A blast from the past: workers discover bomb shelter
(Correction - In a previous version of this story, Fiddlehead Focus misidentified the person who recognized the structure as a bomb shelter. The actual person was Mike Dumond. We apologize for any confusion this error may have caused.)
FORT KENT - During the demolition of a house on Main Street two weeks ago, workers discovered a nuclear bomb shelter in the basement of Don Lebel's childhood home.
Mike Dumond of Fort Kent was watching the men demolishing a home on Main Street, clearing the path for the new entrance to Riverside Park, when he noticed that a room in the cellar appeared to have a thick cement ceiling.
It was an old-style bomb shelter from the middle of the last century.
Don Lebel, who grew up in the 60 East Main Street home said his parents, Albert and Muriel Lebel, built the shelter in the early 1960s.
It was the era of the Cold War and a nuclear arms race was in full swing. In popular culture, the threat of nuclear destruction appeared in movies, books, and shows that depicted massive devastation and mutated monsters. In northern Maine, everyone knew the nearby Loring Air Base was one of the prime targets for the opponents of the United States in the new world order following WWII.
All across the nation, children were learning the lesson of "duck and cover." Lebel, along with his sisters Jean Lebel and Patti Lebel-Couture, spoke about those times in a recent family gathering that occurred soon after the discovery of the shelter.
Lebel said, "My sisters both remembered in school practicing for air raids, and it was in response to that that my father built the bomb shelter."
Albert and Muriel responded like many people by creating a supposedly safe enclosure in the ground near a home.
In this case, they built the shelter in the basement. They did the job themselves, "cinder block by cinder block," said Lebel.
The small shelter has thick cement walls, and a roof made of cinder blocks which they reinforced with steel railroad ties. They put shelves on the walls, which they used to store water and food.
Lebel was too young to remember those first years with the shelter, but he said his sisters recalled preparing for the worst.
He said, "When they were younger, they would practice running down into the shelter.”
As time wore on, the constant threat of a nuclear apocalypse became an accepted part of modern living.
Lebel said, "After a few years, it became just a storage area for canned goods and extra things that wouldn't sit anywhere else."
Lebel said his parents weren't the only ones who built bomb shelters to protect their families during those uncertain times.
He said, "I wouldn't be surprised if there are others in homes nearby."
It had a long-lasting impact on Don Lebel, reaching into his own approach to his children.
He said, "I think it instilled more of a protective nature with my own children. I think that was always subliminal in the back of my mind. If something happened, we would be ok. Dad built this and we would be protected."