Ken Zwick and Carol Hollar-Zwick moved their family to Neenah, Wisconsin. When they moved in, they never realized an unusual feature in their backyard. Little did they know, they had a Cold War bunker in their backyard.
It wasn’t until 2010 that anyone considered opening the heavy steel hatch. Once they went on in, it set them on a course to discovering things they never imagined before.
When they finally decided to do something about the unopened hatch a decade later, they had no idea that it would lead them to the surprise of a lifetime.
The Mystery Of The Hatch And The Zwick’s
For the past decade, the Zwick family had been living in their home. Both of them knew that they had something in their backyard that looked like a hatch. However, they were both surprised at what was laying inside of it after all of these years.
Throughout the years, no one bothered to explore the nooks and crannies of their yard. The “out of sight, out of mind” aspect would only last so long until they finally looked inside.
How It All Began
Long before moving to Neenah, Wisconsin, the Zwick’s were living in New Jersey. But, it was a job offer that would lead the family to pack up their things and move to Wisconsin. They would get up and move to the Midwest where the cost of living is much cheaper.
Their new adventure took them on a path to a new home. Eventually, the place they would find wasn’t an ordinary one.
Neenah Is A Very Quiet Area
The Zwick’s would learn that it must have been fate that drove them to the Midwest. Despite the town being fairly irrelevant, the family was about to find some property that would be of major significance.
The city of Neenah has an estimated population of 25,000. The name Neenah was given to the town by Governor James Duane Doty. The name means “water” or “running water” in the Native American language.
Neenah Is The Home Of Steel And Paper Industries
Some paper companies from the area include Clearwater Paper and Kimberly-Clark. Kimberly-Clark was founded in Neenah, and it still maintains operations there today. However, their headquarters are located in Irving, Texas.
The town is also the headquarters of Plexus, a developer and manufacturer of electronic products. Also headquartered there are Bemis Co, Inc., Theda Clark Hospital, and Checker Logistics. Business process outsourcing-cold calling organizations are contributors to the town’s economy.
There Was A Secret In That Backyard
The picturesque residence was located in a sleepy neighborhood in Neenah and boasted a rather spacious backyard. It was the perfect place for the children to grow up. Nevertheless, the family was notified that something was there before they moved in.
They made sure to take note of the mystery in their yard. However, the question of “what secrets did the hatch hold?” came up in the household. There was only one way to find out.
There Was Something Looming In The Backyard
Carol and Ken raised a family of three children. As the years went on, the rusted old hatch from the backyard was overrun with brush, hiding it from plain sight.
Whatever the reason it may be, they never even considered removing the brush that was growing over the hatch. But, somehow, it was always in the back of their minds. They didn’t know it then, but it was time to open it up.
Clearing The Brush Led To Something Else
The time had finally come for the Zwick’s to open the hatch. Carol and Ken were working in the backyard one day when they decided it was time. When the couple removed the overgrowth, the hatch became exposed.
The brush had grown over the rusted hatch, like it was out of a scary movie, protecting a secret. Maybe whatever was underneath was something that shouldn’t be opened. But, only time would tell.
The Hatch Opened Into The Underground
In the grand scheme of things, the Zwick’s had no use for the whatever was in the hatch. The area they lived in barely had any tornado warnings, so it wasn’t like they needed a safe place to hide.
Eventually, the space, as they would soon discover, wasn’t made as a tornado shelter at all. But, that made the underground a bigger mystery. What did they find after they opened the old rusted metal hatch?
A Time Portal
In an interview with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Carol admitted,“You’re probably thinking – how could we let it sit there so long?” She assumed it was empty, but little did she know, it was more than just an empty room.
The hatch contained something that resembled a time portal into the past. The Zwick’s understood that there was a room down below, but couldn’t imagine what they were about to find on their property.
Something Unexpected Changed
The real estate agent who sold the home to the Zwick’s explained something to them. When viewing the house, the realtor explained that there was an underground room below the backyard hatch.
For whatever reason, the family never bothered taking the time to explore the depths of the hatch. As mentioned before, it took them a decade to find out what was underground. They would soon be shocked to find it was something else.
The Look Inside
Carol and Ken would get around to looking to the greenery that took over the hatch. Once they did so, that enabled them to take a closer look at this feature in the yard that went unrecognized. But, they didn’t have much hope for what was inside.
The family cleared away the bushes that had grown over the cover of the shelter and unlocked the chain that secured the doors closed.
They Figured It Was Nothing
Carol and Ken had every belief that there was nothing more than a dirty old room. Once they finally decided to deal with the long-forgotten structure, Ken and Carol faced an ultimatum. Should they open it and go inside, or leave it as it is?
Perhaps whatever was down there could have been potentially dangerous or life-threatening. Maybe it was feral animals down below or cockroaches. They were in for a surprise for what was to come.
It Was Really Dark Down Below
Finally, with all of the greenery and brush cleared off of the hatch, they were able to get to the door and try to pry it open. They made attempts to get the rusted door to open and it finally broke free.
Ken and Carol peered into the darkness that was below them. They could tell that the room had been flooded with a ton of water. So, they explored further.
The Continuous Exploration
The Zwick’s decided that going further meant pumping the water out of the underground chamber. They would lug hoses over and begin to drain out all of the water, not knowing where the water came from.
After all, the water could have been there for well over a decade. The water had to be completely pumped out altogether. They found themselves in a small underground space, but the rest was empty.
Inside The Hatch Was Rather Mysterious
As soon as they got into the shelter, it was easy to point out that it was never meant to be easy to get in. Interestingly enough, the underground space was constructed as a fallout shelter.
Essentially, the shelter is an enclosed space which is designed to protect people from radioactive debris. But just who had built such an intricate fallout shelter and why? Those questions were actually easy to answer.
The answer behind who built the fallout shelter was an easy one. The reason why is because there had been only one other owner of the house prior to the Zwick’s moving in.
The house was built way back in 1951. Initially, the previous owner was Frank Pansch, a physician. According to numerous records, Pansch started construction on the fallout shelter in the backyard in 1960’s because of the fear of nuclear war.
The Cold War Was At Its Peak In The Sixties
Pansch was a very cautious man, especially at the height of the Cold War. He knew that things could turn for the worst between the United States and the Soviet Union. His precautionary attitude was understood, given the events at the time.
Not long after he finished building the shelter in 1960, the Cuban Missile Crisis would erupt. This led the government to inform citizens to prepare for a possible attack.
The Nuclear Panic
Pansch followed suit and got in on the fallout shelter phenomenon. But, why on Earth would a physician living in a small town in the Midwest need a fallout shelter?
Well, it wasn’t the city of Neenah that made him build the housing, but the city’s proximity to other geographic locations. While Neenah wasn’t a likely target for the Soviet nuclear arsenal, it was in the fallout zone for other nearby targets.
The Worst Case Scenario
If one of those cities were attacked by a nuclear weapon, then Pansch and his family would have been safe in the fallout shelter. Plus, they would have been able to emerge just a few weeks after the radiation dissipated.
Something like that was a luxury that no other family in the city could boast. But for Pansch, he was just trying to think ahead and make something to protect his family.
Preparing For The Worst Case Scenario
Now, being a guy who’s always on top of things, Pansch was somewhat of an everyman. The physician would go as far as completing the construction on his fallout shelter years before President Kennedy gave his speech to encourage people to prepare for the worst in 1961.
Nevertheless, the shelter that Pansch built was no ordinary one at all. Instead, what he made was quite extraordinary for any shelter.
Pansch had constructed his fallout shelter based on instructions from a government pamphlet. In 1959, they released a print called The Family Fallout Shelter. That title might sound amusing to us these days, but back then the threat of a nuclear attack was very real.
The shelter included a relatively intricate infrastructure, including a telephone line, electricity, and a ventilation system to make sure that fresh air would be able to circulate throughout.
Another Factor From The Instructions
On top of having a perfectly designed fallout shelter, Pansch made sure to stock the shelter. He was sure to stock up with anything in case of an emergency. But, seeing as the entire shelter was flooded and completely drained altogether, the Zwicks doubted that there would be anything still useful.
To their surprise, everything a person needed was in that shelter. There were items that blew Ken and Carol away.
After laying underground for decades, there were still plenty of items that would come in handy, such as bunk beds, a lantern, and a folding toilet. On top of all that, there was even enough food and supplies to last for weeks.
If the room had not been damaged by the water, the shelter would have still been in pristine condition and ready for use. However, the shelter was never properly sealed and did nothing to protect against radioactive debris.
A Slew Of Unopened Boxes Had Survived
Despite the water damage to most of the items, Ken and Carol were able to save some of the extracted objects. Ken and Carol were astonished when they opened the boxes to find them in good condition a full 50 years later, long after Pansch had stocked the fallout shelter completely.
Their incredible contents were still there, and for the most part, they were still in good condition when they found them.
Was There An Ammunition Box?
Ken and Carol took the mysterious boxes to the surface. From there, they opened them to find survival kits! The kits were like stepping into a time portal back to the grocery store in the sixties.
There was even one box that looked like an old ammunition box. The couple was uncertain of what the mystery box had inside. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives inspected the box, only to find a surprise.
Safe And Sound
As it turns out, the box was full of Hawaiian Punch! They could sigh a breath of relief that the contents of the box didn’t pose a risk.
Apart from the supply items in the shelter, there was also detection equipment, including a Geiger counter that could be used to measure radiation was found at the premises. The Zwick’s even found hunting equipment and first-aid supplies in the fallout shelter.
Sharing What They Found
Ken and Carol were over the moon with their amazing discovery. Carol told the Appleton Post-Crescent, “It’s interesting that you can open up something and find 1960 inside of it.”
Ultimately, the family decided that they didn’t want to keep, or even eat, the historic find just to themselves. Instead, they donated all of the shelter’s contents to the Neenah Historical Society. However, that wasn’t the end to their story.
Neenah Historical Society
In May of 2013, the Zwick’s findings from the shelter went on display as part of an exhibit. The items from the fallout shelter went on display along with old TV shows, books, and a radio playing public service announcements. The family couldn’t have found a better place to display all of their amazing findings.
Thankfully, the couple got around to opening the hatch and uncovering a local treasure for the city.
The story of the mystery and discovery quickly made headlines. Everyone was in awe over their finding, and many people had comments and questions. The most prominent being why did the family wait so long to open the hatch?
In response, the Hollar-Zwick family stated that they had just always thought that the shelter was empty. Would you have opened the hatch right away? Or, just forgotten about it altogether?
The Doomsday Comeback
In general, fallout shelters are turning up more and more these days. Heck, some companies are even creating doomsday shelters and selling the spaces off to willing buyers.
It could be an investment in life knowing possibly that an earthquake could happen on any given day. Hurricanes are going to continue to hit Florida and the Gulf Coast. So, it makes sense why people support such reasonable preparedness of any doomsday event.