An Atomic Fairy Tale

Atomic Attack Survival booklet Cinderella illustration

Atomic Fairy Tale (L) US Government booklet 1950 (R) Walt Disney’s Cinderella Random House 1974

1950 was Cinderella’s year.

My mother Betty knew it was an omen. After 6 long years of waiting, Disney’s much anticipated movie, Cinderella was finally opening and now Betty Joseph’s days of waiting were over too- she was getting married.

Her prince had come! Albeit her prince, my future father Marvin, hailed from the less than regal Astoria Queens.

And it seemed to be no better time to be in love. President Truman presented a rosy picture of the future- if all went well according to his Fair Deal program, Americans would work less, play more, purchase more!

Why, it was predicted, the average American family would have an income of $12,000 by the year 2000! With a staggering income like that, there would be no limit to how much we could buy.

vintage cover mahazine atomic blast vintage illustration engagement

(L) Cover Colliers Magazine 8/5/50 “Hiroshima USA Can Anything Be Done About It?” Imagining NYC following an Atomic Attack, (R) Vintage Illustration “Review of Wedding Presents” by Haddon Sundblom for “Beer Belongs” ad campaign

But right now, no amount of money could buy peace of mind.

It had been more than a year since we learned the Russians had the bomb, giving a renewed chill in the Cold war, while the war in Korea was heating up. By the beginning of the year we knew that President Truman was building a bomb that would make the one we dropped on Hiroshima seem darn right ordinary-a “superbomb” as Truman called the Hydrogen device.

Forget wedding jitters, Betty was suffering from Atomic jitters. The great fear that we, not them might be the next victims was to nip at the heels of Americans through the coming decades,

Along with her china pattern, revere ware and sterling, she wondered if she should  register for a Geiger Counter too.

A recent issue of Life magazine carried an article entitled “How you can prepare for Atomic war” that sent a chill through her… “the blunt truth at this moment”, the article stated much too bluntly for her tastes, “is that not one American city has so far made even a fair start toward minimum preparedness,” the alarmed editors claimed.  Their urban civil defense plan suggested that circular highways and Quonset hut hospitals would at least alleviate public panic after the attack.

Even with the new efficient defense plans being set up by the government, Betty worried what the radioactive fallout would do to her wedding plans….would she lose her hair and have to wear a wig?

Atomic Jitters

Civil Defense Fallout poster 1950s  Fairy Godmother illustration

(L) Vintage Civil Defense Poster 1950s (R) Fairy Godmother from Cinderella Vintage illustration Walt Disneys “Cinderella” Random House 1974

To alleviate her panic, Marvin tried reassuring her, calmly pointing to another article, this one in the Saturday Evening Post that was much more upbeat.

Entitled: “How You Can Survive an Atomic Bomb Blast” it was written by Richard Gerstell.

“This fellow”, Marvin pointed out, “was a bone-fide expert on Atomic war and now was the advisor to the Secretary of Defense. He had been aboard a ship watching as the bomb exploded over Bikini Atoll. So he ought a know a thing or two about the Bomb.”

“Although repeatedly subjected to radiation on the Bikini ships,” the article stated, “Gerstell had suffered no physical damage, not even losing a hair.” Mr. Gerstell advised readers that after the blast, a careful citizen would do well to keep his eyes closed, lest “five minutes or so of blindness….result from looking into the explosion’s dazzling burst of light.”

Cotton clothing in light colors, Marvin added would help shield against the heat. Betty felt a little more relieved, “Good thing I’ll be wearing white!”

And They Lived Happily Ever After

Uncle Sam offered his own reassuring words.

Besides Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, the recently published “Survival Under Atomic Attack” put out by the US Government was the must have shower present for any future bride. The booklet offered helpful household hints for any homemaker starting her own home.

Explaining how to protect oneself, ones food and water supply and ones home in case of an Atomic Attack, it reassured the reader: “Your chances, our government reassured us, of making a complete recovery from an Atomic attack  are much the same as for everyday accidents.”

Later that evening, a buoyed Betty cheerfully sang “I’m gonna wash that bomb right outtta my hair,” as she lathered up with new Dial soap that promised to keep you fallout fresh.

It would be a perfect fairy tale ending. Betty couldn’t wait to begin her own nuclear family!

Nuclear Attack Home vintage childrens book illustration 1950s family

At Home with the Nuclear Family (L) A series of images that ran in Life Magazine are from a government film as part of an Atomic Bomb test taken of a house closest to the detonation of the 3/53 Operation Doorstep (R) Vintage children’s schoolbook illustration 1950s “Stories About Linda and Lee”

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  1. Pingback: Nuclear Jitters | Envisioning The American Dream

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