Press release submitted by the Museum of Russian Icons
The Soviet Union’s detonation of its first atomic bomb test on August 29, 1949, thrust the United States into a new and more precarious era. Just four years after celebrating victory in World War II as the only nation with an atomic bomb, Americans now found themselves confronting the probability of an atomic war.
Atomic Alert!: Confronting “The Bomb” in the New Atomic Age, a new exhibition on view at the Museum of Russian Icons from March 20 to May 6, 2020, explores the U.S. government’s Cold War era efforts to educate Americans about what to do before an atomic attack, how to react to a sudden, blinding flash, and what action to take in the aftermath of a catastrophic blast.
Featuring artifacts such as posters, brochures, videos, and interpretation from Michael Scheibach, Ph.D.,independent scholar and author, Atomic Alert! offers a unique opportunity to revisit the early atomic age when the world was divided between two atomic-armed adversaries: the United States and the Soviet Union.
As the 1950s unfolded, many military leaders and government officials believed an enemy attack by the Soviet Union was not just a possibility but a probability. To help prepare the nation, President Harry S. Truman created the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) in December 1950 to oversee the nation’s civil defense program—a program designed to help Americans prepare for and survive an atomic attack.
Atomic Alert! puts a special focus on the government’s educational and volunteer programs, which encouraged the building of bomb shelters, the establishment of neighborhood wardens, and taught children to “duck and cover.” In sections that explore how government officials hoped average Americans would behave before, during, and after a nuclear attack, visitors will encounter government-produced materials that range in tone and content from fun to fatalistic.
“While our permanent collection of Russian icons is the core of our mission, the Museum is also charged with deepening our understanding of Russian and Slavic cultures,” says MoRI Director Kent Russell. “Many of our icons depict themes of migration, immigration, and cultural and political disagreements–subjects that resonate with us today. Atomic Alert! continues along these themes as it delves into the Cold War and the troubled relationship that existed between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the mid-20th century; exploring how this period in history has shaped our current world.”
A special feature of the exhibition will be a large interactive element called “When the Bomb Falls,” which allows visitors to explore the impact of a nuclear blast on a geographic area. This striking artistic installation features the silhouette of a bomb roughly the size and shape of the bombs dropped in World War II. Coming face-to-face with the silhouette, and exploring the impact of an atomic explosion on a typical metropolitan area, gives visitors a sense of just how devastating nuclear war could be on communities and the people who live in them.
The Museum will be partnering with the Clinton Historical Society throughout this exhibition to explore how the Cold War fits into local history. This partnership will include joint programming and an additional exhibition Clinton in the Cold War at the Holder Memorial building at 210 Church Street in Clinton, MA.
Five fascinating elements of the "Atomic Alert!" exhibition
- Evacuation maps of Nashville and Denver: These maps drive home the stakes of an atomic attack on an American city. These artifacts make clear the challenges facing civic governments in the face of nuclear war.
- A selection of educational films about the dangers of an atomic attack: From the iconic "Duck and Cover" featuring Bert the Turtle, to more adult videos on home preparedness in the event of an atomic attack, the videos bring home the climate of scared anticipation so prevalent in the 1950s.
- Atomic Age comics: The Golden and Silver age of comics in America were sensitive to the realities and terrors of nuclear war. A selection of comics from the time illustrate just how pervasive the bomb was in American culture.
- Tabletop exhibits from the 1950s: The apocalyptic mindset of the Atomic Age brought practical concerns, like where to seek shelter in public places, or how to build your own fallout-proof space at home. These dynamic tabletop exhibits provided information on how to get started building your own shelter, or finding safety in office buildings, schools, and other areas.
- Civil defense posters: Published and distributed by the Federal Civil Defense Administration, these civil defense posters painted a grim picture of what would happen if a Cold War adversary pulled off a successful atomic attack.
Exhibition Opening: Atomic Alert! Confronting “The Bomb” in the New Atomic Age
Thursday, March 19, 6:00-8:00pm | Members Free, Nonmembers $15
Register at https://museumofrussianicons.charityproud.org/EventRegistration/Index/3099
Dust off your best “Mad Men” outfit and join us for martinis, manhattans, and all things Cold War. Please RSVP by Sunday, March 15, so we know how much Spam to purchase!
Living with the Atomic Bomb: 1945-1965, Talk with Curator Michael Scheibach
March 28, 1:00-3:00pm | Members Free, Nonmembers Free with admission
A multimedia talk with Michael Scheibach, Ph.D., historian, author, and curator of the Atomic Alert! exhibition on the impact of the atomic bomb on the nation’s government policy, military strategy, civil defense programs, and individual citizens during the early Cold War. In this informative, insightful, and engaging presentation, Scheibach examines the U.S. government’s civil defense efforts at the national, state, and local levels; the role of men and women in those efforts; the impact of “The Bomb” on children and youth; the involvement of the military in promoting civil defense; and the nation’s view of the Soviet Union as a potential military threat.
Michael Scheibach, Ph.D., is an independent scholar specializing in the history of the early Cold War from 1945 through the 1960s. He is the author of four books, including Atomic Narratives and American Youth: Coming of Age with the Atom, 1945-1955; Atomics in the Classroom: Teaching the Bomb in the Early Postwar Era; Protecting the Home Front: Women in Civil Defense in the Early Cold War; and Atomic Alert: The Atomic Bomb and “The Show That May Save Your Life.” In addition, he is the editor of “In Case Atom Bombs Fall”: An Anthology of Governmental Explanations, Instructions and Warnings from the 1940s to the 1960s. Scheibach, who received his doctorate in American studies from the University of Kansas, lives in Miami, Florida.
Atomic Alert! Film Series
JoAnn Diverdi, film columnist, will be showing and discussing two films during the run of the exhibit. According to Diverdi, “Film Noir developed a sub-genre following the 1949 atomic explosion by the Russians. Suddenly, it wasn't the law that was the gangster's enemy or fate that had it in for him, it was the communists. We will be seeing and discussing two great examples of what I call ‘Red Noir’.”
Film & Discussion: Pickup on South Street (80 minutes, directed by Samuel Fuller)
Saturday, April 18, 1:00 | Members $6, Nonmembers $12
Pickup on South Street (1953) Starring Richard Widmark as a petty, career pickpocket who accidentally lifts a wallet with a valuable piece of microfilm in it. And soon this sordid tale, peopled with criminals from the fringes of society, evolves into one where government secrets and communist spies are dueling it out in the shadowy cityscapes of NYC. There is an added bonus to this classic. The filmmaker, Samuel Fuller, was from Worcester!
Film & Discussion: Kiss Me, Deadly (106 minutes, directed by Robert Aldrich)
Sunday, May 3, 11:00-5:00pm | Free but registration required by Friday, April 30.
Kiss Me, Deadly (1955) stars Ralph Meeker as P. I. Mike Hammer. Loosely based on hard-boiled pulp novelist and virulent anti-communist, Mickey Spillane book. Hammer's California-mid-century-cool world has a dark side and it runs right into murder, mystery and annihilation as the film literally ends with an atomic explosion!
ABOUT THE MUSEUM
The Museum of Russian Icons inspires the appreciation and study of Russian culture by collecting and exhibiting icons and related objects; igniting the interest of national and international audiences; and offering interactive educational programs. The Museum serves as a leading center for research and scholarship through the Center for Icon Studies and other institutional collaborations. It is the only museum in the US dedicated to Russian icons, and it is the largest collection of icons outside of Russia.
Museum hours: Tuesday–Friday, 11am to 4pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11am to 5pm. First Sunday of the month: free admission! Closed Mondays.
Admission: Adults $10, seniors (59+) $7, Students $5, Children (3-7) $5, Children under 3 Free.
For more information, please visit museumofrussianicons.org. Follow the Museum of Russian Icons on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.