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Life magazine, September 15, 1951
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LIFE: September 15, 1961

Life magazine devoted 14 of its huge pages to the cause of civil defense in its September 15, 1961 issue. It was not the first and it would not the last issue that the editors of the magazine would commit to a movement many Americans viewed with skepticism. This particular edition is noteworthy because it featured—with a mushroom cloud background—a message from the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. The Kennedy Administration had originally considered a costly mass mailing on the issue of civil defense to every American household, but decided using Life as its delivery mechanism (with its massive circulation) would be just as effective.

Kennedy's message to the public was that the government was taking steps to offer public shelter protection (shelter surveys and shelter "marking" was underway), but that these efforts would take time. "In the meantime," he suggested, "there is much that you can do to protect yourself—and in doing so strengthen our nation." The remaining 13 pages of the issue include fascinating photographs, graphics and text that preserve this paranoid time in history.
President John F. Kennedy letter to readers of Life
One eerie photo shows a large number of citizens of a suburb of Boise, Idaho gathered around a massive community shelter that each had pitched in $100 to build. Another shows the stoic Carlson family (Mr. and Mrs. Art Carlson, daughters Charlene and Judy and son Claude) with the grim-faced, buzz-cut patriarch holding a shovel like a weapon.

A more lighthearted photo captures Vega, Texas teenager Amelia Wilson in her family's "backyard shelter" gabbing on the phone and holding a bottle of Coke in her hand.

Many of the images in the issue show the suburban homeowner how easy it is to build one's own shelter. It even includes blueprints, cutaway graphics of fallout shelters and lists of supplies to stock an atomic hideaway with.
LIFE: September 15, 1961
Life magazine
By The Editors of Life magazine
September 15, 1961

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