Monday, January 14, 2013

A Marx Dollhouse....With An Extra That You Won't Believe

I know that most of you are familiar with gorgeous vintage Marx dollhouses. I can never pass one in an antique store or estate sale without leaning in and peering into each room - and imagining being able to shrink down to take a legitimate walking tour between the walls. I had one as a little girl and I'm sure that many of you did too. I was doing a stroll through the Marx dollhouse listings on eBay this weekend when I came across this beauty.

This home is complete with.....wait for it...

 a fallout shelter!

Yes, that's right. You can see all of the rations on the shelves, complete with canned foods, batteries, gasoline and a first aid kit. And a calendar of course, so that the dwellers of this dollhouse could count off the days until they could emerge to see what had happened in the outside world. I had to research the blower on the wall and apparently, some blowers were used only to keep fresh air and ward off mildew in the bunkers when not in use - though some are said to bring fresh air in while filtering out radioactive particles. I imagine that a family (dollhouse or otherwise) would quickly run out of fresh air after being closed up for a while.

Okay, I'm getting claustrophobic just thinking about it. Here is another view of the shelter:

On this wall, you can see emergency lighting and a fresh air system with buttons reading "Filter" and "Fresh Air". As far as I can find out so far, this room would have come with the type of plastic dollhouse furniture befitting such an addition: folding cots, a small sink with cabinet that sat under the pots and pans there and a round table.

The eBay Seller, Sandy3950 nicely agreed to let me share the house which features the usual rooms that one might find in a Marx dollhouse - but in place of a garage or utility room it has the fallout/bomb shelter. The house was made in 1962 and wasn't much of a heavy seller, thus adding to the house's low production number and eventual rarity on the market these days.

It was produced during the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis and less than a year after President John F. Kennedy appealed to the citizens of the U.S. to be ready for nuclear war - worries abounded that The Cold War may a take a turn for the worst. Understandably, our nation was whipped into a pretty good frenzy. Here you'll see an entire publication of Life magazine devoted on how to survive a fallout, complete with plans for building shelters.

Here is the text from the letter from President Kennedy in the same magazine. To set the scene, this was just a month after the beginning of the construction of the Berlin Wall and a few months after Kennedy's failed summit with Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev:

 A Message To You From The President

The White House: September 7, 1961

My Fellow Americans:

Nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear wars are facts of life we cannot ignore today. I do not believe that war can solve and of the problems facing the world today. But the decision is not ours alone. 

The government is moving to improve the protection afforded you in our communities through civil defense. We have begun, and will be continuing through next year and a half, a survey of all public buildings with fallout shelter potential, and the marking of those with adequate shelter for fifty persons or more. We are providing fallout shelters in new and in some existing federal buildings. We are stocking these shelters with one week's food and medical supplies and two weeks' water supply for shelter occupants. In addition, I have recommended to the Congress the establishment of food reserves in centers around the country where they might be needed following an attack. Finally, we are developing improved warning systems which will make it possible to sound attack warnings on buzzers right in your home and places of businesses.

More comprehensive measures than these lie ahead, but they cannot be brought to completion in the immediate future. In the meantime there is much that you can do to protect yourself -- and in doing so strengthen your nation. 

I urge you to read and consider seriously the contents in this issue of LIFE. The security of our country and the peace of the world are the objectives of our policy. But in these dangerous days when both these objectives are threatened we must prepare for all eventualities. The ability to survive coupled with the will to do so therefore are essentials to our country.

                                  John F. Kennedy

Here is a photo from the LIFE magazine archives of a family in their fallout shelter, taken in 1961:

Inside the Kelsey-Hayes shelter which he and his son put together, Art Carlson and his family demonstrate how a family might divide the responsibility for making it safe and livable. Here Carlson shows a table full of equipment which he would care for. It includes emergency tools like shovel and pick for digging out through debris, a fire extinguisher, first aid kit and bottled gas stove for cooking. Mrs. Carlson sits next to a larder of canned foods and the supply of water which she will keep fresh by frequent changes. Daughter Charlene (left) is in charge of bedding for the folding cots and fold-up bunks. Son Claude looks after the candles, flashlights, transistor radio and a fresh supply of batteries. Daughter Judy is the shelter librarian with a stack of books and games to pass the time. The shelves also contain paper napkins, cups and plates, toilet tissue, cooking utensil, and changes of clothing for everyone. The inside walls of the shelter are painted bright colors to add a cheerfulness and increase illumination.

People built fallout shelters underground in their yards, in basements and sometimes in allotted spaces within the living quarters of their homes, much like in the dollhouse where as you can see here, the shelter was handily right off of the kitchen:

Isn't it interesting how such an important era in America's history was captured in the room of a dollhouse? It does make one wonder why this model didn't sell well. Though talk of the Cold War absolutely infiltrated all aspects of citizens' lives during that period, did parents think that it might be going a little too far to include fallout shelters in their children's dollhouses? I can't help but think of how boys have been expected to play with toy guns and to play "war" throughout all of time but perhaps the picture-perfect ideal that is a dollhouse was too beloved to mar. Who's to say really.. but it is intriguing to me - and I would have loved to have been in the pitch meetings at Marx when this dollhouse was born. I also like to wonder how many children acted out their own imaginary feared scenarios in the houses' compact fallout shelters.

It's such a fascinating era in our history and even if we didn't experience it ourselves, it's still pretty easy to imagine what it might have been like given the political climate that we live in today. I'd love to hear from some of you who who remember this time frame. Did your family discuss the possibility of attack? Did you have your own fallout shelter? Have you ever lived in a house that has one? Do tell! And are you like me and keep some rations squirreled away on the side?

If you'd like to bid on the dollhouse - or would just like to see more, click here or on any of the dollhouse photos above. Besides the obvious draw of the teeny fallout shelter, it also have a covered patio and if I do say so myself, perhaps one of the cutest dollhouse  (or real for that matter) nurseries that I have ever seen, complete with squirrels and kittens on the walls!

If you'd like to see inside of a shelter built for President Kennedy in Florida go here. And if you want to see some interesting old ads for supplies to stock a fallout shelter, go to the great Retrospace blog here.

Thanks so much to Sandy for letting me share the dollhouse and I wish her much luck on her auction!

Until next time,
x's and o's,


Unknown said...

We love it!

We have a similar one hanging out in our sunroom -- minus the bomb shelter.

We saw your post and had to ask each other several times if we had a bomb shelter -- we would say no, but then think that we never noticed.

Finally Miss OLJS had us get up and check -- sadly we didn't.

Betty2Tone said...

I can see how maybe having a shelter in the dollhouse could have made kids less anxious about the real thing, buy it's still so weird to look at

Rae - Say It Aint So said...

wow! i was thinking that cute covered porch was the exciting part, but the fallout shelter! so awesome! i love the cute little details! we basically have a fallout shelter in our basement. Travis LOVES being prepared.

Lauren T said...

Wow...what a cool dollhouse! The Mister and I went to an estate sale awhile back that had a basement "safe room" had cots that folded into the wall and a metal door. The Mister is a total be prepared sort of guy, so he thought it was a fantastic feature. I was a little creeped out.

Pam Kueber said...

Very cool find, Eartha K! I have seen a few of this in time capsule houses, they are always... freaky.

Jolene Forrester said...

So cool, guess only the rich kids had one of these...we only had normal rooms in our doll house.

Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares said...

We had a fallout shelter in our home when I was a kid. At some point, we stored a tandem bike in the shelter. When I was in college, my best friend and I decided we NEEDED the retro tandem bike. We tried and tried to get it out of the shelter, but when my dad finished the basement, it made the doorway just a bit too small. The tandem bike is sheltered there to this day.

aleta said...

Ooh, that's a neato doll house! mine was alittle earlier so i only had a dining room :( but our friends down the street converted their built-in pool to a bomb shelter and then had everyone on the block over for a 'party' to check it out! I was about 9 years young and it was exciting! You have to remember that most of the families had already been through WWII just 10 years before, also the Korean war in early 50's, most dads were vets, as my dad was a vet, and they knew what the atom bomb was capable of - thanks for sharing this - wish I could bid on it :)

Jen said...

Holy smokes, Eartha. That really is an incredible find. I played with one of these at my grandparents' when I was a little girl, and love seeing them in the shops, too—but never, ever have I seen one with a bomb shelter. Incredible. Plus the covered patio!

Pat said...

When I was in elementary school outside of Philadelphia in the late fifties and early sixties we frequently had air raid drills - not like fire drills where you went outside, but where we stayed in our classrooms, the teachers pulled down the roller shades, shut the door and everyone did a duck and cover under their desk. We were taught to put our arms up over our heads. I'm sure this would have saved us all in the event of a nuclear attack. I remember fallout posters on the walls in the hallways showing us what to do.

Crazy, looking back on it!

I don't remember my parents talking about it or doing any special preparations or stockpiling, and I also don't remember being particularly scared about the air raid drills; it was just something we did like a fire drill.

My cousin lives in a house in Santa Barbara that has a bomb shelter. They store their camping equipment in it!

Thanks for sharing this - really neat (as we would have said in 1962).

Anonymous said...

Love the house, my girls have the same one minus the fall out shelter. I've imagined the same thing, except instead of shrinking I want to blow the house up to life size so I can live in it.

Anonymous said...

Great article! Where does the family of 5 use the bathroom during their fallout shelter stay?

Lisa said...


Oh man oh man! I LOVE that it just looks like a dang garage at first glance! All the details! Just wow. $999 is a little steep for me, but DO NOT THINK I will see another tin doll house for the rest of my life without checking it for a freakin' fallout shelter. SO NEAT!

MySpecialAgent said...

That is so rad! I had a dollhouse like this when I was younger but all it had was a lousy rec room. *sigh* Mine came with all the furniture, though. Man I loved that house.

Scott Lawrence said...

My wife and I were looking for a new house in 2008 (Rochester, NY) and one of the houses we found had a really strange basement, there was this extra cement block wall, making it difficult to get to the electrical panel... the wall snaked around, into this other room, where there were metal cots hanging on the wall, like in a submarine. The room had cement walls on every side. Turns out, like your doll house here, most of that room was under a porch off of the kitchen. Really strange era.

chutti said...

I've always loved Marx dollhouses-I had one as a kid.
But holy cow-the bomb shelter is super neat-o.

We still did duck and cover type drills in the late 1960's/early 1970's. Maybe that's cause we're in quake country, and they might as well keep it the same.

I've seen quite a few bomb shelters in my travels and estate sale hopping. Seems the cinder blocked garage corner is the most common. Always wanted to build one underground, but haven't.

That is one COOL dollhouse. And creepy, too.

Laura said...

Cool find, but really, it's sort of weird too. Yes, it's contemporary with the times, but most dolls/dollhouses/domestic life stuff presented children with the IDEAL home, the IDEAL family life-- everything picture perfect. Nuclear war and protecting yourself from it doesn't seem like the ideal image of American life, does it? What kid really wanted to pretend air raid drills? An unusual bit of reality in a dollhouse.

Jacob said...

I hope it came with little Zombie Dolls

Christine said...

Very cool! I remember seeing this dollhouse in a museum exhibit on toys when I was a kid, and thought it was merely the garage. Good catch!

james vaughan said...

... wonderful piece of Anerican History. I will be putting up photos and posting a link from my Cold War blog 'Atomic Annihilation'

SusieQT said...

That is so awesome! I have one of those dollhouses, but not one with a fallout shelter- I will definitely be on the lookout for that from now on! And I have a secret wish that someday while I'm out working in the yard I'll uncover a manhole and discover a fallout shelter under my house...

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