In the early 1980s, when I was a fifth-grader at Jefferson Elementary School, in a small town in Minnesota, our teacher, Mr. Odegaard, took us down a little-used stairway, through a door and into a tunnel beneath our school. He flicked on the lights. The sound of our shuffling feet echoed down a long, dark corridor.
“The walls down here are solid concrete,” I remember him telling us, “and you need three feet to stop gamma rays. When the Russians launch their missiles, this is where I’m coming!”
Another day around that same time, I was sitting outside with my best friend Jon discussing this when he told me that after the missiles were launched, his dad was going to drive them to ground zero, because he didn’t want them to die slow, painful deaths. I had no idea what my family’s plans were.
Such were the dilemmas of the Cold War, which seems so strange and distant now. I was thinking about this recently when I stumbled across the mention of an abandoned missile facility south of Minneapolis, where I live. So I drove for an hour and finally turned down a dirt road that rolled through cornfields until it came up onto a high, wide hill, where I could see for miles in either direction. There, sequestered behind a high barbed-wire fence, was a series of low concrete buildings, with doors hanging off their hinges.