May 5th, 1955 was, for most people in Anywhere USA, an ordinary spring day…but for the poor residents of Nevada’s Survival Town, it was what can only be described as a disaster of epic proportions– the US government detonated a 29 kiloton atomic bomb right near the outskirts of the tiny town. Thankfully, the only residents living there happened to be life-sized J.C. Penney mannequins, placed in the homes to find out how an average American town would be able to withstand a nuclear blast. As it turns up, some of the houses were able to survive the massive explosion; there are a few still standing that you can visit today.
It was all a part of the innocuously-named Operation Teapot, which involved a series of 14 blasts in the Nevada desert over a three-month period. The Apple-2 test on May 5th was designed to test structures made of various materials and placed varying distances away from the blast site, with the fake mannequin families posed inside, and cameras watching to see what would happen. The concept was building on a similar test blast done near several other fake houses in 1953– those structures were basically annihilated after the bomb went off. For the Apple-2 test, they even shipped in canned and frozen food to stock the pantries and freezers– to see if anything would be safe to eat post-nuclear attack. You know, because after I survive an a-bomb, the first thing I want is a can of Creamed Chip Beef Corned Beef Hash.
The blast zone from Apple-2 extended out 3 miles from ground zero. 6,000 spectators watched the explosion from 6 miles away (probably not as safe a distance as they thought, for the record). It was even broadcast on live TV and radio to nearby (human) residents. Members of the Army watched from 2-3 miles from the detonation site in trenches and tanks. Yikes.
When it’s all said and done, Survival Town had two double story buildings, three single story structures, an electrical transformer station, a radio station, a propane tank filling station, a weigh station, plus assorted cars and trailer homes. One of the buildings that survived the explosion with surprisingly little damage was a corrugated steel house placed a mere 6,800 feet from ground zero– it became known as the Behlen building. The structure did the state fair circuit as a sideshow-type exhibit (once again, not a great idea because of radiation and all) for years before retiring back to Nebraska where it was made. You can still visit it at the campus of University of Nebraska- Lincoln’s East campus.
As for the Apple-2 Houses of Survival Town…I mean, they survived a nuclear blast; of course they’re still standing! If you’re interested in visiting, all you have to do is call the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada Field Office to book a tour. You have to set them up well in advance…and don’t worry about radiation… they say it’s not an issue anymore. I would still be a little worried, but since they’re the NNSA I’m gonna go ahead and trust them on that one!