A Piece of Camelot on Peanut Island

It’s well-known that JFK and the rest of his family loved Palm Beach. The Kennedys had a home there for many years, and members of the family often visited. A few of the most iconic images from the Kennedy administration were taken on the island.

A little less well-known are how many steps the secret service put in place so that JFK and his family could enjoy life in South Florida at the height of the cold war. Among those things: the government nuclear fallout shelter built just for the Kennedys on a small island just across water from Palm Beach herself. Today, the shelter is a tourist attraction on Peanut Island which is a county park where people can spend the day sunbathing, picnicking, hiking, and more.

We visited the bunker on our last visit to Palm Beach. It’s the crown jewel of the Palm Beach Maritime Museum. After a short tour of the old coast guard station on the western edge of this manmade island, a tour guide led us to a small hill and then underground to the shelter that government officials hoped would keep Kennedy and his family safe should a nuclear attack occur on Washington (or another high value target) while the president spent time at his family’s South Florida retreat.

The shelter isn’t very big, and spartan at best.  We’re talking about one large room a few feet underground, along with a few beds, storage for non perishable food, room for a desk, and not much more. The shelter could house people for up to 30 days in case of a nuclear fallout, but our tour guide said most agents expected it to only be used about four days.

Still, its fascinating–and a great example of a time long gone, a time when this kind of event seemed imminent, and preparation was prudent. Add to that the fact that Kennedy presided over the Cuban Missile Crises, and it’s enough to send chills down your spine.

So, if you have a chance–check it out. History is important, and this shelter is certainly a part of that. It’s worth seeing, and a side of Camelot people don’t normally remember.

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