An Atomic Fairy Tale

Atomic Attack Survival Fairy Tale cinderella and her prince

Atomic Fairy Tale


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. My youth! For a long time, I wondered if I should die as a virgin…. (Those were my priorities at the time… 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Crap, I remember practicing nuclear bomb drills in elementary school in the 70s. The bell rang, we filed slowly into the hall, knelt down with our heads facing the wall, and clasped our fingers behind our necks. We looked like a mass prayer meeting or a hostage situation. Actually, neither one was far from the truth. When you factor in the sheer scientific stupidity, ethnocentrism, and sociopolitical brainwashing that prevailed back then, it’s a wonder more of us didn’t pray to the cold war gods to cure us of our Stockholm Syndrome.

    If you want to know what a generation fears, look at their horror movies. In the 50s, it was giant, radioactive bugs and creatures from outer space shooting atomic ray guns. Then we evolved into fearing the various fall outs of the atomic age, pun intended, like nuclear waste, mutants, deformities, etc. which morphed into the disease and contamination scares of the early AIDS years. Insert religious reciprocity in the form of poltergeists, demons, and fallen angels. Pause for a vampire moment. Now, we’re firmly entrenched in apocalypses and zombies which I believe is the perfect reflection of a mass subconscious awareness of how long hours of staring at a glowing screen can rot the brain.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have You Tube videos to surf.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Point well taken, thanks for the insights


    • sdaven5191

      Like you, I recall those pointless, but obedience-driven hallway crouches in our school hallways. I entered public school in the early fall of 1963 in the first grade. Kindergarten wasn’t in public schools back then ~ if you were priviledged to go, it was because your parents paid for you to go to it in a private nursery school. I was not so priviledged, as my mother and I had been abandoned by my father in favor of his then-pregnant mistress, whom he married once the travesty of early 60’s divorce was finalized. They created their own “Nuclear Family” while my mother sought any kind of employment she could that would keep us off the streets. Court-ordered support proved to be as fleeting as the spring breeze, and fairly unenforceable apparently, unlike now. We finally ended up, after some kind of convoluted social doings, sharing a bedroom together in my soon-to-be-aunt-and-uncle’s home until my mother married my stepfather. (The soon-to-be-aunt is his sister.) Anyway, after having my own real world blown to bits by that tragedy in the works, I then learned in school, at the tender age of 6, that grown-ups I had no knowledge of before then, were playing chess with our big world, and the Checkmate was likely to blow everybody’s world to bits, with little to no warning. But, somehow, a force that could destroy enormous portions of the planet, and render human beings completely anihalated in a flash, could actually be survived by marching out into the hallway, in a neat, quiet, orderly line, and crouching down on the floor facing the backside of the girl in front of me, and someone else facing MINE, as we clasped our hands together over our heads and stared at the floor with our eyes closed! That’s all it would take. Something told me even then that such a force as that was not going to be mitigated by such measures, and even though I was only 6, I was not completely without logical thought processes. When I questioned my teacher on this apparent fallacy after we got back in the classroom, I got a stern look, a pat on the head, and sent back to my seat. I think that was probably her first warning that I was going to be her precocious problem child for the school year of 1963-64.


      • sdaven5191

        (When I wrote “stared at the floor with our eyes closed” that’s basically what it seemed like to a 6 year old, even though it doesn’t make much sense to adult minds. We had our faces toward the floor with nothing to see, but having been told that the delicate, thin tissues of our eyelids would be enough to protect our eyes, we were expected to close them without question. Since girls were in one line and on one side of the hall, and the boys likewise on the other, we young ladies in our full skirted, crinoline-petticoated plaid school dresses didn’t have to worry about little boys eyes looking where they didn’t belong!)


      • It’s amazing how vivid these shared memories are


  3. Reblogged this on Creatives and Designers Talk and commented:
    Good Blog!


  4. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.


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  6. I’ve seen these warnings and advertisements before, but it never occurred to me that they appeared in the same magazines – mere pages apart! Consume, consume, and be merry for tomorrow we get nuked, eh?


  7. It was pretty weird growing up with ‘helpful’ government information such as ‘Protect and Survive’ and ‘Duck and Cover’ … I often marvel at the fact that my generation isn’t more wacko than we are. On the plus side, I don’t mind growing old; every symptom reminds me that there was a time I didn’t expect to make it into adulthood at all. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament may have done some good things along the way, but its publicity materials certainly scared the heck out of me, aged ten or so.


  8. Wow….this was what the 50s were like? (at least in the USA anyway)…I know people spread doomsday theories today but I didn’t know that this was the extent they were spread to in the “old days”


  9. w8screens

    Guten Start in die neue Woche wünsch ich 😉


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  11. Pingback: Nuclear Family Vacation in the Nuclear Age | Envisioning The American Dream

  12. Today’s postmodern world by comparison is nihilistic. This anger and resentment was especially aimed at this intellectual artistic
    world he wanted so much to be a part of.
    See the master of cool speak- Andy Warhol, talk and say nothing.


  13. Pingback: The Measles Crisis of October | Envisioning The American Dream

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