Nantucket Residents Seek to Preserve JFK’s Fallout Shelter

A strange but compelling piece of history

JFK in Nantucket
President John F. Kennedy confers with top aides, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, and Gen, Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, circa 1962.
Underwood Archives/Getty Images

When you think of presidential residences, a number of historical sites come to mind. The former homes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower are now preserved for future generations to visit. And while it doesn’t encompass a former home of his, the site of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library was chosen in part because of its close connections to locations in North Dakota close to Roosevelt’s heart.

And then there’s the case of a structure built for John F. Kennedy’s use on Nantucket. Nominally, it’s also a living space — though unlike, say, Eisenhower’s summer home, this is the kind of domicile you’d hope to never use. Why? Well, because it’s a fallout shelter.

Writing at Smithsonian Magazine, Jenn Morson has more details on the bunker’s past — and its future. As Morson recounts, the Nantucket bunker is one of two such facilities that the U.S. government built for Kennedy; the other was located near his home in Florida.

The bunker, designed for Kennedy and his family, was not located deep underground due to the geography of Nantucket; instead, it was made from converted Quonset huts and then effectively covered in brush. In the years since Kennedy’s presidency, the bunker has been been relatively abandoned. The land on which it stands is now owned by Nantucket itself, and — according to the article — it could become a National Historic Landmark.

The article cites an interesting group of supporters behind opening the bunker to the public, from a member of the Kennedy family to a real estate developer. And it’s not hard to imagine the bunker becoming something of a destination for history-minded visitors. After all, there are plenty of presidential residences out there — but far fewer presidential fallout shelters.

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