There are countless other stories still out there – for instance, did anyone in St. Louis Park ever build a bomb shelter in their back yard?  Please contact us if you have anything you’d like to add.




Civil Defense was a concern during World War II, even in landlocked Minnesota. The 1942 directory gave a column to the St. Louis Park Civilian Defense Council, Inc.  It stated that all Civil Defense duties were set up by order of the Governor, Harold Stassen.  Chairman of the council was Dr. L.V. Downing.  There were two Vice-Chairmen, and then the Directors, who were in charge of air wardens, fire protection, police protection, employment, human skills and resources, welfare (with Mrs. Arthur Nelson chairman of Women’s Activities), industrial resources, and utilities.


The 1942 piece also talked about the “Salvage for Victory” program, chaired by Mr. Francis Bradley, president of the Village garbage company, Suburban Sanitary Drayage.  The company donated equipment and manpower for this effort, which was the only source of income for the Council.  A photo depicted metal garbage cans labeled “Wrapped Garbage” and “Washed Cans and Scrap Metals.”  There were also magazines, papers, and rags.


On September 11, 1942, Minneapolis held its first blackout, which lasted half an hour. Another test blackout that was held for the entire Metropolitan area, took place on October 14, 1942 from 9:30 to 10 pm.


Also in 1942, over 700 Park citizens attended a civil defense rally, and air raid wardens and first aid workers were given their instructions.


In May 1943, Minnesota staged a “semi-surprise” blackout test. For 30 minutes, somewhere between 9 and 11 pm., every light in Minnesota was to be extinguished, except those necessary for war industries. The test was to be initiated by steady blasts of sirens and whistles and by turning out the streetlights. Radio stations would announce the “all clear.” R.W. Hollander, Chairman, Hennepin County Civilian Defense, warned:


It is a deadly serious test to prepare all civilians and civil authorities for prompt and efficient action if and when enemy bombers should appear over this area. Military authorities recently have stated the Twin Cities and Detroit areas are more likely to be attacked than either the East or West coast. It is the duty of every citizen to be prepared.


A May 29, 1943 article in the St. Louis Park Spectator described another exercise:


Park Village Hall Damaged in Raid

Creosote Plant Wrecked, Edina School and Theatre Damaged by Bombs


The article described how the railroad tracks and grain elevators were severely damaged by an air attack over Hennepin County. It also criticized the military authorities for not providing Minnesota with anti-aircraft guns or defending planes. Actually, planes did fly overhead (manned by the Civil Air Patrol) and items were dropped – red and blue pasteboard boxes. The officials were pleased with the result of their make-believe attack, although the article also reported that children kept at their games and women continued in their victory gardens during the “air raid.”


There is another article from an unfortunately unnamed and undated newspaper that reported on what must have been the same exercise:


‘Bombs’ Loosed on City Suburbs

‘Widespread Damage’ Left in Day Raid Alert


The article described a 15-minute bombing assault carried out by 17 planes.  The Creosote Plant was “wrecked” and other major targets were hit.  Civilians, however, were seen picking up the fake bombs, which in reality would have quite killed them.


The Dispatch, July 9, 1943:  “CD Corps Set For Air Raid Demonstration”


Trucks loaded with ammunition are arriving in town, workers are busy constructing the street scene to be bombed for the show and all local defense councils in Rural Hennepin County are getting lined up to attend the gigantic “Action Overhead” demonstration at the State Fair Grounds…  Over 2,000 Civilian Defense workers besides many interested citizens are expected to witness the War Department show designed to demonstrate what to do and what not to do when bombs really fall…Many types of bombs will be used and spectators will learn the right and wrong way of handling them….Hennepin County should feel very fortunate in being chosen to have this demonstration as it is being given in only a few sections of the country.


The location of the Twin Cities so far inland from either coast prevented any major expansion of industry in the area.


The 1944 directory listed the members of the St. Louis Park Civilian Defense Council, Inc., Dr. L. V. Downing, Chairman.  In addition to the directors and their duties, the piece list Victory Aides, chaired by Mrs. A.E. Melbourne, with mrs. Earl Ainsworth as Vice Chairman.





Between the years 1945 and 1992 the United States government conducted 1,030 nuclear tests. 210 were classified as atmospheric tests, 815 were detonated underground, and 5 were exploded underwater. 100 atmospheric tests and 804 underground tests were detonated at the Nevada Test Site. Since July 1962, all test bombs have been detonated underground.




The Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb in 1949, and the Cold War was on. In 1951, the Minnesota Civil Defense Act established a State agency.


Don Whalen was Park’s Director of Civil Defense in 1951. He exuded a sense of urgency, chiding the many people who “still believe that bomb shelters, first aid, and preparedness against bombs is a lot of silly talk.”


Some comfort must have come from the 1951 news item: “A-Bomb in Minneapolis Loop Would Kill No Park Residents,” according to the Minneapolis health commissioner.





On February 11, 1952, St. Louis Park School Superintendant Harold Enestvedt released a “Civil Defense Guide for St. Louis Park Schools.”  In an article in the Echo, Enestvedt said “We don’t anticipate a need for the program in the immediate future, but it can be put into effect on very short notice.”  The Echo reported:  “Chief innovation for students will be a ‘retention drill’ in which pupils will leave classrooms to go to previously designated ‘shelter areas’ in case of atomic attack.”  High School Principal Foltmer said “It should cause students no more alarm about an attack than a fire drill does about a possible fire.”





1953 image courtesy Museum of Broadcasting


Park adopted Ordinance No. 409 on February 2, 1953 that provided for a Director of Civil Defense to be responsible for plans and direction of the civil defense organization of City. The purpose of civil defense organizing preparedness in the event of invasion by hostile aircraft or forces, or in the event of natural disasters.


Ralph J. LaHue, a Honeywell employee, was appointed Director of the new Civil Defense unit. Eventually there were committees such as Protective Services, Plant Protection and Evacuation, Mass Feeding, and Radiology. Over 300 volunteers were involved.


One of LaHue’s first purchases was CD Warden Training Kit “A,” authorized in March. At first, the abandoned Veterans housing along Highway 100 was used to store CD materials.


An early indication of the perceived threat was a Civil Defense drill (dubbed “Exercise Neighbor”), held in Minneapolis and the suburbs on October 20, 1953.



The November 25, 1953 Park High Echo reported that students at Park High were shown the film “Pattern for Survival,” which proposed the following safety suggestions:


1.  Investigate basements around home and school for the safe area closest to the outer wall and farthest from windows.  Locate predetermined shelter ares in buildings which you frequent.  If warning siren begins, hasten to the nearest of these.


2.  For the shelter locale in your home, prepare a kit containing these basic necessities:  first aid equipment and manual, bottled drinking water, a supply of canned food and heating unit, blankets and extra clothings, strong grease-cutting soap and a flashlight with extra batteries.


3.  In case of a surprise attack, cover eyes and duck fast, for there are a very few seconds in which to act after the telltale flash occurs.





The CD office was located at 5720 W. 37th Street (not a valid address today). Director LaHue purchased a trickle charger for $10.63. The office received a gift of a pneolator from the American Legion in December.  A pneolator was a portable apparatus for administering automatic artificial respiration. Introduced in the late 1950s, it had pressure settings for infants, children and adults. It also had an oxygen-powered aspirator to remove secretions from the patient’s airway. The pneolator weighed 46 lbs.





Land and buildings on the so-called “Stageberg Property” were either bought from or donated by the Sterling Stageberg family in 1952. The property ran 350 ft. on 28th St. and 300 ft on Joppa. The property included a large house and other buildings. In 1954 it became the Civil Defense Training Center, remodeled by Prof. Joseph Wise, engineer. It is now Fern Hill Park and Torah Academy.


The CD Office had to submit all bills directly to the Village Council. Among them were the films “And a Voice Shall be Heard,” “Operation Doorstep,” and “Effects of Atomic Weapons.” Several people were hired and equipment ordered. The League of Women Voters noted:  “This is an item of very current interest, both local and national.  A basic training of 5 evenings is being given at the present time to limited numbers who will be the instructors of larger classes.  Other specialized field of training have started.”


In March 1954, Hyland Homes agreed to allow the Village to install and maintain an air raid warning siren near the Westwood Hills Golf Course.


Clayton W. Muzzy was the director of Civil Defense training in Park schools.





The Dispatch on Thursday, February 24, 1955:  “’All-Out’ Civil Defense Demonstration Tonight–…The old stable behind the CD headquarters will be ignited and ‘victims’ will be placed in the upper stories of the headquarters building before the CD units are called into action.”  Residents were invited to watch 50 volunteers battle fire and teargas to rescue victims. The drill, conducted by the CD rescue squad along with fire and police reserves, took place at the Civil Defense Corps headquarters. An old stable at the Stageberg property was ignited and volunteer victims were placed in upper stories of the HQ building, lowered through windows on stretchers. Tear gas was used to familiarize the men with their gas masks.


The Dispatch, Thursday, March 3, 1955, Page 7—“D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R… Park Civil Defense Rescue Squad Proves It Is Prepared—Photo Caption: WHILE AWAITING RESCUE, the two victims ‘take a break’ and peeked out of the second floor window to see how preparations were proceeding.”  The house on the Stageberg property was wrecked in October 1955. The site is now part of Fern Hill Park.




On April 26, 1955, an atom bomb was exploded at a test site at Yucca Flat, Nevada, which had opened the year before The TV Guide describes its coverage as follows:


Monday, April 25

Today Program originates from bomb area
Morning Show:  Preview of blast coverage
Home:  Inspection of two houses at the scene of the blast
News Caravan:  Swayze tours target area


Tuesday, April 26
Today Program originates from bomb area
The blast itself (6 am)
Home:  Hugh Downs, Kit Kinne, Howard Whitman describe reactions
News Caravan:  Color film of blast


Wednesday, April 27
Today:  Garroway takes a pre-dawn look at after-effects
Tour of the target area
Home:  Downs, Kinne, Whitman inspect damage inflicted on houses


In March 1955, the St. Louis Park City Council had appropriated $275 for Civil Defense Director Ralph LaHue to attend the blast.


On June 15, 1955, “Imaginary hostile aircraft carried out a surprise attack on the Twin Cities as part of Operation Alert, the most extensive national CD test yet held.”  The imaginary bomb, equal to a million tons of TNT, hit the center of the Lake Street bridge, blasting an area 4.7 miles in diameter with a hole 150 ft. deep.  86,000 people would be killed and 209,000 more would be wounded.  Nine counties north of the ‘Cities would be affected by fallout.

The attack on the Twin Cities was added at the last minute by the Federal Civil Defense Administration.  The yellow alert was received at the Minnesota CD headquarters, 1643 Rice Street in St. Paul, from the air defense command at 10:03 am.  At 10:11 a blue alert – warning to evacuate was received, and air raid sirens began sounding all over the state.

The red alert, ordering people to take cover, was sounded at 12:04 pm.  Minneapolis CD officials did not receive note of the actual attack until 1:05 pm, when a bomb alert was received at the unit’s new unit at Minnetonka High School.

State CD Director, Col. Hubert Schon, said efforts of his staff “looked successful, but there were gaping holes.”  Minneapolis CD Director Walter P. Halstead said he was satisfied with his staff’s work, with extra kudos to the communications, radiological, fire rescue, police reserve, and warden divisions.  He concluded that Minneapolis would have been able to evacuate more people than previously thought possible.

Minneapolis Tribune, June 16, 1955






In 1956, the State of Minnesota Civil Defense Department distributed a map of escape routes in case there was a need to evacuate the area. Studying the map carefully “may help save the lives of you and your family in event of a Civil Defense emergency or a natural disaster.” Evacuation would take place when “enemy attack is thought imminent…” Different sirens, bells, and lights were explained, and citizens were instructed to go at least 50 miles out of the city.


The City Council authorized the demolition of the old Bothnam house on 28th St. west of Fern Hill.  The building was purchased for $14,000 as a proposed civil defense area training ground.  The property covered a third of the block.  The building was razed because it sat on a high hill and “has been a ‘trouble spot’ for youngsters.”  Cost to raze it was estimated at $1,000.





Civil defense activity escalated when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite, on October 4, 1957. Sputnik was the size of a beach ball, weighed 184 pounds, emitted a beeping sound, and orbited the earth every ninety minutes. Sputnik 2, carrying cosmodog Laika, was sent into orbit on November 3, 1957. The scary part about Sputnik was not the satellites themselves but the missiles, which could propel nuclear warheads as easily as dogs.


Andy B. Bjornson became the Director of the Civil Defense Organization of St. Louis Park, taking over from Ralph LaHue, who had been appointed in 1953.  The local CD office was located in the basement of City Hall.  In February 1957 Civil Defense classes were made available to senior boys at the High School.





On March 17, 1957, Dr. Kurt Singer, former intelligence officer and expert on espionage, was scheduled to speak to 11th and 12th graders, reported the Echo.  Dr. Singer was a prolific writer on the subject, authoring 28 books and numerous reports that were used by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.  “In his talk, he will give first hand information on what spies and traitors are doing in America and around the world, and how they carry on their work, designed to fool many of the best intelligence experts.”


In March 1958, the Brookside PTA advertised a civil defense program with a flier entitled CHILDREN! EVACUATION! The program featured Mr. Leonard Jones. “Hear the plan for a Trial Run of Evacuation of St. Louis Park Children. Learn where and how your child will be sent to safety.”  That January the CD office had been moved out of City Hall.


That May a mock evacuation drill was planned by the local CD organization and the railroads. Children from six elementary schools and the Junior and Senior High were to march to nearby railroad tracks to test the evacuation plan. Students were not to be taken to their dispersal points by the trains. Students from Aquila, Eliot, and Cedar Manor were slated to be evacuated to Ortonville and Bird Island. Students from Lenox were to take the MNS to Lake Crystal. Students from Fern Hill and Ethel Baston were to take the M&St.L to Bird Island and Renville. The previous week, students from Holy Family (M&St.L to Fairfax) and Most Holy Trinity (M&St.L to Lake Crystal) also participated in the mock evacuation. Unclear whether Oak Hill and Park Knoll were to be evacuated, but during the year Carl Carlson spoke to the Oak Hill-Park Knoll PTA on “Civil Defense and the School Evacuation.”




This ominous sign below was still located by the tracks at Highway 169 in the 1970s.


Photograph by Kirby Smith



Also in May the Federal Civil Defense Administration issued Revised Civil Defense Air Raid Instructions.  The Take Cover Signal was a wailing tone or short blasts for three minutes on sirens, whistles, horns, or similar devices.  It assumed that people had home shelters, and gave this important advice:  “If you see a bright flash of light, take cover instantly.”


In October, an “allout” Civil Defense drill was staged at Knollwood Plaza.





A March 19, 1959 headline asked “What would you do if H-Bomb Blasted Into Area Tomorrow?” Again there was a clip and save map, instructing all Parkites to head west, either on Highway 12, Minnetonka Blvd., or Highway 7. (Apparently Excelsior Blvd. was too small a road back then.)


On May 1, 1959, 2,000 school children from the high school, junior high, Benilde, Holy Family, Fern Hill, Brookside, and Most Holy Trinity participated in a real-life civil defense drill. At 1pm they were marched down the railroad tracks and loaded into waiting boxcars. The plan was to ship the kids out of town, and the parents would somehow know ahead of time where they were going.





1961 was a huge year for Civil Defense. A 1961 Dispatch headline proclaimed “Kennedy’s Talk Leads to CD Interest.” On August 3, an entire page was devoted to articles and pictures pertaining to civil defense, including one of high school students crouched in front of their lockers. Headline: “Be Prepared – But be Prepared to Accept the Worst.” On October 5, a two-page spread about building family fallout shelters was ringed with ads from banks offering financing. The next week, the two-page spread featured ads by builders, concrete block makers, and purveyors of transistor radios.


On November 21, 1961, a Brookside PTA meeting program was held: “Civil Defense – is it sense or nonsense?” The speaker was Mr. Norris Lokensgard, who provided basic facts of nuclear blast and radioactive fallout effects. That same year, John Sponsel of the PTA Survival Preparedness Committee provided information on the Brookside “walk home” exercise, which was intended to unite children with their families should short term warning of pending attack occur during school hours. This exercise probably did not take place, as the Superintendent of Schools asserted that he had no authority to request such drills.


There was, however Operation Alert, aimed particularly at the schools and Methodist Hospital. At 10am on the appointed day, Chief Engineer Henry Wirth threw the switch that transferred to hospital’s power to an emergency generator. With him were Park Civil Defense Director Andy Bjornson and Deputy Director Leonard Jones. At the schools, children streamed into the hallways, crouched in tight balls, and shielded their heads with heavy books.


Also in 1961, the city council approved an ordinance that called for waiving building permit fees for approved construction of civil defense fall-out shelters.


A program of the 1960-61 Lenox PTA reflected the cold war with a slide show called “Communism on the Map” presented by Mr. Richard Heffernan, former FBI agent. The presentation was followed by the film “Operation Abolition,” which portrayed San Francisco students protesting the House Un American Activities Committee as Communists.  The film was much discussed at Park High, reported Dave Hosokawa of the Echo (March 1961).  There were about 600 copies of the 45-minute film, 24 in the Twin Cities area.  Locally they were distributed by the Christian Crusade Against Communism, headquartered in Edina.  Showings cost $10 and had to be accompanied by a speech by a member of the Crusade.


WCCO-AM (830) made pre-recorded messages that would have aired in the event of a probable or actual enemy (nuclear) attack. These announcements were made by WCCO announcers Howard Viken, Dick Chapman and Governor Elmer Andersen, and most likely would have aired from the station’s transmitter facility in Anoka which included a fallout shelter.


Dayton’s Department Store was one place you could buy a fully-stocked bomb shelter. In October 1961 they were on display on the 8th Floor of their downtown Minneapolis store.





The Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962 ratcheted up the threat of nuclear annihilation. Civil Defense activity, begun as early as 1949 and accelerated in 1957, was stepped up in response to the urgings of President Kennedy. Once again school children held drills in school basements and hallways and were marched to the railroad tracks for a practice evacuation.





Civil Defense came under the administration of the City Manager.





CD Director Andrew B. Bjorson headed a unit of about 60 volunteers.  An interview in the Dispatch (September 15) stated that the unit’s main activities were to help police handle traffic and assist with emergencies, such as the 1965 tornado that hit Mound and Fridley and the floods that hit Chaska.

One of the early members of the group recalled that in the beginning, there was some dissension between the regular police and CD.  “The police were afraid the CD might cut down on their opportunities for promotion,” he related.  “Today, however, the two groups work very well together.”

Lt. James Dahl of the police department, who wrote the CD training manual, serves as liaison between the regular police department and Civil Defense.  “He lets us know when the police need help,” Bjornson explained.





The John Birch Society spoke to Park teens as part of a Jewish Community Center discussion series.  Jorgen Oland discussed the dangers of Communism, saying there was no difference between it and Socialism.


Civil Defense was still on the agenda for schools in October 1967, although “We have given up the idea of leading students to a railroad crossing and loading them into boxcars,” informed Park High Principal Bertil Johnson.  “We once planned to evacuate students to the Litchfield fairgrounds.  But the speed of missiles today makes this impossible.  We just wouldn’t get anywhere.”  The coordinator of the school lunch program was responsible for feeding students after an atomic blast confined them to school.  “Right now we have enough canned foods for approximately two to three weeks…  However, we do not have any canned water or any milk.  The storage space that would be needed for storing the water would be tremendous.”  The Echo reports:  “Park High is a place where students spend almost nine months a year during their high school tenure.  In case of attack, it could be the site of some of the most crucial weeks of their lives.”





On the morning of Saturday, February 20, 1971, Wayland S. Eberhardt, a civilian teletype operator, was going about his routine duties at the National Emergency Warning Center at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. One of the functions of “the Mountain” during this era was to send out the weekly Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) test directive to the nation’s radio and television stations. They were also responsible for sending out the real warning. When stations received these messages they compared it against a card to determine what action to take. At 7:33 a.m. local time on that fateful Saturday, Mr. Eberhardt, a fifteen-year veteran of his job, fed the wrong tape into the transmitter. He was later quoted by the New York Times as saying “I can’t imagine how the hell I did it.”  A local recording of the mistaken announcement is available at


An article in a 1971 SLP Sun noted “Fallout Shelters:  Forgotten But Not Gone”  Walter Halstead, director of Civil Defense for Hennepin County, reported that the idea of home shelters “was badly mistreated by contractors who were promoting them for profit.  Few shelters remain today.”  The article reported that an elaborate fallout shelter was located at the firing range area of City Hall.  It was said to have 100 percent protection from fallout and was stocked with emergency rations for two weeks.  The shelter at Gamble Skogmo, Inc. had the capacity for 2,000 people.