East and West Wings of the White House. Kennedy’s bunker was positively … tiny.

While in operation, a small thicket of trees hid the shelter’s entrance. A steel door protected it and opened to passageways that housed a generator, air filters and pumps, radiation detectors and a decontamination shower, according to Reuters.

The main room housed 15 bunk beds, a desk and conference table —  and a communication center consisting primarily of a ham radio and an escape hatch to a helipad.

Don’t forget food and survival gear. The bunker housed military K-rations, lead-lined cans of drinking water, kits for detecting radiation, waterless hand cleaner, laundry deodorant, petroleum jelly and castor oil, according to the Times.

But the government never intended Kennedy to stay there for very long. Detachment Hotel could shelter Kennedy, up to 30 family members and a group of close advisers for roughly one month.

Above — a tourist visits Kennedy’s Peanut Island bunker on May 19, 1999. At top —  a tour guide in the bunker’s entrance tunnel. Chris Matula/AP photos

 

Originally published on April 27, 2015.

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