The Park City Museum steps into the Atomic Age
July 27, 2012
The world changed on Aug. 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
The incident, not only was instrumental in ending World War II, but also ushered in the post-atomic era.
Since then, people around the world have worried about an atomic or nuclear attack, said Michael Sheibach, author, educational consultant and co-curator of the "Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow: Living with the Atomic Bomb: 1945 to 1965" exhibit that is on display at the Park City Museum through Oct. 20.
"Even today in 2012, we are still talking about the fear of being attacked by the bomb," Sheibach said during an interview with The Park Record. "Just last night, I was watching the news about what’s happening in the Middle East."
The exhibit’s 80 items, featuring brochures, books, pamphlets, videos of TV advertisements and toys, come from Sheibach’s personal collection, which also includes comic books, movie posters and even breakfast cereals.
"What is on display at the museum is 20 percent of my collection and is a really nice representation of what I have," Sheibach said. "It’s my private collection, but I work with Exhibits U.S.A. in Kansas City, Mo., and they sponsor the exhibit.
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"I presented my collection to them and we spent two years selecting things and putting it all together," he said.
Sheibach divided his items into at play, at home, in school, at work and in the community.
" doing so, it gives people who walk through the exhibit an idea of just how much the bomb was part of the culture from 1945 to 1955," Sheibach said. "When you were at home, you heard about it on the radio or saw it on TV. You saw fallout shelter signs at work, and there were reminders everywhere else you went."
The collection began while Sheibach was working on his doctorate in the early 1990s.
"I was writing my first book, ‘Atomic Narratives and American Youth,’ and it focused on children and adolescents who grew up in the late ’40s and early ’50s," he said. "There is so much written about rock ‘n’ roll from the mid-1950s on and there are a lot of things written about kids growing up in the 1930s because of the War, but there really isn’t a lot of information about what it was like to grow up between 1945 and 1955."
Sheibach’s research led him to old elementary schools, books and high school newspapers.
"It became apparent, pretty quickly, that the atomic bomb was a very strong image during those times," he said. "That’s what sparked all the collecting."
The book was finally published in 2003, but in 1998, a friend introduced Sheibach to the online auction site eBay.com
"I typed in atomic bomb and, ‘boom,’" he said with a smile. "I would say 95 percent of the things on display at the museum were purchased on eBay. It’s a passion for me, and my family thinks it’s an obsession."
When Sheibach collects these items, he sees them through a historical perspective.
"These things are not just a collection of artifacts," he said. "They tell a story about what Americans, young and old, went through during an era that gave us family TV shows like ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ and ‘Leave It to Beaver.’
"While it’s true that these shows about stable family life were being watched and enjoyed, there was, under the surface, a constant knowledge that the atomic bomb was real and that the Soviet Union had one," Sheibach said. "It wasn’t so much as a possibility that we would be attacked, but there was a period where people felt it was a probability."
That’s why the government was so adamant that everyone was prepared for the disaster.
"There were two main views that people were exposed to at this time," Sheibach said. "On the one hand, President Eisenhower and the military wanted to make sure Americans felt protected, and on the other side was the Federal Civil Defense Administration, whose only purpose was to make sure every American was prepared for war."
Some historians call that whole period "The Age of Anxiety."
"That’s a good description," Sheibach said. "Yes, people were going to work and, yes, they were moving to suburbia and watching ‘Ozzie and Harriet,’ but there was always that tension about communism and the Cold War. The root of the whole Cold War was the fact that the Soviet Union had an atomic bomb."
Scheibach learned many things while building his collection.
"I didn’t realize how prevalent the brochures were back then," he said. "Every city published reprints from the government.
He also didn’t know how many of these types of brochures or posters and booklets were sponsored by local businesses.
"People would go to a plumber’s business and see a brochure about how to protect their families, and on the back would be the plumber’s business information as a promotional piece," Sheibach explained.
Even household items were constant reminders of the threat.
"For example, one of the artifacts in the exhibit is an ice crusher shaped like the bomb," Sheibach said.
Other reminders were children’s toys, including plastic Geiger counters and toy radarscopes that were decorated with the Civil Defense Administration stickers.
"Kids would turn the radar on, and a small screen with an airplane would light up," Sheibach said. "When kids turned another knob they would see an airplane silhouette. If it matched an ally plane, a green light would turn on, but it if matched an enemy plane, a red light would come on. Then the kids could activate a really loud alarm by pushing an alarm button.
"It’s interesting to think that while the children were playing with these toys and participating in ‘duck-and-cover drills’ at their schools, the parents were being told to prepare their families for war," he said. "It was a fascinating era. Looking back, some of these things may appear funny, but if you don’t look back, but try to put yourself back to that period, it was very real and very intense."
Scheibach hopes parents will bring their kids to see the exhibit.
"I don’t want it to only attract Baby Boomers, because it’s relevant today," he said. "It’s not just looking at the past, but looking at a part of history that is still with us today."
The"Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow: Living with the Atomic Bomb, 1945-1965" exhibit is on display at the Park City Museum through Saturday, Oct. 20. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityhistory.org ..