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  • June 13, 1954: The Rev. E. Stanley McKee, center left, holds church documents in a brass box before placing them in the cornerstone of the First Methodist Church's new educational center. (File photos)

  • June 13, 1954: Bob Wray, left, George Feil, Loren Alston and Bob Itt were the winning foursome in the 2nd ABC title at Brookwood. They won a set of woods from the Fort Wayne Golf Association. A record 336 golfers competed in the event.

  • June 14, 1954: Col. Chester Lichtenberg, director, and radioman Wayne Nidlinger work the the command post transmitter during the civil defense test alert. The mobile transmitter was parked at the colonel's home, which served as the command post.

  • June 14, 1954: Officials hang a sign marking the boundary of the total damage area during a civil defense test alert. The test left the city in fictional rubble and “killed” 68,000.

  • June 14, 1954: George Hatch operated the civil defense alternate control center south of the city during a test alert. His mobile station, registered as W9VMG, was known as Teddy Bear. He relayed messages to the state communications center in Pendleton.

  • June 14, 1954: Teams in the Northern Division of the Pony League participate in opening ceremonies at Lawton Park. Two games were played at the park, pitting the Zeis Junior Sheriffs against Allen Dairy and G.E. against Huber Business Machines.

  • June 15, 1954: About 2,000 dancers turned out at Foster Park for a city-sponsored square dance.

  • June 15, 1954: Children that were members of the control group in the Salk polio vaccine tests get a preview of the gifts they were to be given for participating. Pictured are Clarence Biedenweg, left, chairman of the school committee, and Norbert Knapke, general chairmen of the program, with South Wayne School third-grader Harold King Jr. and Washington first-grader Susan Meyers.

  • June 17, 1954: Parochial school dentist Ray Tucker congratulates representatives of 10 classes of the city's parochial schools who finished the school year with 100 percent dental corrections. 

  • June 18, 1954: The Cedarville Dam was announced as completed. The only task left was to build up the embankments and then the dam would begin impounding about 500 million gallons of reserve water, which would be held back my electrically operated gates. The dam was considered one of the biggest engineering feats in the area in years.

  • June 18, 1954: Beth Ann Lewis, 5, sprays down Douglas Ford, 3, with water from a hose. The city was seeing a string of days with heat above 90 degrees, but Douglas doesn’t seem to be enjoying his shower.

  • Sue Hutner’s broken foot and Jack Kern’s broken hand didn’t stop them from heading out on Hamilton Lake with Dave Koher, second right, and Jim Williams during house parties for local high school sororities and fraternities in June 1954.

  • File Janet Stamats turns a wheel to dump Sharon Spangle into Hamilton Lake in this photo from June 1954.

Thursday, December 27, 2018 1:00 am

A busy week in June 1954

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

History Journal

Beginning today, the monthly features called Throwback Thursday will be known as History Journal.

In addition to this column, readers can find new material and items from The Journal Gazette's archive weekly at

Reader input on History Journal content is welcome. If you have a year, subject, event or specific date you would like to see featured, please contact Assistant Features Editor Corey McMaken at 461-8475 or Comments and reminiscences about subjects in the column are also welcome and might be included in future stories.

McMaken has worked for The Journal Gazette since 2004. He has a degree in history and creative writing, so digging through the archives and sharing what he finds is right up his alley.

In Throwback Thursday features, we've usually taken a look back at specific events, and that will continue in this new column. But as we prepare to ring in a new year, I thought it might be nice to roll back the clock in this first installment of History Journal and take a look at a week in the life of our area in 1954.

When skimming the archive, several items from the week of June 13 stuck out. First, a lot of things sounded like they could be headlines today: Worries over foreign powers, city golfers earning titles, fatal accidents and local teams playing ball (even though it was the Fort Wayne Daises and the Zollner Pistons instead of the TinCaps). But there were also some things you just wouldn't see in 2018 such as polio vaccine testing and the city undergoing a mock atomic attack.

Here are some vignettes from a week nearly 65 years ago:

• A theoretical enemy attack “hit” 41 cities in the continental United States and six in Canada on June 14. Air raid warning signals went off just before 11 a.m., but the public was urged not to be alarmed. Installed at factories, schools and other strategic locations in the city, this was the first time Fort Wayne's air raid warning system had been tested. An all-clear was sounded at 1 p.m.

Fort Wayne was among cities chosen because it was designated a “critical target area.” The test “killed” 68,000 people and left the city in fictional ruins with damage in the heart of the city alone estimated at $150 million (that would be about $1.4 billion today, adjusted for inflation).

• The Fort Wayne Daisies, a women's professional baseball team, were beaten 5-2 in a June 13 away game against the Grand Rapids Chicks.

In Fort Wayne that night, the Zollner Pistons softball team had a double victory over the previously undefeated South Bend Studebakers. Though the Pistons were famed champions, they were disbanded later that year.

• About 90 members of Local 902 United Electrical Workers went on strike June 14 at Perfection Biscuit Co. in Fort Wayne and 200 other workers declined to cross the picket lines, bringing baking to a halt.

The union members had been working under an expired contract.

• After a Mother's Day fire gutted one family's home on Morris Street, friends and neighbors pitched in to build a new one and construction was underway in a June 17 story highlighting the act of kindness. The new home on Strathmore Street would have five rooms and a bath.

• On June 17, weathermen promised that the following day, Friday, would be “a little cooler” as the area was in the middle of a heat wave that had already seen temperatures in the 90s for eight consecutive days. But by the afternoon of June 18, temperatures had risen to 92 and more muggy days were in the forecast through the weekend.

History Journal appears monthly in print with additional items weekly on The Journal Gazette's website.



The following stories appeared in The Journal Gazette in 1954:


“92-Degree Heat Beats Record Set Here In 1920” (June 14, 1954)

Fort Wayne yesterday continued to swelter under a boiling sun, and many residents took advantage of the weekend to head for nearby lakes in search of relief from the heat.

The tropical weather kept the mercury in the high 80s and low 90s during the afternoon, with a high of 92 recorded about 6 p.m., setting a new record for this area for a June 13. Previous high on that date was a 91 in 1920. Normal maximum temperature for yesterday should have been 79, according to the Weather Bureau at Baer Field.

Crowds attempting to escape the four-day-long heat siege crowded the seven major highways yesterday in Allen County. State police estimated that 60,000 cars passed through the county during the day.

All highways were clogged with the east and west arteries U.S. 12 and 30 carrying the heaviest burden.

Outlook for today is for fair and continued warm with a high reading of 93 and a low of 65. Tuesday will be partly cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms during the afternoon or evening.

(A Saturday, June 19 story said there was little relief in sight. A high of 87 on Thursday that week had been the only break in a nine-day stretch of temperatures in the 90s.)


“City In Rubble After 'A-Attack'” (June 15, 1954)

By Kenneth B. Keller

In make-believe yesterday, Fort Wayne became a gutted city of 68,000 dead, 26,000 maimed and 25,000 without homes.

The heart of the city was a graveyard of rubble from above the St. Marys River south to Creighton Avenue, and from Division Street on the east to Rockhill Street. The monetary loss alone was an estimated $150,000,000.

Outside this mike and a half circle the residential and small business areas were a shambles from another mile in every direction. The damage here was an estimated $160,000.

In debris were the City Hall, the Three Rivers Filtration Plant, the Broadway plant of the General Electric Co., the city power plant, the Indiana & Michigan generating plant, central offices of the Home Telephone & Telegraph Co. and the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., the Western Union Telegraph Co. and even the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

All rail lines in the inner circle were blasted out.

This bad dream was a hypothetical set up by the Federal Civil Defense Administration to test the effectiveness of its organizations in 41 key cities over the United States and in territorial possessions.

In Indiana it amounted to a broad test alert of civil defense organizations in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. Here, the explosion of an A-bomb at an elevation of 2,700 feet over the intersection of Lewis and Calhoun Streets was simulated. A make-believe bomb was exploded over Indianapolis earlier in the day.

The imaginary crisis came in Fort Wayne at 12:18 p.m., one hour and 28 minutes after the first sound of air raid sirens in the city's history.

Before the all-clear signal at 1 p.m., Col. Chester Lichtenberg had received complete reports on the devastation and service restoration plans from all but three key committees. The rest came later in the afternoon. Col. Lichtenberg, director of civil defense in the city and county, termed the test here, officially known as “Operation Alert,” a success.

From the warning of imminent attack until the all-clear, the colonel's command post at his residence, 4624 Tacoma Ave., had dispatched over 60 emergency messages to the state communications control center in Pendleton over a radio communications network unique in this state.

One of the early high-priority Fort Wayne command post messages called for 120 field first aid teams of two men each, 120 first aid field kits, 26,000 casualty identification tags, 900 litters, 3,800 litter bearers, equipment and supplies for 60 first aid stations, 600 operating tables, 6,900 beds, 3,124 physicians, 3,820 registered nurses, 426 dentists and veterinarians, 492 pharmacists, 1,343 laboratory technicians, 3,000 nurses aids, 1,280 first aid technicians – all in addition to the facilities available in Fort Wayne.

These figures were based on months of research which involved the normal movements of people in the target area. It demonstrated the magnitude of a disaster which would follow the detonation locally of an A-bomb two and a half times the size of that used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Fort Wayne also would have needed 20,000 units of whole blood, 20,000 units of water glucose, 10,000 units of saline glucose and 40,000 morphine syrettes. All this would have been just a starter in taking care of the casualties, the colonel commented grimly.

He pointed out that St. Joseph's Hospital would have been lost in the detonation of a real bomb.

Yesterday's procedure was tense buc calm, and proceeded like clockwork. The face of Radioman Wayne Nidlinger in charge of the command post station W9CXP was immobile as the messages started to pile up. His equipment, which filled the trunk and hung from the instrument panel of his private car, attracted the attention of only three neighborhood youths during the test. Nidlinger sparked his carefully-balanced transmitter with a portable generator outfit. He took no chances of battery trouble.

Nidlinger, working directly under Col. Lichtenberg, had his traffic with “Teddy Bear” the alternate control center on the Ferguson Road, which made regular contacts with the state control center at Pendleton. Radioman George Hatch, whose mobile station is W9VMG, was hooked up to the antenna prepared there.

The colonel's mobile communications system composed of 45 amateur radio operators in the city took over all communications once the bomb had been detonated, for theoretically, all the existing wire communications had been bombed, including the city signal department. Their transmissions were as clear as by telephone.

At one point during the test someone made reference to the “ham network. This nettled Col. Lichtenberg. “They're radio men, not 'hams,'” he snapped. “They just call themselves 'hams'.”

First on yesterday's test exercise schedule was a warning to the City signal department at central fire headquarters that an air attack was probably. The call came at 8 a.m. This information was quickly relayed to the key units involved, and eight supporting counties, including Van Wert County, Ohio.

The second warning of more probably attack, coded “lemon juice,” came at 9:50 a.m. At 10:36 a.m., all fire apparatus in the city was evacuated to the fringes to obviate damage or destruction. This did not affect fire protection in the city, since all units were in constant communications with the city signal department.

The warning of imminent attack, or “applejack,” came at 10:50 a.m. and this was the signal for the sounding of 15 air raid sirens installed over the city. The city will have a total of 20 such noise makers but not all were connected yesterday. In the absence of radio automatic controls, the sirens were activated by civilian defense wardens.

The only other operation of the sirens came with the all-clear at 1 p.m. By that time the state communications center at Pendleton was so jammed with messages, the bulk of them from the Fort Wayne and Allen County test area, that replies could not be guaranteed, if requested before midnight. However the messages were going through.

Operations of the test crew of over 200 officials and volunteers started immediately after the first air attack warning. Acting Mayor Robert Meyers, chairman of the local civil defense organization, was the first in the command to be notified and as the alerts continued, he held a token meeting with his emergency finance committee, composed of himself, City Controller Robert G. Beams and City Attorney Paul Philips.

A rendezvous for the auxiliary policemen and firemen was established immediately by Lt. Kenneth A. Waldrop of the police department, Sheriff Harold S. Zeis, Fire Chief Clinton J. Baals and Deputy Robert O'Reilly of the sheriff's department. After the make-believe bombing, the auxiliary officers were stationed about the perimeter of the total damage area to inform the public about the test exercise.

For the general public, there was nothing noticeable about the test exercise except the movement of fire apparatus and the sound of the sirens. Everyone had been advised to pursue normal activities and there were no traffic interruptions.

As the gravity of the test situation increased, key units of the Fort Wayne and Allen County Civil Defense Organization began to report preparations for service. Mrs. Robert Whitaker, chief warden, advised that 349 wardens actually were standing by and Edward H. Doden Jr. of the disaster relief committee had counted 163 noses in his organization, even though the whole thing was a simulation.

In a lengthy report which came early during the make-believe emergency, Donald H. Walker, chairman of the auxiliary volunteer transportation service, reported 6,649 units available.

C.V. Sorenson, co-ordinator of public utilities for emergency, advised that plans had been completed for service restorations. Similar reports came from other utility officials.

Fred. W. Carey arranged for the establishment on paper of a telegraphic clearing center at New Haven to be fed by radio. P. L. Kaade also presented a complete report on plans for restoration of gas services to the city.

D. C. Swager of the facilities self-protection group had 272 people alerted and 413 military personnel were kept in standby status by Maj. Robert McBride III in charge of the military liaison committee.

Lt. Waldrop was using 49 auxiliary policemen and 23 regular members of the police department, and John Hartman advised that all rescue teams had been contacted, and 33 were on call.

That's how civilian defense in Fort Wayne and Allen County responded to its first big test.


“Final Blood Drawing In Polio Test Scheduled For Friday” (June 16, 1954)

Children in the first, second and third grades who have had blood drawn as part of the control group of the polio vaccine tests will have the second and final drawing Friday in seven centers.

Clarence Biedenweg, school committee chairman, has urged the parents to have their children at the centers before 9:30 a.m.

“The success of the whole project is dependent upon the number of blood samples drawn for research,” Biedenweg said last night. “If we fall down on this, the test can't be complete.”

Blood centers will be set up at the following schools: South Wayne, Abbott, Bethlehem Lutheran, Precious Blood Catholic, Huntertown, New Haven and Waynedale. Each will be staffed by two or three doctors as well as nurses and members of PTA groups.

The control group is comprised of two percent of the first and third grade pupils and two percent of the second grade children who participated in the polio vaccine tests.

Officials of North American Van Lines, Inc., have announced they will present a toy truck to each boy and a doll to each girl as a reward for participating in Friday's blood drawing.

(A story in the June 19, 1954, editions said 274 children gave blood in the draw.)


“$732,000 Cedarville Dam Finished; Will Impound 500 Million Gallons” (June 19, 1954)

Engineers have changed the course of the St. Joseph River north of Fort Wayne to flow through the now completed $732,000 Cedarville Dam.

H.A. Kerby, chief engineer of water engineering here, yesterday announced the completion of the 30 by 135 foot structure. he said, however, that the dam is not yet impounding the 500,000,000 gallons of water it will hold back for emergency use.

Water is flowing through the dam via a 1,000 foot channel engineers cut out to se the St. Joseph on a new route through the dam. The Cedarville Dam was actually built on dry land.

Workmen, according to Kerby yesterday, are building up embankments preparatory to the flooding of a pocket-reservoir area that lies to the northwest of the dam structure.

The dam is considered one of the biggest engineering feats in this area in years. Its impounding of water for storage is expected to eliminate “summer months” water shortages that have hit the city in the past.

The engineering firm of Drury, McNamee and Porter, of Ann Arbor, Mich., built the dam. The same firm recently completed a flood control survey for the City.

Cedarville Dam, 135 feet across and about 30 feet high, has three huge steel retainer gates which are controlled by electric generators. Two of the gates were up yesterday, permitting water to flow through the dam, while the third gate was down.

The dam is located just southeast of Cedarville, about 10 miles up the St. Joseph River from Fort Wayne. It was put up southeast of a wide westerly bend in the river. North of the bend, the river has been brought south to the dam via the channel. The channel runs about 1,000 feet and cuts off the westerly bend.

The land between the dam and the westerly bend will be flooded and it is here the “reservoir” water will be held.

Over the past three years, the City has purchased $200,000 worth of land from farmers on both sides of the St. Joseph River extending from the site of the dam almost to Spencerville.

Much of the 500 million gallons of reservoir water will flood over the banks on this city-owned right of way lands. Engineers have figured just how far the water will flood by calculating land elevations.

In the reservoir area, between the Cedarville Dam and Spencerville, will be 695 million gallons of water, 500 million gallons of which will be for storage.

Cost of the dam included: 1. $440,000 for the dam structure, 2. $92,000 for clearing of the reservoir lands and building roads, and 3. $200,000 for the purchase of right-of-way lands.