Take Cover, Neenah: Backyard Family Fallout Shelters in Cold War America

Neenah Historical Society
Neenah, WI

Take Cover, Neenah: Backyard Family Fallout Shelters in Cold War America is an exhibit developed by the Neenah Historical Society. Making use of artifacts recovered from a backyard family fallout shelter constructed by a local obstetrician in 1959, the exhibit aims to challenge patrons to consider what it was like to live in their community at the height of the cold war and wrestle with the fears and anxieties Americans shared over the possibility of nuclear war.

The Neenah Historical Society sought to create an exhibit that would go beyond the type of local history they typically showcase, and instead presented a history that connects Neenah history the wider world. Take Cover Neenah exhibited unique historical artifacts such as unblemished packaged foods, medicines and other survival gear taken from the local fallout shelter. The exhibit also immersed visitors in the sights and sounds of an era by constructing a 1:1 scale replica of the fallout shelter while showing clips from cold war films, popular songs, and a pertinent Twilight Zone episode as they moved throughout the exhibit.

NHS hoped to engage both young and older audiences through Take Cover Neenah. Baby boomers closely identified with the time period and freely shared memories of their own experiences growing up during the cold war, they hoped to show younger audiences that history is not something that only occurs in faraway places, but in their own backyard. By centering an exhibition on an underground fallout shelter constructed in the backyard of a local resident, audiences connected to their own community while at the same time experiencing a situation that many Americans faced during this moment in time.