Visiting Erie's Old Fallout Shelters
It was recently announced that much-needed public restrooms may soon be constructed in downtown Erie. But, did you know that there used to be underground restrooms at Perry Square? Those restrooms also served another purpose. They also served as fallout shelters in case there ever was a nuclear explosion.
Worries about a possible nuclear attack were prevalent during the Cold War with Russia in the 1950s and 60s. President John F. Kennedy ordered the Department of Civil Defense to establish shelters in public areas so people could escape deadly radiation.
"Fallout shelters popped up all over the United States, and in other countries as well, where people could go and at least have a sense of security in case of a Soviet missile attack of an atomic nature,” says Jeff Sherry, Museum Director at the Hagen History Center.
Jerry Skrypzak is a local history buff. He remembers the Perry Square restrooms. He was a city police officer in the early 70s. He says there were two entrances. One for women and one for men.
"Most anything heavy duty underground was used as a fallout shelter back then,” he said.
Scrypzak believes the restrooms/slash fallout shelters were closed and sealed when State Street was reduced to two lanes for construction of a pedestrian mall.
But, there is evidence of a fallout shelter in the basement of the Hagen History Center in Erie. The shelter was established by the Erie School District when the district owned the building known as the Watson-Curtze Mansion. Dave Pugh is the Maintenance Director at the History Center.
"They have a water tank down here and a jet pump that provides this area with water. They had their own little generating system. There's an exhaust for it that goes outside. They were capable of providing electric,” he said.
The steps leading down to the shelter still exist at the Hagen History Center but are covered by a new outdoor patio. Barrels that contained drinking water provided by the government still remain also.
Several old fallout shelters in Erie can be identified by the yellow and black signs that still remain on their outside walls today. St. Andrews Auditorium, Strong Vincent Middle School, Griswold Post Office are some examples. There is not a sign outside The Brewerie at Union Station. However, fallout shelter remnants are still three stories below the brew pub. Many boxes of government issued crackers, made in 1963, remain in the dark and damp space.
"We may have popped one open once upon a time,” said Owner Chris Sirianni. “The crackers, unfortunately disintegrated. I wouldn't recommend eating one."
Other buildings in the city that still display those 'Fallout Shelter' signs include Edison School, the old Sacred Heart School, and the former Maennerchor Club.