Monday, April 29, 2013



While searching for documents relating to our recent post on the Supreme Court’s Cold War relocation arrangement with a resort hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, we came across something else of interest. A few months after the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, the Court received “Pass Information” forms from the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP).[1] The “questionnaires”—as a member of Chief Justice Earl Warren’s administrative staff called them—are a bit intrusive. Indeed, one line requests the submitter’s blood type (“If known. Otherwise leave blank”). Another line requests the submitter’s weight. There is also a request for “three (3) pictures” that “should be of such a size that a picture 2 1/16” x 2 x 1/16” can be trimmed to fit the passes.”

Supreme Court Emergency Pass Form by Bill Geerhart

What was this mysterious pass for exactly? The dead giveaway is at the bottom of the document. The text instructs the submitter to return their “Pass Information” form to William E. Elliott, Security and Inspection Officer, Office of Emergency Planning. Mr. Elliott, as CONELRAD blog readers may recall, is the same person referenced in our recent Mount Weather Morals Case Mystery post. Specifically, he was one of the men consulted in the rushed handling of a “morals case” that threatened to compromise two top secret federal emergency relocation sites. We have another document that references this individual as being a senior official with security operations at the “Classified Location” (aka Mount Weather, aka High Point, aka the Special Facility). Not much else is known about the shadowy Mr. Elliott other than that he shows up in a 1958 Official Register of the United States entry as a “Security and Inspections Officer” with an annual salary of $12,150. If William E. Elliott or any members of his family are reading this post, we’d love to hear from you.

It is unclear from the handling of this document that the Chief Justice knew what its intended purpose was. The note asking for Warren’s guidance on issuing the form does not indicate whether there was any additional instruction offered by the OEP.

Supreme Ct 1963 
In the end, the memorandum cover page to the “Pass Information” form that was prepared for distribution to the Associate Justices simply states that “The Office of Emergency Planning is asking us to complete the attached form for official purposes.” It is signed off by the initials “E.W.” common to Earl Warren’s memos.[2] CONELRAD was unable to find any evidence that the forms were ever completed by the Justices.[3] Based on the Chief Justice’s declining interest in civil defense, it seems clear that he never disclosed his weight or blood type to Mr. Elliott.


[1] The document was found in Box 359, Papers of Earl Warren
Folder: Sundry Memos to the Court, 1961-1964
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

[2] During the course of our research at the Library of Congress, CONELRAD examined dozens of Warren’s memos.

[3] CONELRAD reviewed all of the administrative records for this period of the Supreme Court’s history. We have also reviewed all of the unclassified records of the Office of Emergency Planning at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. There are a significant number of documents from this agency that remain classified.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A RESORT OF THEIR OWN: The Supreme Court’s Cold War Relocation Plan

Oak Grove Park_Aerial copy

In 1992 the Washington Post revealed to the world the surprising Cold War emergency relocation plan of the United States Congress. In remarkably detailed reporting the newspaper told the Strangelovian story of a massive government bunker built beneath the posh Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in the late 1950s.[1] The irony of lawmakers riding out World War III under a five star hotel while the public sheltered in place was hard to miss. Needless to say, CONELRAD was intrigued to find, years later, a reference to the U.S. Supreme Court’s oddly similar contingency plan in David Krugler’s impressively researched 2006 book This Is Only a Test: How Washington D.C. Prepared for Nuclear War.[2] Indeed, based on previously published news articles we had assumed that in the event of an emergency the Justices would have been whisked away to Mount Weather, the impregnable crown jewel of the Federal Relocation Arc.[3] But Krugler had discovered evidence proving that the Court had secured nicer—if significantly less fortified—accommodations at the historic Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. When we contacted the author to see if he had a copy of the April 1956 agreement between the Supreme Court and the hotel, he told us that he had not come across that crucial document – only memoranda that referred to it. That was all we needed to hear. The search was on.

Warren Ct_1956-1957

CONELRAD’s next call was to the Grove Park Inn to ask the management if they possessed the elusive contract. The representative we spoke with was uncertain as to whereabouts of the document but he helpfully referred us to Bruce E. Johnson who has written extensively about the resort. “If anyone would know about it,” the representative said, “Bruce would.”[4] Mr. Johnson informed CONELRAD that he had, in fact, seen the contract along with some additional government correspondence while going through the hotel’s archives to research his book Tales of the Grove Park Inn (the author devotes two paragraphs to the extraordinary government arrangement on page 313).[5] Unfortunately, Johnson did not have a copy of the contract – only his notes. Before contacting the hotel again, we decided to engage in a broader search of the Supreme Court records held at the Library of Congress where Professor Krugler had originally found the memos referencing the agreement. We also examined federal civil defense records at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. And, while we were unable to locate the contract itself at these facilities, we did uncover other important documents that inform this article. We were now ready to travel to North Carolina.

On March 29th we were permitted access to the Grove Park Inn’s archives. Johnson had warned us prior to the visit that the records—which are kept in a large filing cabinet in the hotel’s back office—were not well organized.[6] But, as it turned out, CONELRAD’s Bill Geerhart was able to find the contract quickly – it was in a blue binder labeled “Historic Memorabilia 1955-1969.”

Blue Binder_Lo

The weathered photocopy of the April 3, 1956 contract (more specifically a “Letter of Understanding”) is attached to a cover letter that was sent from the corporate office to the Grove Park Inn so that the document could be “kept on the property in the event there is none there right now.”[7] It is fortunate for history that this step was taken because government copies of the contract have since been either destroyed or classified.[8]

Contract Excerpt

This remarkable document, published here for the first time, is short and sweet. The two page letter provides that “In the event of an enemy attack or the imminence thereof,” the Supreme Court would “take possession of the facilities described in Exhibit ‘A.’ Along with other particulars, the attached exhibit describes the hotel as having 141 rooms, 4 cottages and a 40 room dormitory. The author of the agreement also—perhaps a bit too optimistically considering the effects of atomic war—includes a provision for a “formal lease” to be negotiated “as soon as possible, thereafter.”[9] Reflecting the open-ended nature of the Cold War in 1956, there is no specified expiration date in the contract. This is an omission that would cause headaches later.

Supreme Court / Grove Park Inn Contract - 04/03/1956 by Bill Geerhart

Supreme Court of the United States,
Washington 13, D.C.

April 3, 1956

Grove Park Inn,
Asheville, North Carolina


Reference is made to the confidential discussions heretofore had between our respective representatives. In pursuance thereof, the United States of America, acting by and through The Supreme Court of the United States, represented by the undersigned as contracting officer, hereby proposes to acquire the right to use and occupy the facilities described in the enclosure hereto, marked Exhibit “A”, as hereinafter provided.

In the event of an enemy attack or the imminence thereof and upon notice verbal or written to such effect, by an authorized representative of the Government, it is understood and agreed that you will permit The Supreme Court of the United States immediately to take possession of the facilities described in Exhibit “A”. As soon as possible thereafter, the Government will enter into negotiation with you for the execution of a formal lease covering the rights and obligations of the parties with respect to the aforementioned facilities and providing fair compensation for the use thereof the Government commencing with its initial occupancy. Such formal lease or other instrument will be negotiated by General Services Administration. All prior conversations or negotiations between our representatives are merged in and superseded by this letter.

It is understood and agreed that the Government will not be responsible for any expenses incurred by you prior to the period covered by the formal lease or other instrument to be hereafter negotiated.

It is further understood and agreed that from time to time due to changed conditions, it will be necessary to amend or supplement Exhibit “A” by the addition or deletion of facilities therefrom.

Please indicate the acceptance by your governing body of the foregoing by signing and returning to us the original and two copies of this letter. A copy is attached for your files.

Sincerely yours,

Harold B. Willey, Clerk
Contracting Officer

Accepted, as of the date of this letter.

Hotel Operating Co

By EC Leach
Attorney in Fact


The man who signed the agreement on behalf of the Grove Park Inn (or more technically, the Hotel Operating Company) was Edward C. Leach, Sr., the president of the Texas-based Jack Tar Hotel chain that owned the Grove Park Inn at the time. Leach died in 1996 at the age of 83. His son, Edward C. Leach, Jr., a Charlotte, North Carolina attorney, told CONELRAD that his father never mentioned the top secret arrangement with the Supreme Court and that prior to our phone call he had never known about it.[10]

Why was the luxurious, but bunker-less Grove Park Inn chosen to host the Supreme Court Justices and their staff during a crisis? One of the aforementioned document discoveries by CONELRAD answers this critical question. The year before the contract was formally agreed to, Harold B. Willey, the Clerk of the Supreme Court—and the man who signed the contract on behalf of the government—visited Asheville, North Carolina on a scouting mission.

Harold B. Willey - Center - 1953

Shortly after his return to Washington, D.C. in October of 1955, Willey summarized his findings for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren. The letter, which is published below for the first time, includes the explanation that General Paul of the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM) suggested Asheville as a “likely site for us.”[11] CONELRAD has identified the referenced official to be Lieutenant General (Retired) Willard S. Paul. Paul had been recruited to the ODM in 1954 by the director of the agency, Arthur S. Flemming.[12]

General Willard Paul_lo res

The clerk uses the next couple of paragraphs of his letter to lay out the finer points of Asheville and its desirability as a relocation site. He explains that the town is “served by Capital Airlines and the Southern Railway” and goes on to reason that “Because all large cities are considered to be enemy targets, a hotel in a secluded small city wherein approximately one-hundred people could both live and work, with spaces available for a court room and clerical offices, seems a most appropriate facility for the court.” Willey then cites his rationale for recommending the Grove Park Inn over the other major hotels in Asheville (the Battery Park and the George Vanderbilt). His reasons run the gamut from the practical—the hotel has large conference rooms that can be converted into courtrooms and libraries—to the frivolous: the hotel has plans to build a swimming pool and there is a golf course that adjoins the property.[13]

Grove Park Inn Selected as Relocation Site: 1955 by Bill Geerhart

In the end, Willey went beyond merely recommending the Grove Park Inn to the Chief Justice. Indeed, he obtained a letter from the manager indicating that the owners of the hotel were “receptive to the idea” of the Court relocating there and he attached a draft “Letter of Understanding” to the letter that he submitted to Warren [Editor’s note: the attachments were not found by CONELRAD].[14] But the always prudent Chief Justice turned to a colleague on the bench for an in-house legal review of the matter before moving forward. On a note card, Justice Harold Hitz Burton succinctly stated:

Dear Chief –

I have examined the attached material and believe it presents a reasonable solution on its face.


Burton Approval copy

The following year, on June 6, 1956, Willey—who was retiring as clerk—notified Warren that the “letter of understanding” with the Grove Park Inn had been signed and that a copy had been distributed to General Paul, the civil defense official who had set everything in motion in the first place.[16] The Chief Justice was “pleased” with the progress and asked Willey to discuss with the incoming clerk, John T. Fey, plans “for actually establishing the Court at Asheville should the need to do so confront us.”[17] Very little was ever done in this regard. According to an undated draft letter by Supreme Court Clerk John F. Davis to Edward A. McDermott, Director of the Office of Emergency Planning, “No steps” had been taken “to provide the facilities and supplies…which the Court would require to function as a court.” Davis further explained in his draft that “It has been thought that the facilities of the United States District and Circuit Courts at Asheville probably would be available for our use, but they are limited and certainly would not enable the Court to perform its regular functions.” Finally, Davis wrote that “Each spring the Marshal of this Court sends to the Clerk of the District Court at Asheville a microfilm copy of the Marshal’s payroll records, but I believe these are the only records which have been forwarded.”[18]

Edward A. McDermott_Sworn

Mr. McDermott, the intended recipient of Davis’s draft letter, had met with the Chief Justice at the Supreme Court building during the Cuban missile crisis in an apparent effort to make the case for the superiority of Mount Weather as a relocation site. McDermott summarized the meeting in a semi-redacted letter to Warren dated October 30, 1962.[19] It was not the only time during the missile crisis that the Chief Justice had been told about the assigned space for the Court at the super bunker in Virginia. CONELRAD interviewed Ramsey Clark who was then the Assistant Attorney General (he also happened to be the son of sitting Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark) and he revealed to us that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had assigned him to tour Mount Weather during the missile crisis. The purpose of the visit was to review the Supreme Court’s accommodations there and to then brief Earl Warren. When asked to describe what awaited the Justices at the site, Clark told us:

“Well, it was cramped. It wasn’t a grade A hotel. I saw beds. I don’t think they were double-deckers. It was like camping out – only with a lot of metal and concrete.”


According to Clark, after he filled the Chief Justice in on the facility and their relocation protocol, Warren turned to him and said “Ramsey, I’m not going to relocate, I’m going to stay with my family.”[20]


CONELRAD was unable to find any records to indicate that the Supreme Court Justices ever went to the Grove Park Inn as a group.[21] And if the Justices had decided to evacuate to the North Carolina resort during the Cuban missile crisis there may have been complications. CONELRAD found documents in the hotel’s archive that prove that the Grove Park Inn had double booked their disaster accommodations for a short, but very critical period, during 1962. Specifically, on August 9, 1962 the hotel entered into a public Fallout Shelter agreement with the Buncombe County United Civil Defense Director, Nora Gunter. It was not until February 15, 1963 that Edward C. Leach, Sr. informed Ms. Gunter of the mistake:

“When I was in Asheville recently, I discovered that inadvertently we had entered into an agreement with you regarding the use of the Inn as a Civil Defense fallout shelter. I must advise, however, that when Mr. [Rodney S.] Morgan entered into this agreement with you that he was unaware of a prior commitment we have to the Supreme Court of the United States for their use of our building in the event of such an emergency.” [22]

Grove Park Inn copy

Ten years after the original contract was signed, a representative of the Grove Park Inn asked the Supreme Court if they wished to continue their relocation agreement with the hotel. It had been four years since the Court had last confirmed its desire to continue the arrangement (at the height of the Cuban missile crisis). In this instance, however, Chief Justice Warren simply advised John F. Davis to ask “whoever is in charge of [federal] Civil Defense” for their advice on how to proceed.[23] CONELRAD was unable to locate any documentation related to the guidance the Court may have received.[24] We were left to wonder then whether the Supreme Court was still slated to evacuate to Asheville, North Carolina in the event of an emergency. So we asked both parties if the contract is still in effect.

Supreme Court_2013

A representative of the Public Information Office of the Supreme Court informed us via email that “The Court does not comment on security operations as a rule.”[25] And Tracey Johnston-Crum of the Grove Park Inn told us that “The Grove Park Inn would certainly defer to the decision of the Supreme Court.”[26] CONELRAD has notified the Court that their rooms are still reserved and that the swimming pool has been completed.[27]

Grove Park Post Card_lo


First and foremost CONELRAD would like to thank David Mead and Hilary Thomas of the Grove Park Inn for allowing Bill Geerhart to examine the hotel’s archives to find the document that is the primary focus of this article. Mr. Mead and Ms. Thomas took time out of their day during a very busy week to humor what must have seemed like a rather odd request. We are truly grateful for their kind hospitality. We would also like to thank David Krugler who was the first person to write about the existence of the contract between the Grove Park Inn and the U.S. Supreme Court. Without Professor Krugler’s initial research, we would not have had the roadmap to the documents that we ultimately found. Finally, thanks to Bruce E. Johnson for providing confirmation that the contract did, in fact, reside in the Grove Park Inn archives. Mr. Johnson was also very generous with his time in answering our questions regarding the history of the hotel and its staff.

[1] Ted Gup, “The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway,” Washington Post, May 31, 1992. Note: The Post’s D.C. rival, the Washington Times, tried to steal some of the newspaper’s glory by reporting on the Post’s scoop on its front page the day before.

[2] David Krugler, This is Only a Test: How Washington D.C. Prepared for Nuclear War [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006] p.7; p. 168.

[3] Ted Gup, “The Doomsday Blueprints,” Time magazine, p. 35, August 10, 1992. Gup, “How the Federal Emergency Management Agency learned to stop worrying—about civilians—and love the bomb,” Mother Jones, January 1, 1994. “Very Important People,” New York Times, November 1, 1992.

[4] David Mead of the Grove Park Inn to Bill Geerhart during a January 8, 2013 telephone conversation. Bruce E. Johnson’s books about the Grove Park Inn: Built for the Ages: A History of the Grove Park Inn [Asheville, NC: Grove Park Inn, Revised Edition, 2013] and Tales of the Grove Park Inn [Fletcher, NC: Knock Wood Publications, 2013].

[5] Bruce E. Johnson to Bill Geerhart during a January 8, 2013 telephone conversation. For reference to the Grove Park Inn’s contract with the Supreme Court, see page 313 of Johnson’s Tales of the Grove Park Inn.

[6] Bruce E. Johnson to Bill Geerhart during a January 8, 2013 telephone conversation.

[7] The photocopy of the April 3, 1956 contract and other documents related to the hotel’s agreement with the U.S. Supreme Court were found in the Grove Park Inn Archives, Asheville, North Carolina, in a binder labeled “Historic Memorabilia 1955-1969.”

[8] CONELRAD searched the unclassified records of the various federal civil defense agencies at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. We also searched the relevant Supreme Court records at the Library of Congress. No copy of the contract was found at these facilities.

[9] Supreme Court / Grove Park Inn contract, April 3, 1956, binder: “Historic Memorabilia 1955-1969,” Grove Park Inn Archives, Asheville, North Carolina.

[10] For Edward C. Leach, Sr. obituary see The Galveston County Daily News, p. 4-A, June 20, 1996. For Mr. Leach’s comments regarding his father: Bill Geerhart telephone interview with Edward C. Leach, Jr., April 22, 2013.

[11] For October 14, 1955 Willey letter to Warren: Box 399, folder “Clerk: Memos, Orders, et al 1946-1956, Papers of Earl Warren, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. For more on Harold B. Willey see “Harold B. Willey, Retired Supreme Court Clerk,” Washington Post, p. B6, July 8, 1982.

[12] “News Censorship Mapped for War,” New York Times, November 6, 1954.

[13] For Willey letter to Warren: Box 399, folder “Clerk: Memos, Orders, et al 1946-1956, Papers of Earl Warren, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. Justice Burton’s note is attached to Willey’s letter.

[16] For June 6, 1956 Willey letter to Warren: Box 399, folder “Clerk: Memos, Orders, et al 1946-1956, Papers of Earl Warren, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

[17] For June 12, 1956 Warren letter to Willey: Box 399, folder “Clerk: Memos, Orders, et al 1946-1956, Papers of Earl Warren, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

[18] For undated John F. Davis draft letter to Edward A. McDermott: Box 414, folder “Court – Subject File – Marshal Civil Defense,” Papers of Earl Warren, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. Note: Another document in the same file dated October 26, 1962 states: “The Marshal has done nothing on this matter except to send Photostats of each employee’s retirement card to the Gr Clerk of the District Court at Asheville.” CONELRAD has a pending request with the clerk of the U.S. District Court in Asheville to determine if any of the old records sent by the Marshal of the Supreme Court still exist. If and when we receive a response, we will update this post.

[19] McDermott appointment book entry for October 26, 1962: Collection Number MsC0241, Edward A. McDermott Papers, Special Collections and Archives, University of Iowa. McDermott October 30, 1962 memo to Warren: Box 1, U.S. Office of Emergency Planning, Microfilm, Roll 1, Paper Copies, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

[20] Telephone interview with Ramsey Clark conducted by Bill Geerhart on April 2, 2013. Note: Clark did not know that the bunker had a name, but based on his description of the site and the route that he took to drive there, there is little doubt that he visited Mount Weather. Also supporting the assertion that Clark went to Mount Weather is the previously published material that this is the facility the federal government reserved for the Court (see footnote 3). Also, Edward A. McDermott (the official who met with Warren) was director of the Office of Emergency Planning (OEP). This was the agency responsible for operating Mount Weather during the referenced time period. Ramsey also told us that he was unaware of the Grove Park Inn arrangement.

[21] CONELRAD review of federal civil defense records related to annual Operation Alert drills located at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. CONELRAD also reviewed relevant Supreme Court files at the Library of Congress. CONELRAD also asked author David Krugler if he was aware of any document related to the Supreme Court participating in civil defense relocation exercises. He told us that he was not.

[22] December 13, 1962 memo from Rodney S. Morgan to Edward J. Giusti and February 15, 1963 letter from E.C. Leach to Nora Gunter: binder: “Historic Memorabilia 1955-1969,” Grove Park Inn Archives, Asheville, North Carolina.

[23] Correspondence related to the re-confirmation of the agreement: October 26, 1962 letter from John F. Davis to Robert H. Francis and Joe R. Woods’ November 26, 1962 response to John F. Davis: binder: “Historic Memorabilia 1955-1969,” Grove Park Inn Archives, Asheville, North Carolina. April 29, 1966 memo from John F. Davis to Earl Warren and Warren’s April 29, 1966 response: Box 414, folder “Court – Subject File – Marshal Civil Defense,” Papers of Earl Warren, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.

[24] CONELRAD searched the unclassified records of the various federal civil defense agencies at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. We also searched the relevant Supreme Court records at the Library of Congress.

[25] Scott Markley, Public Information Office, U.S. Supreme Court to Bill Geerhart via email, April 18, 2013. Note: Markley’s response also offered the location, already in the public domain, of where the Supreme Court heard oral arguments during aftermath of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks (the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit).

[26] Tracey Johnston-Crum to Bill Geerhart via email, April 17, 2013.

[27] Bill Geerhart to the U.S. Supreme Court Public Information Office via email, April 23, 2013.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

FALLOUT SHELTER: A Peter Scott Peters Appreciation

Fallout Shelter-45-Label_Lo

Of all the songs ever written about Cold War panic (or lack thereof), Peter Scott Peters’ amazing 45 single Fallout Shelter (Lute 6020, 1961) may well be the coolest. The two-minute, thirty-three second opus begins with a driving jazz beat that leads the listener to a slightly menacing spoken word refrain: “I’m not scared, I’m prepared, I’ll be spared.” The hepcat singer then brags about his bachelor pad bomb shelter being fully equipped for the atomic duration:

I've got a fallout shelter, it's nine by nine
A Hi-Fi set and a jug of wine
Let the missiles fly from nation to nation
It's party time in my radiation station

Of course, what respectable “bomb bungalow” would be complete without a female companion to help re-populate the post-attack world? Peters has that covered: “My baby and me, cozy we will be, away from radioactivity.” The style of the song then abruptly shifts away from that of a weird spoken word jazz tune to a more conventional early 1960s pop rock ditty:

Twenty megatons is the size of the boom
And if they let it go, I'll feel no doom
Let the cats run about, helter-skelter
I'm gonna, live, live, live in my fallout shelter

This particular section of the song was used to amusing effect in the Ralph Meeker civil defense film Town of the Times (1963). In the scene, as Peters wails on about his shelter, carefree teenagers are shown doing the Twist (and ignoring the Bomb). This clip was deemed to be funny enough for inclusion in the 1982 documentary The Atomic Café.

Finally, how could we not love a song that ends like this?

So if you want to be full of confidence
Get survival jazz and civil defense
You'll live like a king in your fallout pad
'Till the all clear sounds on CONELRAD.
Dial six-four-o, twelve-four-o-CONELRAD

Fallout Shelter did not exactly shoot to the top of the Billboard charts upon its release in late 1961, but the music industry publication did take note of Peters’ unique interpretation of the Cold War tension of the day:

Fallout Shelter—Lute 6020-The label, which had a smash with “Alley-Oop,” has another off-beat side. The theme, admittedly is a sensitive one but the spoken lyric is cleverly written. Side has something and should be watched.

Peter Scott Peters_Billboard copy

The song also caught the attention of Los Angeles Times columnist, Jack Scott, who didn’t quite know what to make of the work (and admitted he hadn’t even listened to it). What is most notable about the column is that he informs his readers that the 45 was sent to him with a press release headlined “New Record Hit Promotes Civil Defense.”

Peter Scott Peters_PR Shot_Lo 
The Lute label’s PR flack (who may have been Peters himself [1]) was clearly reaching when he wrote of the song: “It can accomplish much in the public service field and please civil defense officials, if it catches on, because of the informative lyrics.” While the Los Angeles Times (and a couple of other papers who plugged the song) may have missed the clear satirical nature of Fallout Shelter, the British comedy duo of Mike and Bernie Winters must have been keenly aware of the song’s comic potential when they chose to record it in the United Kingdom. Their broadly hilarious 1961 cover on the Oriole label dispenses with any pretense of cool and amplifies the theme of jumpy paranoia (“I’m not scared, I’m petrified”).

Unfortunately, the artist who created this wonderful song passed away in 1994. In 2006 and several times thereafter, CONELRAD reached out to Mr. Peters’ widow, Susan Peters, in an effort to obtain more details on the motive behind the song. She declined our requests for an interview. Mr. Peters had no children and his only sibling, Adam, passed away in 2000. Undaunted, we decided to find out as much about Peter Scott Peters as we could through other sources. It took several years to research, but we are very pleased to be able to present his biography (including many new details about Fallout Shelter) below.

Peter Sikorski was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada on July 12, 1930 to parents Bill and Anne. He attended the Bedford Road Collegiate Institute and, in the 1944-45 edition of the high school’s yearbook (The Lantern), he contributed a poem that previewed his burgeoning creative talent. “A Soldier’s Message” is about a mortally wounded infantryman who scrawls his last message to the world in the sand of a crater he has crawled into after being shot in the chest. In a cruel twist, though, the last words of the soldier—about how he had “answered the call” of duty and death—are wiped clean “the next morn at dawn – A shell hit the spot! His message was gone!” Compared to his classmates’ lighthearted doggerel, Sikorski’s sense of morbid irony certainly stands out on the page.

Peter Scott Peters_DJ Ad_Lo

In 1951 Peter Sikorski was reborn as Peter Scott, a nighttime disc jockey on CKOM in Saskatoon.[2] His show, Peter’s Platter Palace, featured amusing between-song patter and became quite popular. One of Scott’s fellow DJs at the station, Doug Alexander, explained his style and appeal to CONELRAD:

Peter was Saskatchewan’s first personality DJ. He was a good looking guy and his nighttime radio program had a big audience, especially female. At the same time, Peter was active in Little Theatre in Saskatoon and later with the drama department at the University of Saskatchewan, where was taking day classes. The new radio format called for DJs to be able to ‘ad-lib’ between records, whereas announcers in the old block format read prepared scripts. From his Little Theatre experience, he had learned the art of ad-libbing well, so he was really suited to the new format.

Alexander added that Scott’s opening theme for his show was Ray Anthony’s Harlem Nocturne and that his first line to his audience was always “Welcome to Peter’s Platter Palace, Alice.” His closing theme songs alternated between Ray Anthony’s Dream and Alvino Ray and the King Sisters’ Nighty Night.

After four years at CKOM Scott’s theatrical ambitions were quickly overtaking his desire to remain on the radio. He had studied at the Pasadena Playhouse in Southern California in 1955 and he was encouraged to stay and become a professional actor in America. Doug Alexander recalled for us that it was “sometime in 1957 that he announced he was leaving” the station [editor’s note: a published source places the departure in 1956]. “The staff had a big going away party and I can remember Peter singing ‘California, Here I Come.”

Scott Peters-1959 Players Entry

In Hollywood he changed his name yet again – this time to Scott Peters to avoid being confused with another performer in the Screen Actors Guild. Peters’ career as a movie actor included an impressive array of mostly small roles in Psychotronic films such as Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957); Attack of the Puppet People (1958); The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960) and The Mad Man of Mandoras (footage from which was later incorporated into the infamous They’ve Saved Hitler’s Brain) (1962). He also played the U.S. Army sergeant who waves Ray Milland’s car through a checkpoint at the end of the classic Panic in Year Zero! (1962). One of Peters’ rare “A” picture assignments was portraying gangster John Dillinger in The FBI Story starring James Stewart. The actor had better luck in television. He appeared in many of the top rated programs of the 1960s and early 1970s including a regular role as Detective Valencia on Get Christie Love!

Peters-Hitlers Brain

Ironically, Peters’ entree to the recording industry occurred far from the bright lights of a movie or TV soundstage. Indeed, the actor met his musical mentor through the Jehovah’s Witnesses church. Bandleader Al Kavelin (1903-1982) founded Lute Records in 1960 and immediately had a major hit with Alley Oop by the Hollywood Argyles.

Al Kavelin Portrait copy

According to Kavelin’s son, Frank, the inspiration for Fallout Shelter was the then unavoidable topic of civil defense and shelters that had been heightened by the 1961 Berlin Crisis and President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech. Kavelin told CONELRAD in an interview that “Scott and my father became friends and came up with the idea together.” He added: “It was all tongue-in-cheek because Scott was a Jehovah’s Witness and believed that God would never allow a nuclear holocaust, but would intervene by establishing his kingdom on earth. He wasn’t out to raise awareness of survival based on the use of fallout shelters. However, he would not have rejected any publicity such a story would have generated. I believe his true motivation was the same as my father’s – to cash in on a current craze.”

According to Kavelin, Peters “wrote the clever monologue and lyrics, and improvised the vocal [musical] sections” of Fallout Shelter. Marshall Leib—a high school friend of Phil Spector—produced the song (Leib, who was also in the Teddy Bears with Spector, died in 2002). The music tracks were recorded at the same Hollywood studio where Alley Oop was cut.

Marshall Leib

At CONELRAD’s request, Kavelin went into greater detail about the song including who played on it:

“The music for Fallout Shelter was [inspired by] the basic rhythm tracks used by the Hollywood Argyles for Sho Know A Lot About Love, which was the B-side of Alley Oop. The musicians I’m sure of [who played on Fallout Shelter] are Gaynel Hodge on piano, Ronnie Silico on drums and Harper Cosby on bass. I’m not sure who played sax / flute. My father used Plas Johnson a lot so my guess would be Plas.”

CONELRAD contacted Gaynel Hodge at his home in Holland and provided him with an MP3 copy of Fallout Shelter. After listening to it he called us and said that he definitely remembered the unusual tune: “It was a very timely song and we had a good time at the session.” He also told us that he thought he could hear the famous female backing group the Blossoms in the background of the track.

CONELRAD was able to reach a surviving member of the group, Fanita James (formerly Barrett), in Los Angeles and we played the song for her over the phone. Ms. James told us that 1961 was one of the busiest years for session work for the group and that they frequently worked with Gaynel Hodge. When asked if she thought that the Blossoms sang back-up on Fallout Shelter, she said she was “pretty sure” they did and added “I can tell by the ahhs [in the song].” The other members of the group from this period according to James were Darlene Love (who is still very active in music) and Jean King (1938-1983). As for Plas Johnson’s involvement, CONELRAD contacted him via his website and he replied in an email that he could not recall anything about the song.

Peters’ recording career appears to be limited to Fallout Shelter and its less remarkable B-side Moon Flight (Astronaut Blues) which he co-wrote with Elvis Presley songwriter Bob Roberts. According to the BMI database he co-wrote with Red Simpson and Bill Woods one other song titled Big Bank Robbery that was recorded by Simpson. CONELRAD spoke with Simpson in 2009 and he said he had no recollection of ever having worked with Peters.

Long after fallout shelters became the stuff of nostalgia, Peters remained close friends with the Kavelin family. Frank Kavelin told us that he remembers Peters and his future wife, Susan, spending a lot time at the house and using the swimming pool. The family also attended the Peters’ wedding. Kavelin has fond memories of Peters as a friend: “Although I was much younger, he treated me like a peer. He was very funny. I remember riding in his car and would make a turn and he would blurt out ‘we’ll all be killed!’ I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch 77 Sunset Strip the night Scott made a guest appearance on the show.”

Peter Scott Peters spent the rest of his life engaged in a variety of different projects. He produced health instructional / documentary films - most notably a movie on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation entitled Save That Life (1970) that was widely used by the Red Cross and other entities. He also returned to radio and worked in the public relations field. He died at the age of 63 in Los Angeles on January 15, 1994. His obituary in the Saskatoon Sun quoted an earlier interview with the actor in which he lamented the state of the motion picture industry: “It’s a pity that an artist perfects a craft and then can’t apply it. I can’t compromise myself. My religious beliefs are strong and I can’t accept the moral trend that is happening in movies today.” When Mr. Peters made these remarks he probably could not have imagined that his pop song about a fallout shelter would eclipse his acting career and become his most enduring legacy.


This article would not have been possible without the cooperation of Frank Kavelin, Doug Alexander and Bill Stovin. We are very grateful that these gentlemen decided to help us tell Peter Scott Peters’ story.



Note: Many of the Canadian newspaper and magazine documents obtained by CONELRAD were provided by Bill Stovin. These documents were obtained from the Saskatoon Library’s biographical clip file on Peter Scott Peters. Unfortunately, the sources for many of the documents are not marked on the individual clips. The citations below are for every article used in our research for which we have source information.

“Special Merit Singles,” Billboard, p. 34, October 16, 1961.

“Songster Gets Into Act With ‘Fallout Shelter,” NANA wire service, European Stars and Stripes, p. 16, November 15, 1961.

Jack Smith, “In Ordeal, Will Genius Explode?” p. A1, November 22, 1961.

Buck Herzog Column, Milwaukee Sentinel, p. 15, January 5, 1962.

Ned Powers Column, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, p. A11, January 3, 1984.

Ned Powers, “Actor Scott First Night DJ with CKOM Radio in 1951 (Obituary),” Saskatoon Sun, January 23, 1994.

“Saskatoon-born Actor Dies,” Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, January 20, 1994.


The Lantern, yearbook of the Bedford Road Collegiate Institute. 1945. P. 20.


Doug Alexander, interviewed by Bill Geerhart via email on February 24, 2009.

Red Simpson, telephone interview by Bill Geerhart on April 2, 2009.

Frank Kavelin, interviewed by Bill Geerhart via email on March 31, 2013; April 2, 2013; April 3, 2013; April 4, 2013; April 5, 2013 and April 6, 2013.

Gaynal Hodge, telephone interview by Bill Geerhart on April 5, 2013.

Fanita James (Barrett), telephone interview by Bill Geerhart on April 10, 2013.

Plas Johnson, interviewed by Bill Geerhart via email on April 10, 2013.

Other Resources

The BMI Repertoire database was accessed to confirm songwriting credit information for Peter Scott Peters. The ASCAP database was also accessed. All of Mr. Peters’ music credits are located in the BMI database.

The California Death Records database was accessed to obtain Peter Scott Peters’ exact date of birth and date of death as well as to confirm his original surname.

The Internet Movie Database (IMdb) was accessed to confirm Peter Scott Peters’ film and television credits.


Peter Scott Peters
Fallout Shelter (1961)
Lute Records (L-6020) 45
Written by Peter Scott Peters
Produced by Marshall Leib

I'm not scared
I'm prepared
I'll be spared
I've got a fallout shelter, it's 9 by 9
A Hi-Fi set and a jug of wine
Let the missiles fly from nation to nation
It's party time in my radiation station
A 14 day supply of multi-purpose food
Water, medicine, be sure to include
Build your bomb bungalow, you needn’t postpone
With no down payment and an FHA loan
Let the tests go on in the atmosphere
In my fallout shelter, I'll have no fear
My baby and me, cozy we will be
Away from radioactivity
Twenty megatons is the size of the boom
And if they let it go, I'll feel no doom
Let the cats run about, helter-skelter
I'm gonna, live, live, live in my fallout shelter
I'm not scared
I'm prepared
I'll be spared
Twenty megatons is the size of the boom
And if they let it go, I'll feel no doom
Let the cats run about, helter-skelter
I'm gonna live, live, live in my fallout shelter
So if you want to be full of confidence
Get survival jazz and civil defense
You'll live like a king in your fallout pad
'Till the all clear sounds on CONELRAD.
Dial six-four-o, twelve-four-o - CONELRAD

[1] According to Frank Kavelin the person handling the promotion for Fallout Shelter could have been his father, Lute Records founder Al Kavelin, and / or Peter Scott Peters. Kavelin stated that it was also possible his father hired someone to promote the record.

[2] Peters first DJ gig was at CKBI in 1948 followed by short stints at other stations around Canada. CKOM, however, was his breakthrough radio job according to our sources.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Morals Excerpt copy

Last month while we were at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland researching the government emergency relocation site known as Mount Weather (aka the Special Facility, aka the Classified Facility aka the Classified Location aka High Point) we stumbled upon something very intriguing: A document concerning an individual involved in a potentially compromising “morals case” who worked in some capacity for the “Classified Facility.” But, apparently, what really sounded the alarm bells for the addressees on the March 20, 1964 letter is the fact that the unnamed mystery man—who had been involved in “highly classified matters”—also had knowledge of the top secret Congressional bunker (aka CASPER) at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Mount Weather Morals Case

The purpose of the memorandum was to update the Director of the Office of Emergency Planning (the agency then tasked with operating Mount Weather), Edward A. McDermott (1920-1999), on a matter that had attracted the attention of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Cyrus R. Vance (1917-2002). Vance and his chief of Intelligence wanted to brief their spokesman, Arthur Sylvester (1901-1979), on the “general circumstances” so that Sylvester would be aware of the gravity of the situation in the event that he had to handle any media inquiries. The memorandum was written by McDermott’s Deputy Director Colonel Justice M. Chambers (1908-1982).


Robert Y. Phillips, Director of the Government Readiness Office, and William E. Elliott of the Mount Weather Security Office concurred that cluing in Sylvester “would do no harm,” but, according to the memo, directed Vance not to reveal any “facts concerning CASPER.”

There was no further correspondence regarding this sensitive issue in any of the civil defense boxes that we have examined. And we were unable to find any reference to it in the declassified Secretary of Defense records that we looked at. According to the military archivist who was assisting us, most of the records from this period remain classified. Therefore, we were unable to look into whether the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (the aforementioned Mr. Sylvester) was ever contacted about the scandal-in-waiting. Sylvester, it should be noted, helped mislead the press during the Cuban missile crisis and later became the subject of controversy when he declared that “the government has the right to lie.” [1]

Arthur Sylvester

Of course, when one searches the news databases for morals cases that occurred during 1964, the overwhelming “hit” returned pertains to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s senior aide Walter Jenkins (1918-1985) who was arrested (along with another man) on a disorderly conduct charge that took place in a YMCA restroom in Washington, D.C. Jenkins may have known about Mount Weather and the Greenbrier bunker, but his arrest occurred months after the memorandum. [2]

Walter Jenkins copy

The only published reference to a morals case that was found to have transpired around the time of the letter is that of Eddie Haynes, a 31-year-old staff sergeant based at Fort Myer (Virginia). But Haynes’s “morals trial” was already in full swing (and well beyond the confines of damage control) by March 13, 1964, so it seems unlikely that he is our mystery man. [3]

Efforts to locate William E. Elliott and Robert Y. Phillips were unsuccessful, though we did find some evidence to suggest that Elliott would have been in his fifties at the time of the memo. An email sent to a relative of Justice M. Chambers inquiring about the Colonel’s Mount Weather duties via a cemetery website bounced.

Finally, the Clarke County District Court—the possible jurisdiction of the “morals” infraction—maintains criminal records dating back to the 1800s so CONELRAD may follow up on this lead in the future. We will, of course, update this post if we uncover anything substantial. In the meantime, the full background of this document will have to remain another unsolved mystery.


National Archives and Records Administration
College Park, MD
Record Group 396
Declassified P-95 Records
Box 6
Folder: Special Facilities Branch


Thanks to Tim Goldsmith for additional research.

[1] “Arthur Sylvester, 78; Ex-Spokesman at Defense” (obituary), Washington Post, p. C4, December 30, 1979.

[2] “The Administration: The Jenkins Report,” Time, October 30, 1964.

[3] Don Morgan, “Judge Denies ‘Prejudice’ in Morals Case,” p. B5, March 13, 1964.