Have you ever imagined what it would be like if Buffalo were struck by an atomic bomb? In 1952, The Buffalo Evening News did, and it was a gory, graphic depiction of apocalyptic devastation.
It was also at the behest of the State Civil Defense Commission.
"Dear Mr. Butler," wrote Lt. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner of the state commission in a letter to the newspaper's publisher, "... I should like to request the cooperation of the Buffalo Evening News in issuing a special edition such as you might publish in the event that bombs actually were dropped on Buffalo by an invading airplane or force of planes.
"In the event of such a grave emergency, it would be of the utmost importance to Civil Defense and public morale through the printed word and a medium enjoying the responsibility of your newspaper to furnish to the public the most accurate information possible under the circumstances."
The letter to Edward H. Butler was published as part of the special edition on Sept. 27, 1952.
Whether the account of the fictional tragedy it contained would do much for "public morale" is up for interpretation. Decide for yourself.
A-BOMB DESTROYS DOWNTOWN BUFFALO; 40,000 KILLED
(This is the first eye-witness account of the devastation caused by today's sneak atomic attack on Buffalo. A Buffalo Evening News reporter was a passenger in the first aircraft to fly over the stricken area, minutes after the "All Clear." The craft, a Bell helicopter, the official "eyes" of the Civil Defense forces at work, landed several times on the perimeter of the severe blast area, despite an ever-present radiation danger. The account was brought to the emergency newsroom of The Buffalo Evening News, established when The News building became a casualty.)
Thousands of Buffalonians are dead. Thousands of frightened men, women and children are injured. Much of the city is in flames. Downtown Buffalo, which this morning bore the brunt of an explosion of a single enemy atom bomb, is a jungle of twisted steel and rubble.
It couldn't happen here. But it did -- a few minutes after 9 o'clock this morning.
Buffalo needs help. Buffalo needs doctors, nurses, drugs, food and transportation. And help is on the way.
Gov. Dewey and President Truman have pledged the full resources of the state and federal governments to aid the stricken city. National guardsmen and Civil Defense workers are on the job.
The bomb-- dropped by a single hostile aircraft streaking in over Lake Erie -- fell in the Michigan Ave.-Perry St. area minutes after a red alert sounded. A tremendous flash of light ripping across the sky signaled the blast. It shook the entire city. It was brighter than sunlight.
For a radius of a mile from the center of the explosion the devastation is complete. This portion of Buffalo as its citizens knew it has vanished, pounded into nothingness by a white-hot sledge-hammer. And damaged is severe up to a radius of 1 1/2 miles from the explosion's center.
This I saw:
The Marine Trust Company building is an empty, twisted shell. Police Headquarters is a mass of rubble. The steeple of St. Joseph's Old Cathedral, like a pointed spear, rests squarely on what remains of the police nerve center.
The Buffalo Evening News Building is a casualty. The McKinley Monument is gone. City Hall is standing but the top of the structure has toppled. Buffalo Harbor itself seems to be ablaze, with flames from burning oil reaching skyward from the water. A giant Great Lakes ship rests in the smoldering pile that once was the General Mills waterfront plant.
Virtually all of the city's vast milling industry has vanished. Waterfront grain elevators, once the city's pride, are shapeless heaps of rubble.
The Republic Steel Corporation plant --the Ford Motor Company assembly plant -- the piers and loading docks are no more. Near the Ford plant, a huge Great Lakes ship rests on land -- driven nearly 1000 yards from its mooring by the blast.
Elsewhere in the city, miles from the blast, fallen wires writhe in the streets. Trees, including Delaware Avenue's massive elms, are uprooted by the hundreds.
Thousands of injured are sprawled in untidy rows in Delaware Park. Some already are beyond help.
The city is mortally stricken. Its agony is mass agony.
The fire -- fed by explosions due to broken gas mains and rivers of oil, much of it from the blasted Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., Inc. refiner on Elk Street -- is rapidly spreading, fanned by a westerly wind.
The wind has carried a massive smoke pall laden with radio-active materials three miles to East Buffalo in nine minutes.
And now, a light rain is falling. It, too, is laden with radio-active materials.
Civil Defense forces and troops, operating from a mobile command post at Elmwood Ave. and Virginia St., are advancing into the stricken area. Bulldozers and trucks are carrying firefighters into action.
The Civil Defense forces at work emphasize this warning:
"Unless you are engaged in the Civil Defense effort, STAY AWAY FROM THE DISASTER AREA. Radiation can kill. It has been deterined that dangerous 'pockets' of radiation exist."
Equipped with scientific devices, radiological experts are at work in contaminated areas.
First reports place the known blast dead at approximately 40,000 persons. An equal number, it seems certain, have been injured.
The city is fighting back.
There is small consolation in the report that the enemy plane which dropped the bomb was shot down in flames near Niagara Falls by an Air Force fighter-interceptor.
Saturday, September 27! If you have survived you'll never forget this day!