Charity and Jeff Reeb were living in Fort Worth, Texas, when they made an offer on a spacious and stately home at 1235 E. Walnut St.
They made the offer sight unseen, although they had hired contractors to walk through the house and shoot video for them.
It was only after the owner accepted their offer that Charity was told, “Oh, by the way, there is this crazy bomb shelter in the basement.”
Charity, 37, was thrilled.
“That was just incredible,” she tells me. “Super cool. We love places with a story.”
Yes, it’s an honest-to-goodness Cold War bomb shelter.
It was added when Dr. Gene William Farthing and his wife, Nancy, owned the house, which was built in 1915. The couple sold it in 2005.
They raised three children here.
The house sits on 1.1 acres.
“The basement was already spooky enough even before my parents built a bomb shelter,” says William Farthing, 76, the couple’s son, who has lived in Maine since 1969.
He believes his parents constructed the shelter in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Definitely, he says, it was prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. That’s when the United States and Soviet Union teetered on the brink of nuclear war after the Soviets had placed missiles in Cuba, which is about 100 miles from Florida.
It was a time in our nation’s history, Farthing says, when he and other school children had “duck and cover” drills in the event of a nuclear attack.
“I remember when I was at McDaniel Elementary School, we would have drills where we went into the stairwell and sat on the stairs and put our hands over our heads,” he tells me.
His parents transformed what basically had been his “recreation room” into the concrete-walled bomb shelter.
“I had a chemistry set in there and I made some bad-smelling things” in the rec room, he says.
“And I had at least one dance party in there,” he says. “It was a rock ‘n’ roll party or ‘Rock Around the Clock,'” he says.
Once it became a bomb shelter, he says, the ceiling was lowered.
“There was a big water tank in there, and we used to flush it every couple of months to keep the water fresh,” he says.
The family kept canned food stocked in the room. Four cots were screwed into the walls.
Farthing does not know if the walls were lined or insulated with lead to reduce the risk of radiation exposure.
He graduated Central High in 1961 and entered Grinnell College, in Iowa, that fall. The bomb shelter had already been built by then.
Fond memories of this old house
Farthing says his maternal grandparents had owned the home prior to his parents.
His maternal grandfather was Lewis Luster, a prominent and civic-minded Springfield attorney. Luster Avenue in Springfield is named after him.
Luster once was the law partner of John Woodruff, who played a key role in boosting economic development in Springfield. Woodruff also was involved in the birth of Route 66.
What Farthing always heard, he tells me, is that the living space in the carriage house is where household servants once lived.
The carriage house is behind the home. It will become a two-bedroom, one bathroom Airbnb, with a one-bed loft. It is atop a three-car garage.
It was unoccupied when Farthing was a boy.
“There was a bathroom and a couple of bedrooms,” he says. “I would use it as a boys’ clubhouse.”
He grew up in the house with his parents and two younger sisters. His father was a doctor and the son of a doctor.
Farthing’s father died in December 2012 at 98. His mother is 101 and lives in an assisted living center in Springfield. One sister lives in Springfield and the other near St. Louis.
“I have very fond memories of that house,” he says. “We played games in the backyard – badminton and touch football.”
He visits Springfield every spring to see his sisters and mother. He makes a point of driving by the house but has not been inside since his parents sold it in 2005.
I suggest to him that next time he’s in town, he might consider staying in the new Airbnb room that once was his boyhood clubhouse.
Always wanted to live on Walnut St.
Charity Reeb, the new owner (with her husband), wants to know everything about her new 4,500-square-foot home. She asks me for contact information for Farthing.
On Thursday, she led photographer Nate Papes and me into the basement.
Of course, we wanted to see the bomb shelter first.
The walls are concrete. A sign above the entry says “To Bomb Shelter.”
We enter a tight, dimly lit passage and have to hunch down. For some reason, it occurs to me that the day is Halloween. The ceiling is 5 feet, 6 inches high.
The passage opens to four military-style cots that are screwed into the concrete. The ceiling is higher here.
The water tank remains. A couple of small bottles of iodine are atop the tank. The caps are caked over with something that looks like rust. Iodine is used to purify water.
In addition, If you’ve watched the HBO historical drama “Chernobyl,” you know that potassium iodide can be used to help block radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland, thus protecting you from radiation injury. The thyroid gland is the body part most sensitive to radioactive iodine.
The room has shelves where, I’m guessing, canned food was once stacked.
Reeb cranks a small, hand-held machine that was used, she thinks, to bring fresh air into the room. Her guess is that a nearby bucket served as the toilet.
“I really have to work hard to keep my sons out of the bomb shelter,” she says.
She and her husband have two boys named Tinsae and Afira, both 7, whom they adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia. They also have a daughter, Samara, age 5.
Charity grew up in rural Eldridge, in Laclede County, and studied at Evangel University in Springfield.
“I had always wanted to live on Walnut Street,” she says.
They moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and after three years were anxious to return to Missouri – specifically East Walnut Street.
“This house is such a gem,” she says. “We had been watching this house a real long time.”
The owner dropped the price significantly in July and they made their offer, she says.
She operates an at-home marketing consulting business, and her husband has a mobile paintless dent repair business in which he often repairs vehicles in the aftermath of a hail storm.
The house’s most recent appraised value – according to the Greene County Assessor’s office – is $368,900. An appraised value does not necessarily reflect the most recent sales price.
The house was listed as having five bedrooms and five bathrooms.
“Before we saw it, people were telling us it was massive. It’s actually bigger than five bedrooms and five bathrooms.”
“It’s the perfect house for us,” she says. “We love entertaining.”
In addition, she says, they often host overseas workers, including missionaries who have returned to U.S. soil.
Now that we’ve seen the bomb shelter, she offers us a future invitation to see the main house when the renovation is complete, as well as the Airbnb former carriage house when it’s complete.
“And you won’t even have to write a story,” she tells us.
These are the views of News-Leader columnist Steve Pokin, who has been at the paper seven years, and over his career has covered everything from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 417-836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65806.