A Wisconsin family, who had been living in their home for over a decade, knew there was a hidden metal door in the ground in their backyard, but somehow, they were never tempted to open it and see what was inside or where it led to — but that all changed one day.
The Zwick family decided, one day, that it was finally time to find out what the metal doors in the ground of their Neenah, Wisconsin, home’s backyard were hiding for all those years. “We assumed it was just this empty space,” homeowner Carol Hollar-Zwick explained, but boy was she mistaken.
The metal bulkhead doors protecting what was underground in the Zwick family’s backyard were covered in overgrown vegetation and secured with a chain. So, when the family finally decided to open the large metal doors, they first had to clear away the bushes that had grown over them and remove the old, rusty chain that secured the doors closed before they could find out what exactly was inside.
After they finally cracked open the metal hatch in their attempt to reveal the mystery behind the doors in their backyard, they were left stunned to find not an empty space as Carol anticipated but rather an entrance to a fully stocked Cold War-era fallout shelter, more than half a century old.
It wasn’t an empty space at all but rather a time capsule waiting to be opened, which they would discover when they ventured down the ladder that led into a bunker, which was a treasure trove, chock-full of interesting items from the past that had been well-preserved, even though evidence indicated that the shelter had flooded many times over the years.
After opening the heavy steel hatch and descending the ladder, they were led down to an 8-foot-by-10-foot bunker filled with sealed U.S. Army boxes that were packed full with all of the supplies that a family would need to survive two weeks underground should the unimaginable ever send them running for cover.
However, the Zwicks wouldn’t find out the contents until the local branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms check them out since the boxes, which were old military ammunition crates, displayed markings that suggested there might be explosives inside. After the family notified the agents, the ATF opened the crates to find Hawaiian Punch, but that’s not all.
Although the military supply boxes were rusted, they preserved the contents remarkably well. Soon, the Zwicks discovered that the previous owner of the shelter had packed away candies, raisins, Hershey’s syrup, and many other sweets as treats to get through what would be the long weeks if they were ever forced underground.
“It was all of what you would expect to find in a 1960’s fallout shelter. It was food, clothing, medical supplies, tools, flashlights, batteries – items that you would want to have in a shelter if you planned to live there for two weeks,” Carol recalled.
“It’s interesting that you can open up something and find 1960 inside of it,” Carol said, speaking about the items they had found, which the family eventually donated. In fact, all of the vintage items were later given to the Neenah Historical Society, which has curated an exhibit about the Cold War and the fear of the Soviets using a nuclear bomb.
In a video posted to YouTube, the Zwick family documented the discovery they made after they finally opened the heavy steel hatch, climbed down the ladder, and explored the 8-foot-by-10-foot chamber.
The shelter is unusual due to its location since Neenah is such a small Wisconsin city that’s 100 miles from Milwaukee and nearly 200 from Chicago — the population centers that might have been targeted by the Soviets.
The home was previously owned by Frank Pansch, a local surgeon, who built the shelter in 1960 to protect his family from a nuclear attack. The shelter was built two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis at the height of the Cold War. During this time of unrest, many Americans prepared themselves for nuclear warfare. Although a fallout shelter would not protect them from a nuclear blast, the idea was that it would be used to help them survive the radiation that would likely contaminate the surrounding area.
The family is fortunate to have discovered well-preserved pieces of history right in their backyard. The vintage products were the best part of the discovery. Luckily, they decided to share the amazing find with others, not just through these images and the video that we can all enjoy, but to the Neenah Historical Society as well.