Encore Performances: She knows how hard a heart grows, under the nuclear shadows.

A Twitter trending topic brought this post from the old blog to mind. Originally posted December 2009; edited ever so slightly for rebroadcast. The title comes from here.

Help me out with a question, readers.

It’s apparently considered gospel here in the Lehigh Valley that, had the Russkies launched a nuclear assault during the Cold War (and especially in the ’50s and ’60s), this area would have been on their first-hit target list because of the national strategic importance of Bethlehem Steel.

The local paper alluded to this rumor in this section of its big Steel history published a few years ago — though they were slightly less definitive, saying only that published maps showed that Bethlehem was within the target range of missiles planted in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
(That’s kind of a no-brainer — everything on the East Coast south of Portsmouth, N.H., was probably within range of those missiles.)
The story does claim, though, that “Bethlehem Steel had made the Lehigh Valley a target because it was a leading defense contractor.”

This reminds me of a conversation a whole bunch of kids had around a middle-school lunch table when I was in seventh grade, circa 1985.
A couple of the cool kids at the table said (citing no authority that I remember) that in case of a Soviet missile attack, Rochester would be a first-hit target, due to the proximity of the Ginna nuclear plant.

This sounded like bushwah to me at the time, and I said so immediately … which earned me a “Shuddup, Blumenau!” from one of the nerdy cool kids.
(Remember, this was 1985; those were halcyon days for nerdy cool kids. Ferris Bueller, the Eighties patron saint of nerdy cool kids, would be along in less than a year’s time.)
It didn’t really sting, though; I still thought I was right, and time is on my side.

So annnnnnnnnyway, dear readers, I’d like your feedback:
Was this a nationwide trope during the Cold War?
Did every community in the country have some homegrown reason why they would be near the head of the line for a Soviet nuclear attack?
Just like college kids have passed around the story of the sinking library for generations, did generations of younger kids explain earnestly to each other why they were in Leonid Brezhnev’s crosshairs?

Or maybe this goofy canard just followed me around and no one else.

Anyway, do weigh in in the Comments. Is this something you heard as a kid or young adult wherever you happened to be?

I know at least a few of my readers grew up in areas of smaller population than my hometown, so I’m especially interested in their answers.
If the people of Loyalsock Township or Cadiz expected to get a night letter from the Soviets, I’d love to know how they justified it.

On the original post, my man Jim Bartlett commented: “They said the same thing in Quad Cities, USA (Davenport/Bettendorf IA, Rock Island/Moline IL), thanks to the John Deere and Alcoa Aluminum plants, which would presumably have started producing tanks and aircraft aluminum in the event of a war.”

And regular reader West Berkeley Flats added: “I grew up outside the DC area, which according to the Book of Lists was the USSR’s #1 nuclear target. #2 – #10 were places in the middle of nowhere in areas such as North Dakota that had missile silos. I guess the question is how many areas did the Soviet Union have the nuclear capacity to target?”


Mundane Moments: Atom plant, mother.

My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

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See those green bushes in the foreground?

What we have here is a rare picture of the atom plant (Marginafolia sacreclaudensis.)

Scrubby and unprepossessing, the atom plant grows in tight clusters in a geographic area roughly equivalent to that traveled by the Marquis de Denonville.

It’s believed that, at one point thousands of years ago, the atom plant dominated the landscape between Albany and Buffalo.

In his journals, the ill-fated 17th-century French explorer Normand Grosgrain cursed the endless acres of atom plants in which he would eventually surrender his life: “They mock my hunger with their fruitlessness … the wind through their twigs is the very call of Death.”

Later settlers found different uses for Marginafolia sacreclaudensis. When soaked in water at length, its branches yielded a refreshing, mildly intoxicating beverage. The effect, the settlers discovered, was even more potent when the roots were included.

Pioneer journals indicate that white and red man alike devastated the landscape throughout the 19th century, tearing acres of atom plants up at the roots to savor its herby, head-swimming tisane.

By 1920, the atom plant was approaching extinction. It clung to life in scattered thickets and fields, primarily in the watersheds of the Genesee and Mohawk rivers.

Slow to regenerate, it has made only a limited recovery in the past century, nurtured by a dedicated few nature lovers who understand its former significance and omnipresence.

No surprise, then, that my grandpa would whip out his camera when he came across a stand of the atom plant and record the moment for posterity. He knew he might never see this rare bird of the floral kingdom again in his lifetime.

As for that half-finished building that happened to be in the background, I dunno what they make there. Hot water or something.

Ontario, New York, 1969.