Nuclear annihilation was on the minds of Greater Akron residents 60 years ago.
A month after U.S. scientists detonated a hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the fallout wasn’t just radioactive. It was psychological.
The March 1954 blast was the largest U.S. test ever exploded and unleashed a force 1,000 times greater than the atomic bombs dropped in 1945 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II.
The 15-megaton H-bomb produced a 99,000-degree fireball that formed a mushroom cloud 60 miles high and 100 miles wide, contaminating almost 7,000 square miles.
The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union surely would escalate. Was civilization doomed?
As the rubber capital of the world, Akron was considered a prime target for attack. In April 1954, Beacon Journal writers Betty Jaycox and Dick Dietz interviewed dozens of people to gauge public fears.
The responses, ranging from helpless to hopeful, offer insight into the mindset 60 years ago. Would the reactions be the same today?
• Al Rauckhorst, 878 Witwer Ave., B.F. Goodrich rubber worker: “If I knew an H-bomb were to be set off here, I don’t know what I’d do. Maybe I’d get in a car and try to drive away, but they probably wouldn’t let us use cars. Or maybe I’d dig a hole. What good is it to run? I might just as well stay here and die.”
• Marion Knowles, 275 Melbourne Ave.: “My first instinct in case of attack would be to get away from the city, but I would turn on the radio and follow instructions. Besides, we couldn’t leave behind our hospital cases, our children in the Children’s Home, or our old and infirm.”
• Mary Bodman, 145 Conger Ave.: “We have a plane that my husband uses in his business, and if such an alarm should ever come, we plan to fly with our three children to central Indiana, far enough south of the steel mills of Gary to have a chance for survival.”
• Ann Nichols, 38 Beck Ave., secretary of the Temple Restaurant Equipment Co.: “We have already talked about what we would do, and we’re going to hold a family meeting to make definite plans. Communications would probably be tied up completely, so we are going to all walk to a certain meeting point so that we can leave the city together.”
• A.C. Sherrill, 253 Oakgrove Drive, Coventry Township, personnel director of Columbia Southern Chemical Corp., Barberton: “We can make simple preparations at home like putting in a supply of food and water in a protected spot in the basement. Everyone should have a personal plan of some sort. It’s no longer realistic to think of the use of highways. Sections of the city must become self-serving for a while.”
• James Rounds, 1271 Hardesty Blvd., butcher: “The bomb will get you anyway. There’s no place to go except to try to keep from being trampled to death. I feel almost a complete helplessness about it.”
• Ralph Bergmann, 1842 Lancaster St., Cuyahoga Falls, assistant director of research for United Rubber Workers: “What concerns me is not that the hydrogen bomb can kill me. Any bomb can do that. I’m concerned with its far-reaching effects on civilization. I don’t want to return to the Middle Ages and have to grow my own food and weave my own cloth — if I survive.”
• George D. Culler, 605 Malvern Road, Akron Art Institute director: “People can’t function under a realization of destruction. So they turn off their thoughts about it completely. The result is apathy. I don’t think anyone could imagine what the hydrogen bomb means and then live with that as a constant factor.”
• Mack Ellick, 923 Hamlin St., Polsky’s salesman: “I believe in letting things take their course. Why worry about what we can’t do anything about? The bomb is so tremendous, it’s hard to see anything to offset it.”
• William Williams, 4424 Ruth Ave., Barberton, president of Allied Chemical: “Wondering who will be the first to jump with the bomb makes me uneasy. We’re not out of reach and a big rubber center is an obvious target. I’m more apprehensive since news of the H-bomb broke.”
• William Forster, 71 Nebraska St., Akron City Hospital assistant administrator: “If a person has a firm grasp on life and strong religious convictions, this will cover his anxieties. I have no thoughts of escaping the area of destruction. … The best chance is to sit tight.”
• Antigone Lardas, 868 Forest Drive: “Who would be crazy enough to drop such a bomb? Russia knows we have the bomb and we know Russia has it. If we drop them on each other, no one will ever win such a war. There would be nothing left of either country that anyone would want.”
• Ray Myers, 196 Aqueduct St., police and fire signal chief: “The H-bomb has caused me to do less thinking. If it gets to us, we won’t have to worry about what we should have done. But I don’t think either side dares use it. Life looks just as sweet to them as to us.”
• Howard Bachtel, 471 Westmoreland St., South High teacher: “The H-bomb is not of immediate concern. International tensions will have to become much greater than they are now. I feel, however, that we are subconsciously aware of the concept. It takes nothing to start a conversation about it.”
• Virginia Harwick, 475 Delaware Ave., Harwick Standard Chemical Co. chairman: “The Allied nations must band together to make treaties with Russia and her satellites, treaties that will outlaw the bomb as a weapon of warfare. But no treaty or agreement will work unless there is a religious spirit through the world.”
• Charles F. Burke, 421 Merriman Drive, assistant to the president at General Tire: “Too much emphasis on one weapon to the exclusion of others will put us in for a bad surprise. Every time a weapon is developed, a good defense is prepared. The weapon to worry about is the one we haven’t heard of. I don’t think the H-bomb is a threat to Akron today.”
• Rabbi Morton Applebaum, 386 Delaware Ave., Temple Israel: “Science ought to stop for a while so the spirit of man can catch up. We’re geared to a war psychology, concentrating our efforts on destruction. Subconsciously, everyone is terrified. It doesn’t show in the daily routine. You notice it when people stop to talk about the bomb.”
• Cecilia Amelia, 630 Fouse Ave., Acme worker: “If more people went to church, the hydrogen bomb wouldn’t be dropped. Prayer is the greatest power to save us all. If we ever have a hydrogen alert, I want to be in St. Hedwig’s Church when it comes.”
• Malcolm Hendry, 1816 19th St., Cuyahoga Falls, B.F. Goodrich research chemist: “I consider Christianity the only solution. The more influence in that direction, the more chance to survive. The trouble is this is a slow process. I’m an optimist. I don’t believe they’ll drop the H-bomb on us.”
• Charlotte Garrigan, 1953 Tudor Ave., Cuyahoga Falls: “I have faith in the future. People always think they have a future, no matter what danger they face. Even the boys in combat thought they had a future, and I think our way of life would survive, even if we were threatened with the hydrogen bomb.”
Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.