It was 1:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Two college vans turned onto Military Road in South Amherst. There, tucked in the woods beside the base of the Holyoke Range, lay a grassy hill encircled by a barbed-wire fence. A lone sign reading “Amherst College Library Depository” gave no indication of the mystery held within.
Two dozen students, led by Frost Librarian William Bridegam and Physical Plant Engineer Aaron Hayden, took up an offer from the Student Government Organization to see the former U.S. atomic weapons command center. Built in 1957, the “bunker” became Amherst College property at a 1993 auction held by the U.S. Federal Reserve, providing a book depository for Frost Library’s overflow.
The five-foot cement walls now encompass a massive storage facility, home to a hodgepodge of leftover desks, art equipment cleared from Fayerweather and some photos of what the bunker looked like before its awe-inspiring war machinery was removed at the end of the Cold War.
“The place was straight out of
any little boy’s dreams,” said Nat Hargreaves-Heald ’02. “I could just imagine the computers, American flags, big screens showing maps of the world and people talking in army code shooting missiles all over the place.”
But here’s the kicker: these Dr. Strangelove-esque “big screens” did indeed exist during the high-drama years surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Students saw the high-ceilinged War Room, where a giant world map filled with information on the enemy’s air, ship and missile locations was once projected onto an entire wall. Among the 350 military personnel who inhabited the bunker were a select few who had the authority to launch American missiles at the U.S.S.R. and China.
The group returned to natural light an hour later, reluctantly emerging from the bunker. The vans pulled through the security gates and the grassy knoll disappeared behind them. “Wow,” said Yan Tutschka ’02. “That was cool.”
DASAC’s danse macabre
Some people say nothing exciting ever happens in the quiet little town of Amherst. Well, they got a Halloween surprise last Wednesday evening, as the dead came alive, courtesy of Andrew Epstein ’02E and Jocelyn Goode ’03. A group of students performed Michael Jackson’s classic music video, “Thril-ler,” to a large crowd of townies.
Epstein envisioned the project last year and approached Goode to develop the idea. “Andrew came to me because he knew I had a core of dancers on campus,” said Goode. “I taught the choreography to the DASAC dancers and other students who got involved. It was so much fun.”
Epstein had not originally been planning the performance for Hal-loween. “I had wanted to do it late at night, after the bars let out, and move our group up the streets,” said Epstein. “I figured if we had 20 to 25 choreographed dancers moving up the streets … the police might be too confused to do anything.”
Leading the dancers in the performance was Lusha Ding ’04 as Michael himself. Playing not only a man but the King of Pop himself was a difficult task. “It was actually very intense. Trying to fill his shoes was very difficult, and it was a lot of pressure,” she said.
“Thriller” was popular with the locals, as many parents brought their children out to enjoy the spectacle. It seemed, however, that some were a bit too young to handle the scariness of it all. Ding said that a few of her friends had successfully terrified some of the trick-or-treaters. “I didn’t want to scare any of the kids; I felt bad!” she said.
“Some of the kids were laughing when we tried to scare them,” added Goode. “One did cry though.”