NEW YORK – Workers inspecting the structural foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge uncovered a Cold War-era trove of basic provisions that were stockpiled amid fears of a nuclear attack.
The stash, discovered in a vault under an entrance ramp, includes water drums, canisters of calorie-packed crackers, paper blankets, medical supplies and drugs that were used to treat shock.
The estimated 352,000 Civil Defense All-Purpose Survival Crackers are apparently still intact, said Joseph Vaccaro, a supervisor at the city Department of Transportation. The metal water drums, each labeled "reuse as a commode," did not fare as well — they're now empty.
"We find stuff all the time, but what's sort of eerie about this is that this is a bridge that thousands of people go over each day," Transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall said Monday. "They walk over it, cars go over it and this stuff was just sitting there."
Fallout shelters were common during the 1950s, but most were dismantled.
"The crackers got moldy a very long time ago," said John Lewis Gaddis, a historian at Yale and a scholar of the Cold War. "It's kind of unusual to find one fully intact — one that is rediscovered, almost in an archaeological sense."
Many of the cardboard boxes discovered last week in the bridge vault 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 1960s.
The provisions were probably comforting but likely would 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.