Underground, Upper Valley’s Relics of Nuclear Terror Wait Patiently


Growing up around Boston, Alexandra Conrad knew little more about the Cold War than what she read in history books and saw on black-and-yellow signs designating some public buildings as fallout shelters in the event of nuclear attack.

Then last fall, the recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst started coordinating events and volunteers at Woodstock’s Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park — and learned what lies beneath the private bowling alley where Laurance and Mary Rockefeller used to topple pins with visitors to Mary’s family’s estate.

After descending through a stairway of whitewashed brick, passing through a security door and then an anteroom with a single toilet, Conrad entered the long, narrow fallout shelter that Laurance had ordered built in the early 1960s at the urging of his brother Nelson.

Separated from the bowling alley by 18 inches of concrete, it contains a ventilation system, one phone for calling to the outside world and an intercom for staying in touch with occupants of a separate shelter in the Rockefellers’ main mansion, as well as bunks for 32 people, food and basic supplies such as packages of clean underwear and pull-on sneakers.

And then Conrad and other Student Conservation Association interns tasted some of the vacuum-sealed, reconstituted rations with which the Rockefellers had re-stocked the shelter in the late 1980s, not long before the Soviet Union imploded and the family started making plans to turn over the property to the National Park Service.

“It was mostly pretty gross, though you could still get it down,” Conrad recalled. “There was some spaghetti-and-meatballs mix that tasted a little bit like Chef Boyardee.

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Student Conservation Association