Brooklyn Bridge Gives up Cold-War Secret

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A secret cache of Cold War-era emergency provisions was recently discovered beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Engineers inspecting the bridge found the hideaway, meant to help people survive in case of a nuclear attack. The cache includes water drums, medical supplies, blankets, drugs to treat shock and more than 350,000 crackers.


In New York City, engineers inspecting the Brooklyn Bridge have stumbled upon a secret vault tucked beneath the span containing nearly 50-year-old provisions from the Cold War era. Somebody had stockpiled food, medical supplies and blankets in case of a Soviet nuclear attack and then forgot about it. NPR's Robert Smith got a tour.

ROBERT SMITH reporting:

Tom Whitehouse(ph), a city bridge inspector, leads me into a dark portal on the underside of the Brooklyn Bridge.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Mr. TOM WHITEHOUSE (Bridge Engineer, New York City): You just gotta watch a little bit where you're walking.

SMITH: And up a flight of wooden stairs to see his discovery.

MR. WHITEHOUSE: When I walked in this is what we found. You see the boxes all say Civil Defense and they're all survival supplies. It's hard to see with a flashlight but in the right lighting, you can make out October 1962.

SMITH: That's the month of the Cuban missile crisis. Somebody--we have no idea who--wanted to make sure if there was a nuclear Armageddon, the city would have plenty of crackers.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE: Cases and cases. There's over 300,000 crackers there.

SMITH: (Laughs)

Mr. WHITEHOUSE: That's an awful lot of crackers.

SMITH: There are emergency blankets and injection vials of Dextran for treating shock.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE: See the plastics over here. These are actually field dressings--gauze bandages.

(Soundbite of metal)

SMITH: What is this?

Mr. WHITEHOUSE: That's a civil defense helmet. I wouldn't want to rely on that.

SMITH: The boxes of supplies are incredibly well-preserved. Whitehouse even pulls out a 44-year-old cracker still in one piece.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE: We just opened this package.

(Soundbite of plastic)

Mr. WHITEHOUSE: Want to taste it?

(Soundbite of chewing)

SMITH: You know, it's like eating chalk.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE: (Laughs) They've got an unusual flavor but I guess if you had to survive and there was nothing else to eat, you wouldn't have a big problem eating them.

SMITH: Whitehouse says he's only a few months older than the crackers but even he remembers civil defense drills and fear of a Soviet attack. Today, of course, as a bridge engineer, he has a different set of fears. Whitehouse asks that I not reveal the exact location or structural details of this room.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE: For security reasons I can't really outline exactly what the structure is but we are under the Brooklyn Bridge.

SMITH: It's funny; the things that we store, the things that make us feel secure may have changed, but the need to feel secure is exactly the same as it was 50 years ago.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE: And it probably will be in another 50 years.

SMITH: And in 50 years who knows which of our stockpiles the next generation will uncover. All that duct tape and plastic sheeting, perhaps a roomful of nail clippers confiscated at the airport--whatever it is, here's a tip for future reporters: Don't eat the cracker. Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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