Kirksville bomb shelters rediscovered

Indicators of Truman State’s history and involvement with political and military scares of the 1950s exist below the surface of its campus.

Numerous underground spaces beneath Truman’s campus once were home to fallout shelters. In the 1960s, fear of nuclear attack from the Soviet Union led to the creation of fallout shelters across the country.

“They assumed that if strikes were made, people would be able to go into these bomb shelters, stay there for a while, and then come back out,” says Gene Schneider, a former Assistant Chief Engineer at then Northeast Missouri State Teachers’ College.

He recalled the existence of three shelters at Truman. One was located in the basement of Baldwin Hall, and another in the basement of Blanton-Nason-Brewer Hall. The last shelter was situated in the tunnels beneath the Physical Plant that distributes hot water through pipelines to campus.

Rediscovering Lost History

The shelter in BNB could house around 50 to 75 people, Jason Haxton, former Missouri Hall Director, estimated. It was stocked with water, basic foodstuffs, and medical supplies, Haxton says. During the 1980s, Haxton and his colleagues were exploring the basement spaces of BNB when they stumbled upon an old elevator shaft.

“So we went down to see where that was,” he said, recalling the adventure (video). “And there was the fallout shelter symbol. And so we opened up the door, and there found huge 50 gallon drums of candy, cases and cases of water, medical supplies, syringes, and iodine for [preventing] poisoning.”

Haxton remembered some of his friends opening up the barrels and eating some of the candy they had found. However, after they alerted campus officials of their discovery, the shelter was emptied and all the supplies discarded.

 Kirksville Prepares for Attack

The Kirksville community, along with all of America, was also concerned about a nuclear attack. Schneider remembered that as a child, fear of a bomb was prominent in schools.

“As a young kid in the ‘50s, in public school, they had literal bomb alerts,” Schneider says. “Kids were taught to duck down under their desk and cover their heads.”

Schneider also remembered there were several bomb shelters in the Kirksville public school system to protect children.

In addition to the fallout shelters on Truman’s campus, there were other shelters in the Kirksville area. In 1962, the Kirksville Daily Express ran an article about the fallout shelter locations. It listed six potential shelters in downtown Kirksville.

One of the main shelters for Kirksville residents was located on first floor of the Adair County Courthouse.

“Presumably it was because the stone walls in the courthouse gave quite a bit of protection from potential radiation,” Joe Nicol, a maintenance worker at the Courthouse, says.

Though most of the contents of this shelter are gone, one piece of it still remains. A radiation detection set is stored on a spare shelf in the County Commissioner’s Office. The equipment would have been used to detect levels of radiation in the area after a bomb went off.

Now, most of these basement spaces throughout Kirksville and Truman serve as tornado shelters and storage areas.