Today in 1962, the community of Artesia, New Mexico formally opened an unusual elementary school.

It was built entirely underground, just in case the Cold War turned hot.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a phrase: “building against the atom.”

Designers, architects, city planners and others wanted to build more fallout shelters, to guard against the threat of World War III.

But as they did, they thought about putting other kinds of structures underground too.

There were designs for whole subterranean cities where people could live, work and get together without ever going above ground, if that’s what it took.

Few of these proposals were ever built, but Artesia’s school project, known as Abo Elementary School, was an exception.

That one probably went through because the community was not too far an Air Force base as well as a missile range.

The school building was a giant slab of steel-reinforced concrete, designed to withstand the effects of a nuclear bomb.

There were 28 rooms, 18 of which were originally classrooms.

The rest all had two purposes: one room was reportedly for food storage during normal times, but was designed to double as a morgue if necessary.

Some people were horrified by the idea that the world had gotten to the point of building underground classrooms.

But other people didn’t think it was that bad; one observer pointed out that they would save money on repairs because there were no windows!

Another said that students learning underground wasn’t that different from commuters taking the subway to and from work.

And a researcher said the students at Abo Elementary seemed to be doing fine, academically and emotionally.

But building schools is expensive and takes time, and the trend of “building against the atom” went away before many more school districts tried the same thing.

Abo Elementary was eventually replaced with above-ground schools.

Since then the building has served as a kind of ghoulish tourist attraction for Artesia, a timepiece from an era where even building a school meant planning for the worst.

This week in Vidalia, Georgia it’s the Vidalia Onion Festival.

It has music, food, a parade, an Onion Run, an air show, and its very own mascot, a giant walking onion named Yumion.

Please don’t dice the mascot if you go.

Abo Elementary School and Fallout Shelter (National Park Service)

Vidalia Onion Festival 

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Photo by AllenS via Wikicommons