Family Opens Mysterious Hatch In Backyard, Finds Hidden Marvel Buried For Decades
When couple Ken Zwick and Carol Hollar-Zwick relocated their family to a small town in Wisconsin, they never paid much attention to an unusual feature in their backyard: a mysteriously unopened hatch. Rusted over and long-ignored, their curiosity eventually got the best of them. When they finally decided to do something about the unopened hatch a decade later, they had no idea that it would lead them to the surprise of a lifetime – one that would set them on a course of discovering things they never imagined had been silently laying in wait over the years just behind their home.
1. A Mysterious Hatch
The Hollar-Zwick family had been living in their quite Neenah, Wisconsin neighborhood for almost a decade. They knew that there was something in their backyard that resembled a hatch, but they were very unsuspecting of just what had been laying inside it in wait for all of those years.
The mother of the family, Carol, had been too busy with her time raising her family and going about her daily routine to ever explore the nooks and crannies of her backyard. Throughout the years, the ominous rusty hatch remains unopened in their back yard. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” would only last so long until the fated day that they family’s curiosity would get the best of them.
2. Where It All Began
Back in 1999, before the Hollar-Zwicks would became famous for their eventual amazing find, they were just an average family living in a small town in New Jersey. A job offer that just couldn’t be refused was the catalyst in life that ended up leading them to Wisconsin.
So, they packed their bags and headed to Middle America where the cost of living is cheap and the cheese is as fresh as can be. Their new path would lead them to also look for a new home. And the place they would find would turn out to be no ordinary one.
3. A Quite City
What the Hollar-Zwick family would eventually learn is that it must have been fate for them to move to the sleepy Wisconsin town of Neenah in order to discover something that would change everything. Despite Neenah being a rather insignificant, the Hollar-Zwicks were about to find a property that would be very significant indeed.
The city of Neenah, WI has only around 26,000 residents and is located just south of Appleton. The name Neenah was given to the city by Governor James Duane Doty, the name itself meaning “water” or “running water” in a local Native American language. They didn’t initially know how the meaning of their town name would later come into play in what they’d discover in their backyard.
4. Picturesque And Peculiar
The Hollar-Zwick family finally found the perfect house for themselves and their children to grow up in. The picturesque residence was located in a sleepy neighborhood in Neenah and boasted a rather spacious backyard — a must for many who have young children.
However, in that backyard there was a secret. The family was notified that something was there before they moved in, but at the time they took little note of it. That mysterious item was a hatch. Something that resembled a storm cellar. But just what was inside the hatch, what secrets did it hold? It was a question that came up in the Hollar-Zwick household, but one that they wouldn’t explore themselves until much later.
5. Looming In The Backyard
Carol bought her Neenah home along with her husband Ken and together they raised a beautiful family with three children. As the years passed by, the old rusted hatch in the backyard became overrun with brush, hiding it from sight. Out of sight, out of mind.
For some reason, they never even thought once that they should remove the brush that was growing over the old hatch and to try and pry it open. But somewhere, somehow, it was always in the back of their minds lingering. They didn’t know it then, but the time to open it was finally approaching.
6. Clearing The Brush
It took the Hollar-Zwick family about a decade, but the time had finally come. They were working in the backyard when they decided that the time had come for them to clean up the brush that had grown so rampant over the years. And as they removed the overgrowth, the hatch became exposed. It sat there almost mockingly just waiting for someone to try and open it.
The brush had eerily grown over the rusted hatch, as if it were protecting a secret. Or trying to stop the family from attempting to open it. Perhaps what lay beneath the surface was something that should never be opened. But only time would tell what exactly the hatch contained.
7. An Opening Into The Underground
When the Hollar-Zwicks moved into their quaint home, they went about the business of living their lives. After all, they figured they had no use for whatever was inside of the hatch. The area they lived in rarely had tornadoes, so it wasn’t as if they needed to use the underground space as a tornado shelter.
The space, as they would come to find out, wasn’t a tornado shelter at all. But something much more ominous. At least, ominous given its intended purpose. But just what would they find after they managed to open the old rusted metal hatch and peer down into the unknown abyss below their backyard?
8. A Time Portal
“You’re probably thinking – how could we let it sit there so long?” Carol Hollar-Zwick later admitted in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after her family’s discovery gained media attention. “Well, we assumed it was empty.” But in fact, that wasn’t true at all, as we are about to find out.
In fact, the hatch contained something of a time portal into the past. The Hollar-Zwicks knew that there was a room down below their backyard. But could have never imagined what they were about to find on their very own property. And it certainly was never used as a tornado shelter. But something far more ominous from a different time period.
9. Something Changes
The realtor who had sold the Hollar-Zwick family the house had explained, before they purchased it, that there was an underground room below the backyard hatch. But the family, for some reason, had never taken the time to explore the dark depths of the hatch.
It would take a decade, however, for them to find out just what exactly that mysterious underground space contained. Having initially imagined the the hatch led to an empty, unassuming area, they would soon be shocked to find that it was something much larger than they could have even imagined. And it wouldn’t be empty.
10. A Look Inside
It was only in 2010 that Carol and Ken would get around to clearing the greenery that had overtaken the hatch, enabling them to take a closer look a this feature in their backyard that had long gone unnoticed. But they didn’t hold out much hope for what was inside.
They figured that there was probably nothing more than a dirty old room at the bottom. Now facing the long-forgotten structure, Ken and Carol faced an ultimatum – should they open it and go inside? Perhaps it would be dangerous. Maybe feral animals had overtaken whatever was down there. They had no idea what to expect.
11. The Darkness Below
Finally, with all of the greenery and brush cleared off of the hatch, they were able to get to the door and try to pry it open. After a few attempts, the rusted door creaked open. Peering into the darkness below them, they could tell that the room had been flooded with water.
So, the Hollar-Zwicks decided to explore further, and that would mean pumping the water out of the underground chamber. So they lugged hoses over and began the laborious feat of draining all the water not knowing what the source of it was. After the water had been completely pumped out, they found themselves in a small underground space. But the room wasn’t empty.
12. Inside The Mysterious Hatch
Once inside the shelter it was quite easy to tell that it was never meant to be a simple storm shelter or a hiding place for something dubious. In fact, the underground space was constructed as a fallout shelter. A fallout shelter is an enclosed space designed to protect people from radioactive debris, also known as fallout, from a nuclear explosion.
The shelter itself was designed to minimize exposure to dangerous radioactive debris until radiation levels decayed and it would be safe to reemerge at the surface. But just who had built such an intricate fallout shelter and why? Those questions were actually easy to answer.
13. The Mastermind
The answer to who built the fallout shelter was an easy one because there had only been one other owner of the house prior to the Hollar-Zwicks moving in. The house had been built back in 1951 and was initially owned by a physician by the name of Frank Pansch.
According to municipal records, Pansch started construction on the fallout shelter in his backyard in the year 1960, just about a decade after the home was built. But just why had Pansch decided to build such a structure in his backyard in the small, quiet town of Neenah, Wisconsin? The answer lies in history.
14. Preparing For The Worst
Back in the 1960s, the Cold War was at its peak, and Pansch was a very cautious man. He knew that things could get very ugly very fast between the United States and the Soviet Union. And his precautionary attitude was all the more understood given events that unfolded during his time at the house. Not long after he finished building the shelter in 1960, the Cuban Missile Crisis would erupt.
Both superpowers were on the brink of war and the biggest fear among the American people was that the USSR would use their nuclear arsenal against the American mainland. This led the government to inform citizens to prepare for a possible attack, which they believed was imminent.
15. Nuclear Panic
So Pansch decided to follow suit early and get in on the fallout shelter craze. But just why would he need a fallout shelter in the far-off town of Neenah, Wisconisin? Well, it wasn’t Neenah itself that made Pansch build the shelter, but the city’s proximity to other geographic locations.
As Neenah wasn’t a likely target for the Soviet nuclear arsenal, it was however in the fallout zone for other nearby targets. According to one expert from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, other larger cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis could have very well been on the USSR’s target list, leaving Neenah directly in fallout territory.
16. Worst Case Scenario
Potentially, if one of those cities were attacked by a nuclear weapon, then Pansch and his family would have been safe in the fallout shelter and able to emerge just a few weeks after the radiation dissipated. Something that likely no other family in the city could boast.
And being a guy who was always on top of things, Pansch even completed construction on his fallout shelter years before President Kennedy gave his address to the public encouraging people to prepare for the worst-case scenario in 1961. Still, the shelter that he built was no ordinary fallout shelter, it was quite extraordinary.
17. The Instructions
Pansch constructed his fallout shelter based on instructions from a government pamphlet printed in 1959 called “The Family Fallout Shelter.” That title might sound amusing to us these days, but back then the threat of a nuclear attack was very real indeed.
As per the instructional pamphlet, the fallout shelter included a relatively intricate infrastructure including, a telephone line, electricity and a ventilation system to make sure that fresh air would be able to circulate throughout. The main chamber of the shelter was built at right angles because, according to the pamphlet, that would help combat radiation – as it is known to travel in a straight line. But that wasn’t all.
18. The Supplies
On top of having a perfectly designed fallout shelter, Pansch also made sure to pstock the shelter with everything that he deemed important in case of an emergency. However, seeing as the entire shelter had been flooded and just recently drained, the Hollar-Zwicks doubted that there would be anything still salvageable.
To their surprise, everything a person could dream of needing in such a situation was still inside of the shelter. There, having inconspicuous lay underground for decades were the likes of bunk beds, a lantern and folding toilet. On top of all that, there was even enough food and supplies to last for weeks. Still, there were other items that remained unopened that Ken and Carol couldn’t leave unexplored.
19. Unopened Boxes
Had the room not been damaged by the water, the shelter would have still been in pristine condition and ready for use. However, the fact that water was able to leak inside of the fallout shelter may be an indicator that the shelter wasn’t properly sealed and would not have protected against radioactive debris – like it was designed to do.
Despite the water damage to most of the items, a slew of unopened, airtight boxes had survived and Ken and Carol were able to extract them. Ken and Carol were astonished when they opened the boxes to find that a full 50 years after Pansch had stocked the fallout shelter, their incredible contents were still there and for the most part, in good condition.
20. Ammunition Box?
The couple took the mysterious boxes to there surface where they opened them to find survival kits. Opening these survival kits was like stepping into a time portal back to a grocery store in the 1960s. Inside, there were old-fashioned boxes of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, tins of Flavor Kist saltines and packets of chocolate chip cookies. But there was one box that they were hesitant to open.
The box in question looked like an old ammunition box. With Carol and Ken unsure of what the mystery box contained, they decided that they had better take precaution and call the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A team arrived to inspect the unusual box, but no one had expected what they’d found inside.
21. Safe And Sound
Despite their initial trepidation, the box turned out to be full of Hawaiian Punch! They could sign a breath of relief that the contents of the box didn’t pose a risk – unless you count expired items dangerous. Apart from the supply items in the shelter, there was also detection equipment that was designed to be handy in the case of a nuclear attack. A Geiger counter that could be used to measure radiation was found at the premises.
The Hollar-Zwicks also found hunting equipment and first-aid supplies in the fallout shelter, that was by then dry. They were thrilled with their findings. But one question still remained: What were they going to do with all of the vintage items they found? They would end up doing something notable with all of the supplies they found in the fallout shelter.
22. Sharing The Findings
The Hollar-Zwick family was over the moon with their amazing find. “It’s interesting that you can open up something and find 1960 inside of it,” Carol Hollar-Zwick said in an interview with the Appleton Post-Crescent. She went on to further explain how the fallout shelter was in reality just like a time capsule.
Ultimately, the family decided that they didn’t want to keep (or eat) the historic find just to themselves, but rather they wanted to share their findings with the entire community. So, they donated all of the shelter’s contents to the Neenah Historical Society. But their story didn’t end there.
23. Neenah Historical Society
In May of 2013, all of the Hollar-Zwicks fallout shelter findings went on display as part of an exhibit centered around the typical 1960s home in Neenah, Wisconsin. The items from the fallout shelter went on on display along with old TV shows, books and a radios playing public service announcements.
All of the items helped give insight into Neenah life during the 1960s, as well as American life in general during that time frame. The family couldn’t have found a better place to display all of their amazing findings. Thankfully the Hollar-Zwicks finally got around to opening the hatch in their backyard, but their story didn’t just remain a local wonder.
24. The Commentators
The story of the Hollar-Zwick family finding quickly hit the national news. Everyone was in awe over their finding and many people had comments and questions. The most prominent being why did the family wait so long to open the hatch?
Most people wrote comments stating that if they were the ones moving into that house, the very first thing they would have done would be to open the hatch. In response, the Hollar-Zwick family stated that they had just always thought that the shelter was empty. Would you have opened the hatch immediately? Or would you have just forgotten about the old rusted doors in your backyard?
25. Doomsday Comeback
It might surprise you to hear that it isn’t just Cold War area shelters that have been found recently, but fallout shelters in general are turning up more and more these days. Some companies are even creating doomsday shelters and selling the spaces off to willing buyers.
“It’s an investment in life. I want to make sure I have a place I can take me and my family if that worst-case scenario were to happen,” one customers of such a fallout shelter company said. “We know there is going to be a major earthquake someday on the West Coast. We know a hurricane is going to hit Florida, the Gulf Coast, the East Coast,” the manufacturing company stated. “We support reasonable preparedness.”
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