East Tennessee bomb shelters built on fear and preparation

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- In today's political climate, developers have been investing in luxurious "end of days" shelters. In East Tennessee, there's nothing luxurious about the shelters underneath some of our homes, but there was a story behind them.

World War II brought fear for many living in East Tennessee, specifically Oak Ridge. Historian Ray Smith said that fear was driven by the unknown.

"First it was atomic bombs, most amazing thing, largest industrial scientific experiment in the history of the world, changed the way we think about war," he listed. "Brave new things coming into play."

Julia Hardin's father worked in Oak Ridge at the National Laboratory.

"Dad was very secretive about all of his work in Oak Ridge. They were pretty strict about what they were able to share. He didn't talk a lot about what he did in Oak Ridge, but he talked about all our safety," she said.

Between World War II and the Cuban Missile Crisis, families focused on preparation.

"At the time, everybody was talking about bomb shelters," Hardin said. It was in the height of the Cold War."

During that time, Hardin's parents built a home in Sequoyah Hills on top of a bomb shelter.

"It was a scary time; but also, I never felt more secure than in that house," she recalled.

Bomb shelters have been scattered across East Tennessee. In today's political climate, some people have been thinking investing in one wouldn't be a bad idea. However, Smith insisted it's a waste of money.

"Kind of like duck and cover. Children in school rooms getting under their desks," Smith used as an example. "Come on, you're kidding yourself. If a nuclear bomb hits a city, it will wipe out the city."

He said people built the rooms our of cinder blocks, cement and fear of the unknown.

"The Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest we've come to ever having nuclear war," said Smith.

For Julia, time and knowledge brought feelings of relief.

"As I grew older, it turned into a wine cellar," she laughed.

For others, that knowledge brought on a feeling of helplessness.

"They didn't realize, that what they were afraid of, was much more powerful than what they thought," Smith said.