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?