SWOSU Professor & Local City Manager Donate Cold War Artifacts to State Historical Society
SWOSU-Sayre History Professor Landry Brewer recently helped Tom Ivester, Elk City’s City Manager, transfer some of the city’s decades-old Cold War Civil Defense supplies to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Brewer and Ivester met Jeff Briley, who is deputy director of the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, at Elk City Municipal Airport, site of the city’s Civil Defense storage facility. Inside were dozens of Cold War-era supplies that had been in storage since after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Cold War’s end in the early 1990s.
“I wanted to make room in the airport storage facility, but before throwing away items of historical significance, I thought I’d enlist Landry’s help to find a worthy home for these items,” Ivester said.
Brewer got in touch with Briley, who recently drove to Elk City’s airport where he found several items to add to the History Center’s Cold War collection.
A history professor at SWOSU’s campus in Sayre, Brewer had toured the civil defense storage facility when researching Oklahoma Cold War Civil Defense for his book Cold War Oklahoma. He even incorporated pictures of and information about some of the items in storage.
According to Brewer, the federal government began supplying municipalities like Elk City with fallout shelter supplies in the early 1960s at the height of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, when the risk of nuclear war was greatest.
“The hope was that in the event of a nuclear war, Americans who didn’t die from a nuclear bomb blast could also survive radioactive nuclear fallout in the atmosphere by seeking refuge in fallout shelters for up to two weeks,” Brewer said.
Fallout shelters that met federal criteria had a federal fallout shelter sign placed on the outside and were stocked inside with water barrels, food, medical equipment and medicine. Elk City’s Civil Defense storage included all these plus radiation detection equipment and defunct Thunderbolt Civil Defense sirens.
According to Brewer, these may have been among the city’s Civil Defense sirens that sounded a false alarm during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Fearing that a nuclear attack was imminent, the false alarm sent frantic parents to Elk City’s schools to pick up their children.
Briley said that Elk City’s Civil Defense items will eventually be prominent in an exhibit interpreting Oklahoma’s Cold War role.