The Mercer Museum is remembering the Atomic Age.
The Doylestown museum is displaying films, pamphlets, posters, toys, and pop culture ephemera related to the threat of atomic war from the middle of the 20th century, echoing today’s response to terrorism.
In 1966, a young Gene Hackman came to the newly constructed courthouse in the middle of Doylestown to shoot a film for the Office of Civil Defense. Just months before his career would break out with “Bonnie and Clyde,” Hackman played a G-man studying ways that a city such as Doylestown could survive an A-bomb.
“This courthouse itself, right now it’s crowded. The streets outside are busy,” said Hackman in his role as Donald Ross of the Regional Office of Civil Defense. “If an attack were to happen now, everyone could find shelter in the building.”
The fear of atomic annihilation spurred the construction of fallout shelters and widespread “duck-and-cover” drills, as well as more lighthearted items such as breakfast cereal prizes and a movie about giant ants (“Them!“).
The exhibit consists of posters, books, pamphlets, toys, and movies (both weighty and bizarre), from the private collection of author and historian Michael Scheibach.
The fear and paranoia of impending doom that infiltrated all aspects of culture back then will not be foreign to observers today.
“Aug. 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., when the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, was a world-changing moment. And it could be argued that 9/11 was a similarly world-changing moment,” said Cory Amsler, the Mercer’s vice president of collections. “I don’t think it’s a much of a leap for people to recognize in this exhibit something about contemporary life as well.”
“Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow: Living with the Atomic Bomb” at the Mercer Museum is a traveling exhibition. It anticipates the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when the United States and the Soviet Union came dangerously close to nuclear war. The exhibit continues through May 25.