With effort, Craig Denham heaves open the heavy metal door.
He heads down the steep, thick concrete steps that are set in solid limestone. He takes a sharp left into the darkness, then another, before revealing an astounding time capsule preserved from the height of the Atomic Age.
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At the height of the Cold War, when Texans worried obsessively about atomic-tipped Russian missiles heading their way, local TV pioneers Gordon Wilkison and Cactus Pryor made a short, fictional public service film. “Target Austin” starts with eerie music reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone” and shows a sleepy city on a sunny day. Ominously, leaders receive a 20-minute warning that a nuclear bomb was headed Austin’s way. They put out emergency warnings. One woman shrugs off the order to evacuate, only to give prayerful thanks when allowed out of the Brown Building basement two weeks later. A man tries to flee the bomb, first in his car, then on foot. He does not survive. A family does everything “right,” calmly checking off checklists before taking a stylish dinner in their fallout shelter. Historians suggest that the scenes in the shelter were filmed in a demonstration model built in Zilker Park. “Target Austin” is campy and funny at times but also a glorious and well-produced bit of visual history about long-ago Austin and Atomic Age anxiety. See it at the Texas Archive of the Moving Picture website: http://www.texasarchive.org/library/index.php/Target_Austin.
Michael Barnes writes about Austin’s people, places, culture and history.