UMass Amherst History Class Heading to Underground Bunker to Revisit the Cold War

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts history professor David Glassberg is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis in a novel way.

He’s taking a group of high school teachers into a former bunker beneath the Holyoke Range and showing them where spy photos of Soviet missile silos in Cuba were originally developed by the U.S. Strategic Air Command.

The event - which will take place April 5th - is part of a series of "living history" classrooms created by Glassberg called "Where We Live." By showing local high school teachers how they can use the artifacts of history in their midst, Glassberg says he can help them find ways to make learning history come alive for their students.

"Too often people see history as nothing more than memorizing dates of presidents and battles," says Glassberg, who hopes his tour will give teachers ideas for instruction when the Cuban Missile Crisis anniversary takes place in October. "What I try to show is how history affects everyday life for everyone. For instance, if you look at the landscape of the surrounding area, it’s amazing how much of it looks the way it does because of the Cold War."

On his tour, Glassberg will bring out these Cold War-related connections, taking his group from Westover Air Force Base to the Notch Visitor’s Center at Holyoke Range State Park, to name just two of the locations. In doing so, he will show not only the direct connections to the Cold War, such as the runways at Westover where B-52 Stratofortresses loaded with nuclear weapons took off and landed ’round the clock in the 1950s and 1960s, and the bunker 400 feet beneath the Notch where base personnel worked at the height of the crisis in October 1962, but the indirect connections as well, such as the roads and businesses that grew up servicing such a large military complex.

"The point is to make clear the connection to the past we still have," Glassberg explains. "The industry in the area, the people, and even the look of it have much to do with the Cold War in one way or another. Even UMass itself was largely affected."

In fact, Glassberg says, the idea for focusing on Westover Air Force Base and its bunker (which is now owned by Amherst College) came to him when he was watching the sunset one day over the north end of the UMass campus. As the clouds over the Lederle Graduate Research Center began to change color, it hit him that the entire complex of buildings was connected with the Cold War and the increased focus on technological research that was emphasized in an effort to keep up with what was then the Soviet Union.

"I was talking to a physics professor on campus recently and he said that nearly everything he had ever done was in some way funded due to the Cold War," says Glassberg. "It’s the same with Silicon Valley and Route 128 in Boston, not to mention the Internet, which was originally designed as a defense project. Everytime you click on a Web site, you’re experiencing a Cold War artifact."

This "living history" tour is the most recent in a series of similar events Glassberg has coordinated over the years. Since 1991, he has taken groups to tour farms in Deerfield, canals in Holyoke, the Springfield Armory, and the trash dump at Bondi’s Island to show how important historical forces have had an impact that can still be examined through actual locales in the area. Perhaps most importantly, he shows how the people who are part of the communities surrounding these areas are still in many ways affected by the past. At Westover, for instance, Glassberg expects to show how the end of the Cold War is still having ramifications on a monumental scale.

"Just to walk through this enormous base and see the number of buildings that have been remodeled or destroyed shows what a watershed moment we are living in," says Glassberg. "We need to examine these artifacts while we still can, because the Cold War is rapidly becoming an irretrievable part of history."