Duck and Cover
Air raid! At least that's what photographer Carroll Thayer Berry wanted these thirteen Rockport schoolchildren to imagine when he asked them to pose for this remarkable photograph back on May 2, 1952. The Cold War was getting into full swing, and these students were studiously following the advice of programs like "Operation Alert," the federal education program that advised children to "duck and cover" in the event of an atomic blast. The six boys on the right are displaying excellent form, their hands clutched tightly over their necks, and several of them even go so far as to lay face-down in the dirt where just moments earlier they might have played hopscotch or rolled marbles. The three girls and the teacher on the left of the stairs have chosen somewhat more demure positions. The severity of the drill seems to have been lost on just one child; the boy on the left side of the stairs is taking the opportunity to catch up on a last-minute reading assignment.
Berry, having become a master of the woodcut during the 1930s and 1940s, had only begun practicing black-and-white photography a few years before capturing this arresting image, one in a series of photographs of civil defense drills that he took in Camden and Rockport during the early 1950s and is now in the collection of the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport. His timing could not have been more perfect: within just a few years this school, with its peeling wooden clapboards, at right, and massive clocktower with a view overlooking Penobscot Bay, would be closed as Rockport and its busier neighbor to the north consolidated their high schools into a modern high school in Camden. The impressive structure shown here went into a steady decline shortly after Berry made his photograph, nearly falling derelict before being purchased less than a decade ago by a group of neighbors who have since restored it, replacing the classrooms with offices and apartments and repairing the once-proud clock and bell.
But judging by at least one recumbent participant on this warm day more than fifty years ago, photographer Berry seems to have succeeded in convincing his young models of the importance of this atomic drill. The boy at far right, his crisp shirt likely white no longer after being pressed into the dirt, uses his arm to restrain a black dog who has joined this surreal scene. Perhaps this is fourth-grade teacher Veda Achorn's own setter, Pal, who often followed his master to school, and this clever student may just be considering feeding his own homework to the obliging pup. Even a midday attack — or at least the charade of one — was not enough, it seems, to discourage these Maine students from their schoolyard antics on this pleasant day more than half a century ago.