NEW YORK — Workers inspecting the structural foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge have uncovered a Cold War-era trove of basic provisions that were stockpiled amid fears of a nuclear attack.
Water drums, medical supplies, paper blankets, drugs and canisters holding calorie-packed crackers were visible as city officials led a tour of the vault Monday, days after the stash was discovered under the main entrance ramp to the bridge.
The estimated 352,000 Civil Defense All-Purpose Survival Crackers are apparently still intact, said Joseph Vaccaro, a supervisor at the city Transportation Department. The metal water drums, each labeled “reuse as a commode,” did not fare as well, and they are now empty.
Such fallout shelters were common around the country during the 1950’s, but finds like last week’s are rare, said John Lewis Gaddis, a historian at Yale and a scholar of the Cold War.
“Most of those have been dismantled; the crackers got moldy a very long time ago,” he said. “It’s kind of unusual to find one fully intact _ one that is rediscovered, almost in an archaeological sense. I don’t know of a recent example of that.”
Many of the cardboard boxes in the room were ink-stamped with two especially significant years in cold-war history: 1957, when the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite, and 1962, when the Cuban missile crisis seemed to bring the world to the precipice of nuclear destruction.
Some boxes bear labels from the Office of Civil Defense, a unit of the Pentagon that coordinated domestic preparedness in the early 1960’s.
The provisions were probably comforting but would likely have been useless in the case of a nuclear attack, said Graham Allison, a former assistant secretary of defense who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
“At least people would think they were doing something, even if it didn’t have any effect,” he said.