The Legendary Mount Dora Catacombs…Seriously!

In keeping with the NaNoWriMo theme I started earlier this month, Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank was unknowingly left off my list of Florida books.  Had I known then what I know now, this best seller would be right at the top!

During my recent foray to Mount Dora, I had the pleasure of sitting in the Mount Dora Coffee House reading a quarterly magazine called Pulse, which covers local events in Lake County. In an interesting article entitled “After the Apocalypse” by Mari Henninger, I read author Pat Frank was living in nearby Tangerine, Florida when he penned the classic novel in 1959. Apparently Alas, Babylon‘s quaint town of Fort Repose was actually based on Mount Dora.

Now, for those of you who haven’t read Alas, Babylon, this was the first important novel written in the nuclear age, speculating on a post-apocalyptic world.  FYI–author Pat Frank depicted the town leaders as bumbling fools, so the Mount Dora leaders, who knew full well the town was based on them, weren’t too pleased!

However, the novel’s effect was legendary, spawning a whole legion of post-apocalytpic books and shaping a generation of writers. It had quite an effect in town as well, and during this time of bomb-shelter building, Mount Dora was no exception. In fact, several families got together and built a huge underground fallout shelter called The Catacombs.

Here’s more from the Orlando Sentinel article on Mount Dora’s Catacombs:

“It is a 5,000-square-foot underground fortress complete with a kitchen, a recreation room, a medical facility, a sewage system and an air-conditioning and filtering system.

Dubbed ‘The Catacombs’ by the select group of families who had the secret shelter built, it was designed to allow as many as 100 people to dwell underground for more than half a year.

The families — including the city’s mayor, county superintendent of schools, a local bank president, a farmer, several doctors and a minister — planned to hunker down while a nuclear firestorm consumed those left outside.

Twenty-five families had private rooms in the complex, each large enough to shelter four people.

Each family paid about $2,000 — a sizable sum at the time — for the chance to survive.

The underground complex even included its own weapons arsenal to ward off jealous neighbors who might want to enter, as well as a huge collection of seeds to provide a food supply afterward.

When the threat of fallout was over and it was safe to come out, they would emerge from the underground cocoon and try to start civilization over.”

The owner of the land under which the Catacombs were built had claimed he was simply putting in a tennis court…yeah, keep that in mind next time your neighbors are doing some construction!

And apparently the location of the Catacombs is still kept secret… hmmm…. guess what I want to look for on the Top 5’s next visit to Mount Dora! Anybody wanna come?


Filed under History, Just Plain Weird, Literary, Mount Dora, Uniquely Florida

20 responses to “The Legendary Mount Dora Catacombs…Seriously!

  1. Time to study Google Earth over Mount Dora! I used to work for the City and never heard about them. Wow!

  2. Oh that is so cool! 🙂 I’m going to have to look for that book. I’m a Florida author too 🙂

  3. Don Price of @orlandocemetery told me via Twitter “@CentralFLTop5 I have a copy on my desk…great read. Your next must read is ‘Murder of a Little Girl’ by Sam Roen. Ocoee Based Non Fiction” –Sounds fascinating!

  4. Ed

    So, would this count as spelunking if we find it?

  5. timwidge

    sounds lie an urban legend to me. could the sentinel have been duped?

  6. jen

    I’ve read about this in a couple of different places… never knew about the Alas, Babylon connection to Mount Dora though, that’s very cool! I may have to check that out. 🙂

  7. darlin barry

    yes, I’ve heard about these too, during the 18 years I’ve lived in and around Mt. Dora. might be able to get a few clues for you from some VERY long-time residents…let me know when you’re coming up again! Darlin Barry, IceHouse Theatre.

  8. hello The Central Florida Top 5 , i review your blog , that a nice blog and useful. Best for everyone. a lot of Sea World and Just Plain Weird content. i will often to read and review your blog.

  9. sullt

    Very interesting! A little searching on Google turns up a few different threads where people have been trying to locate the catacombs. Most of the speculation puts it in The Sylvan Shores community.

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  13. Maestro Gonshut

    This isn’t rocket science folks.

    Pat Frank died in 1964.

    Alas, Bablylon was published in 1959.

    The “small houses” round Sylvan Shores start around 1954.

    Just figure out the biggest houses in the Sylvan Shores area, then find the oldest, most stately homes from that era, i.e. on Morningside Drive, west of Lake Gertrude, and I think you will be pretty hot. Note: your target will not be part of the official Sylvan Shores subdivision.

  14. Maestro Gonshut

    p.s. Do not go trespassing on people’s property without permission.

    Respect private property rights.

  15. good molly The Central Florida Top 5 , i read your blog , this a nice blog and useful. Good for everyone. best review for winter park and Mount Dora content. i will visit to read and comment your website.

  16. Strela

    I’ve been there, and can provide pictures, if you are curious. I will not provide details as to the actual location, out of respect for the land owners, but I can describe, in detail, if you’d like..

  17. Bruce

    I actually found the catacombs by reading everything that I could find about the place and studying Google Earth images of the area. I found about 3-4 possible locations from the images, and it turns out that my first choice was correct. I had to search property records, however, to find the location to the shelter – they are some distance from one another.

    The area around the shelter has grown tremendously and the shelter is now literally a stone’s throw from major development. However, it’s still tricky to locate, and must have been quite well hidden when it was built.

    I won’t divulge the location out of respect for the people who live at the shelter’s entrance. However, you can locate yourself with a little research. There are no visible structures (vents, antennas, or the like) at the site, but there will no doubt in your mind when you do find it – it’s rather distinctive!

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