REGURGITATED: Nuclear Reconnaissance

In Excerpts on April 15, 2011 at 7:25 am

During the height of the Cold War, anti-aircraft missile batteries surrounded many of the major population centers in the United States. Built under the Project Nike program, these rings of military bases formed defense shields against a nuclear attack from Soviet long-range bombers.

Chicago had a total of 23 batteries — the most among the Nike program cities. … Most of the sites were built on the urban fringes of the city and away from densely populated areas. … But what’s really interesting about these Chicago emplacements (and what really piqued our interest in the very first place) is that three of them were inserted into prime parkland area along the shores of Lake Michigan.

The launch area of Site C-03, for instance, was built on Belmont Harbor; its control area was on Montrose Harbor a little further to the north. Just a few yards away from its arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles were high-rise lakefront apartments. One wonders if residents in those buildings regularly spied on the missiles preening upwards on their launchers during test runs. Surely they must have been treated to the spectacle of a simulated nuclear armageddon.

Another battery, Site C-40, was built on the northern end of Burnham Park, near McCormick Place and Soldier Field. The third, Site C-41, was located in the similarly genteel surroundings of Jackson Park, the very same park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and in an earlier era hosted Daniel Burnham’s White City during the World’s Columbian Exposition.

It’s interesting to think that in the backyard of the Museum of Science of Industry, students from the nearby University of Chicago might have taken leisurely strolls among picturesque lagoons and arcadian meadows while soldiers, in their restricted enclosures, hurriedly scampered about during a readiness drill, the sounds of birds twittering and frolicking mashed up with alarms blaring. Closer to the lake, people threw frisbees around while radar towers looming above them tracked the skies for any incoming apocalypse.

—From “Sunday in the Park with Chicago’s Cold War Missile Defense Shield


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