Family Unveils 50-Year-Old Mystery In Their Backyard

 Woodland Hills, California, is a peaceful neighborhood bordering Santa Monica Mountains and Colleen and Chris Otcasek were lucky to have bought a home in such an amazing community. Their real property acquisition began just like any other home purchase but the property had a secret waiting to be unveiled in their backyard.

Read the story of the Otcaseks as they discover this incredible secret buried for over fifty years. Our favorite slides are #21, #13 and #2!

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

#28. Uncommon Feature

We all love a house with amenities such as a pool, a laundry room, a patio, a playroom, or even an outdoor shed. But little did Colleen and Chris Otcasek know that their newly acquired home had an extremely uncommon amenity waiting for them to uncover it. After all, it had been years since anyone had walked into that particular place.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

It was 2013 when the Otcasek family bought their home in Woodland Hills, California. Before they made their purchase, the realtors told this family that the house included what they called “an unusual feature”. Such a statement would definitely arouse the curiosity of many of us. But what could this odd characteristic have been? Well, it was a large, concrete-lined hole in the property’s backyard.

#27. Going Down

It seems that the property once had a fallout shelter that had been built for protection during the Cold War. Colleen and Chris didn’t know about the shelter so, once they moved in, they decided to go to their backyard and take a look at what was below their feet. When the Otcasek family reached the concrete hole, they found a long ladder. Could something be lurking down there?

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

With their minds set on uncovering the secrets, the Otcaseks decided to make their way down to the bottom of the stairs. It felt as if the rusty ladder hadn’t been used in years, which was probably a good assumption. As they climbed down they realized that the ladder was rather lengthy, to be precise, it extended for 15 feet long. Once they touched the ground again, the Otcasek family found a thick, metal door waiting for them.

#26. The Frightening Cold War

The door the family found confirmed their suspicions: the bunker was still there. What could have led the previous homeowners to build such a refuge? You probably guessed right, the Cold War. It was a dreadful part of our history, a time where many lived in doubt and fear, which started after World War II and ended until the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. The nuclear arms race was inaugurated shortly after WWII between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

As they wanted to gain power over Europe, both the USA and the Soviet Union were developing a large arms cache of nuclear weapons. The great presence of mass destruction weapons caused people to live in terror as they thought that such weapons could go off at any second and kill everyone. Fearing death and knowing the destructive power of those weapons, people had to ensure their survival by every means possible.

#25. Discovering History In The Backyard

In 1961, President Kennedy wrote a letter suggesting the building of fallout shelters, which was published in Life magazine. Dreading the explosion of the nuclear arsenal, people began erecting nuclear shelters or bunkers so as to protect themselves from any harm. The idea behind these civil defenses was to house a family, and sometimes neighbors too, in case of a nuclear emergency and shield them from any radioactive debris ensuing from a nuclear explosion.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Although these shelters were not completely effective, several countries began building them underground to ensure the protection of high-ranking government officials. What’s more, even some civilians started building underground bunkers to protect their families. The government developed warning bells that would be used in case of a nuclear attack or explosion. As soon as those bells rang, people would run to their shelters and lock themselves in, bracing for the best.

#24. The Underground Shelter

Before the Otcasek family moved into the premises, the property had belonged to a different family. This family had the thought of constructing the cement bunker to safeguard themselves from any nuclear attack. Once the construction ended, the family filled the underground bunker with all kinds of necessities. When the Otcaseks opened the door to this concealed space, they found that most of the supplies remained there untouched.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

The previous owners had made sure to supply the nuclear shelter thoroughly as they had to cover all the basic needs. The Otcasek family found water, canned food, clothes, and medicine, among other items. And the best part of the shelter was that it was large enough to protect a family of four.

Who was the mind behind the construction?

#23. Previous Owner

Even though the underground shelter was well stocked, Colleen and Chris predicted that the supplies stored down there would have lasted a four-member family for two to three weeks top. It’s possible that the previous owner was hoping that the nuclear attack would be over by the time the supplies had run out. But who had planned such a shelter?

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Curious about the former owners, the Otcaseks started their research and contacted the media. They were interested in knowing who had built the bunker originally and their research led them to a man named Alvin Kaufman. Kaufman was a nuclear engineer for the government when he constructed the underground bunker in 1961. Certain about the dangers of nuclear fallout, the engineer made sure to build the best shelter he and his family could possibly own.

#22. A Well-Thought Shelter

Engineer Alvin Kaufman was very detailed when he planned the building of the fallout shelter. Debra, Alvin’s daughter, who visited the Otcaseks to tell them her father’s story, confirmed that her dad had originally intended to build an underground shelter big enough to house his family as well as his neighbors. However, Alvin’s idea was rejected.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

After his idea was turned down, the engineer decided to build the shelter just for his family’s sake. As a result, he planned a fallout shelter that had different sleeping areas for its inhabitants, a water tank, a man-powered air filter and enough food to feed the entire family for a few weeks.

#21. Consequences Of The Cold War

Although no actual war was waged (only an imminent fear that it would occur), the Cold War was a fear-provoking period in history where war was fought only by means of propaganda and rumors. Hence, the name “cold war”. The USSR feared the power that the USA had been gaining and, inversely, the USA feared the USSR for the same reasons. As a result, many people were scared of the future, and the shelter discovered by the Otcaseks served to illustrate this dreadful period.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

However, one of the consequences of this war is that the USA and its culture were able to evolve technologically, socially and artistically. The United States developed new technology that would be of use in case of a missile attack. For example, submarines were becoming more technologically advanced and let’s not forget about the Space Race, thanks to which we can enjoy personal computers and calculators.

#20. The Cold War On Screens

The political differences between the USSR and the USA even made it to the big screen. There were propaganda movies showing Hollywood’s disdain in a very upfront way. These films cast the United States in a positive light in contrast with the depiction made of the USSR. Non-political movies would stealthily include references to the unwaged war, for example, Dr. Strangelove (1963) and Red Dawn (1984).

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

The propaganda could also be found in commercials, which sometimes didn’t hesitate to make a profit out of the fear that the Soviet Union and the US triggered in people’s minds. For instance, Wendy had a commercial slating the USSR for its uninteresting sense of fashion and lack of personality.

Keep reading to know what happened next!

#19. Protective Measures

In spite of the entertaining propaganda displayed on the big screen and on TV, US citizens had to find a way to protect themselves in the event a nuclear war suddenly started. Because of the war looming, several families decided to build underground shelters to ensure their safety in the event of a full-scale conflict.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Such bunkers were designed and built differently; some were bigger than others depending on the budget each family was able to spend on the construction. Still, these cement safeguards had the same function: keeping families safe inside while having a sense of comfort as the known world was plunged into chaos.

#18. Improvised Havens

Surely, people who live in areas in which extreme climate conditions occur can relate to this. Basements, which would normally be used to protect families and friends from tornadoes and hurricanes, also severed as shelters during the Cold War. However, basements were simpler versions of fallout shelters.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

In order to save money, families could set aside a small part of their savings to transform their basements into havens. Those refugees could not handle high radiation levels because of partial air filtering. Likewise, basements usually lacked permanent amenities such as sanitation systems as well as separate areas to rest and cook. Hence, families saved money on the one hand while, on the other hand, they sacrificed their safety.

#17. Trenches

Apart from basements, other forms of shelters included trenches. Trenches are long, narrow holes dug underground. These were also commonly used as fallout bunkers, especially by soldiers. Thanks to them being several feet below the ground, trenches helped to cover from smoke and other menaces resulting from war.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Basically, trenches were useful to keep the people out of harm’s way and shut out everything above ground. What’s more, these ditches were constructed to endure torrential rain. More often than not, such ditches would have a plastic roof so as to prevent the hole from caving in on itself.

#16. Protection For Everyone

Regardless of the type of shelter families decided to construct, these had to be located nearby so that everyone could take shelter at short notice. Sometimes shelters ended up being so small that they caused everyone to be in a squeeze, especially when a large number of supplies were stored.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Still, as shelters were built from concrete, a sturdy material, they were more durable and secure. Occasionally, neighbors and even communities would cooperate to build refuges that could house many people. Hence, they were bigger than other structures, like subways, and had more space allowing many families to be housed in those safe havens.

#15. The Haul

When the Otcasek family entered the fallout shelter, they came across a bounty more abundant than what they could have ever imagined. Among the supplies, the family found canned food and other imperishable food, clothes, medicine, toiletries, magazines, books, and board games for a family to enjoy. All these goods seemed to be able to serve any family well in times of need.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

A well-stocked shelter, such as the one the Otcaseks had in their backyard, was normal. Because shelters accommodated as many people as possible, so anyone in charge of stocking up shelters had to make sure there was enough food, water, and first aid supplies to last several days an.d even weeks.

#14. Staying Warm… Argyle Style!

When working on a list of items to bring into a fallout shelter, you should remember to add ‘clothes’. The importance of being warm shouldn’t be underestimated. If a nuclear war were to start, one of the side effects would be a nuclear winter, in other words, a dramatic drop in temperatures. Luckily, the Otcaseks came across a vintage Arrow brand argyle sweater.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Argyle is a diamond pattern, derived from Scottish kilts and plaids, which became trendy after World War I when people started associating the design with the Duke of Windsor. Since then, argyle has been used to create everything from jerseys to socks and even sweaters. Thus, it’s no surprise that the previous owners included an argyle sweater in the fallout shelter.

#13. Preserving Food

Another tick on the list should be kitchenware and food preservation products. The Otcasek family found several utensils used in kitchens. Of course, cooking is of the essence, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise to find such utensils in a fallout bunker. As people are supposed to take refuge for many days and even weeks, it’s important to have many non-disposable tableware and cooking items.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

But what about food preservation? If families are supposed to prepare food and cook, it’s key that they can preserve the food. Apart from cooking utensils, Chris and Colleen found that the Kaufmans had filled their refuge with many plastic bags and stacks of Saran and Reynolds wrap. Smart, right?

What else do you think they found?

#12. Preparation Is Key

So far, the Kaufman family had stocked up argyle sweaters, kitchenware, and stacks of plastic wrap. Prepared as they were, the Kaufmans had considered all kinds of scenarios so, in their bunker, they made sure to include medication. What’s more, they were cautious enough to store it in two different medical kits so that everyone knew what was inside.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

When the Otcaseks opened the boxes, they noticed there were remedies for different diseases. One of the containers had sleeping pills, nausea medication, a couple of bottles with orange capsules, and different types of ointments, all of which had long expired. The Kaufman family certainly considered all scenarios when they were stoking up the shelter.

#11. Medical Kit

Did you think that the Kaufmans would’ve been satisfied with only one emergency kit? Think twice! The Kaufmans stored a second emergency kit in the bunker to be prepared for almost any kind of emergency, which was ready to be used at any time to cure physical injuries. Basically, this first-aid kit included indispensable items.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

The items found in the kit were foot powder, bacitracin ointment, compress bandages, and absorbent cotton gauze. Just like the Kaufmans took the precaution to gather different medicines and medical supplies, other people did the same. It’s possible that most of the fallout shelters built during the Cold War had emergency kits like this one.

#10. Appetizing Food?

The Kaufman’s list of things to have in a nuclear bunker could not be completed without food. As told, these shelters were built so that entire families and large communities could survive for weeks without having to go back to the surface until the worst had passed. Hence, when the Otcaseks were checking the bunker, they found cans of edible food, some of which was multi-purpose.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Chris and Colleen found a tin filled with generic cookies side by side with two tins of Multi-Purpose Food, a granulated protein mix. Supposedly, this powder provides sufficient nutrition at a very economical price. At Clifford Clinton’s request, Dr. Henry Borsook, a Caltech biochemist, and Mme. Soulange Berzceller, an experienced French cook, developed this powder food to help hungry people.

#9. Multi-Purpose Food

There were different types of dried food and cookies in the nuclear shelter. However, the multi-purpose food or MPF was the most nutritive of them all. It was common at the time to store MPF in shelters: it was sold at a cheap price —it only cost just three cents a meal— and was high in protein, which made it perfect as a temporary supplement if an emergency were to take place.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Moreover, this multi-purpose powder was preserved in cans, which made it easy to store, and it was ideal for small, confined spaces. If the instructions were followed correctly, the MPF could last a couple of weeks. In fact, MPF and canned food were common in civil defense food kits sold around the country during the Cold War.

What do you think Colleen and Chris found next?

#8. Diversion

Besides food and water, clothing, and medicine, Alvin Kaufman made sure to store up enough entertainment for the whole family. Another smart move, don’t you think? If they had to spend many days underground, they’d better have something to distract themselves from whatever could be happening outside and to relieve the sheer boredom of being secluded!

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

To the Otcaseks surprise, a pile of magazines was also waiting downstairs. It seems that Mr. Kaufman was fond of sci-fi stories and technology: there was a collection of Analog Science Fiction as well as Fact magazines. The sci-fi publications included stories from Isaac Asimov and John W. Campbell, among others, whereas Fact magazines had different articles published about topics such as technology, aliens and weird science.

#7. Paper Towels And Tissues

Other necessities stocked up included rolls of Kleenex paper towels and Queens Pride facial tissues. Did the Kaufman family pack enough paper towels? It’s hard to tell, especially when they had no way of assessing how long they would have had to take refuge underground. The good news was that, if they had run out of paper towels, they could still have used the facial tissues as a replacement.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Even though the paper rolls wouldn’t have lasted long enough for a family of four, the Kaufmans would have had to survive with what they had available. As we all know, in the beginning, the Kleenex paper towels were used for taking off makeup and cream but, later on, they started to be used for other purposes too.

#6. The Reliable Dixie Cups

Apart from the paper towels and facial tissues, Chris and Colleen found Dixie Paper Cups stocked in the underground bunker. One of the purposes for these cups could’ve been for drinking water, obviously, but they could also have been used for preparing the multi-purpose powder.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Created in 1907, the Dixie Cups were originally named ‘Health Kups.’ These cups were used to serve cold water without difficulties on long train rides. Can you think of a better way of delivering an enjoyable service to passengers on trains during the good ol’ days? And definitely, the Kaufman family would have used the Dixie Cups to drink the next drink…

#5. The Must-Have Drink

We’ve listed all the different amenities and articles that the Kaufmans had stored in the fallout shelter but we’re still missing the most important good: coffee. The Kaufman family had stocked up the bunker with this brown beverage in case a nuclear war were to break out. Let’s be honest, who could go on living underground for weeks without coffee?

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

When Colleen and Chris found the refuge, they noticed that there were several jars and cans of ground coffee. What’s more, there were different coffee varieties to choose from! We can easily guess that the family had a thing for coffee as it filled the room, even though many of the cans hadn’t been opened.

#4. The Brains Of The Fallout Shelter

Before the Otcasek family bought the property, the family residing in the home knew that the dangers that war posed were high and the family head understood the repercussions of a nuclear war better than most. The reason is simple: Alvin Kaufman, the mind behind the concrete hole, was a nuclear engineer.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Being an experienced engineer, Kaufman valued innovation and wanted to put his ability into a refuge that could keep his own family safe from any harm. And he achieved it: the safe haven that the Otcaseks chanced on exemplified that. The engineer knew what a nuclear fallout would demand and he built one that was safer than any other bunker in the vicinity.

#3. The Daughter

The Kaufman’s daughter, Debra, was interviewed and corroborated her father’s plan. According to Debra, there was a palpable fear permeating the air when the nuclear shelter was built.

In that era, in the 60s, there was a much greater fear and feeling that a nuclear war was possible,” Debra observed.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Debra confirmed that the shelter was constructed to accommodate a family of four and that the provisions stocked down there were calculated for such a family. Additionally, the shelter wasn’t supposed to house them for a long-term period even if the shelter had food, toiletries, medicines, and a place for them to sleep in.

#2. Debra Opens Up About Her Father

For the interview with John Rabe of Off-Ramp, Debra went back to her childhood home where she opened up about the man behind the shelter: her father, Alvin Kaufman. According to the engineer’s daughter, he was a modest man who worked for Litton Industries. As he was concerned by a potential nuclear war, Kaufman worked conscientiously to understand the effects that a nuclear war might have on people and their provisions.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

In other words, he derived his inspiration to construct a secure shelter from what he learned. Being a good man, he didn’t construct the shelter only to protect his family. In fact, he had hoped to get his neighbors engaged as well, except that they didn’t like the idea. In spite of being rejected, Kaufman continued to build the underground refuge for his own family.

#1. Unused Safe Haven

There were two items that caught the Otcaseks eyes: a 30-year calendar and a writing pad. Colleen Otcasek tried to conjure up the use of having a calendar 15 feet underground.

Anyone who built a shelter in their backyard would have to be pretty optimistic,” she acknowledged.

Photo: Courtesy of Direct Expose

Surprising as it was finding a nuclear shelter in their backyard, the Otcasek family was pleased that it was never used. Even though the Kaufman family was extremely well prepared, the Otcasek (and all of us) are thankful that the country never waged a nuclear war. Had the USA engaged in such a conflict, those weeks of supplies might not have been enough. Even so, it’s nice to uncover a piece of history in your backyard, right?

Related posts: