A Hero's Return

Unbowed by his long internment, in early 1954 Abbott retired from the Army and began work as director of the Monroe County Office of Civil Defense. An ardent Cold Warrior, Abbott became an outspoken critic of international communism. In interviews and on occasional public speaking tours, the wartime hero condemned that "Communism is like a creeping disease. If once you come in contact with it, even lightly, it will eventually consume you." Abbott also urged his fellow citizens to embrace an ethos of alertness and preparedness against not only the threat of communist infiltration but potential nuclear war. As Director of Civil Defense, Abbott insisted that the dropping of an atomic bomb "CAN happen here -- in Rochester and other communities." In fact, after orchestrating a simulation of a nuclear attack against the city in 1957, Abbott's office estimated that, unless they took drastic action, two-thirds of Rochester's population would be killed by an actual detonation. To improve upon these numbers, Abbott promoted duck and cover drills, the creation of public shelters (signs for which can still be seen around parts of Rochester today), and private fallout shelters for residences. He built one such stocked bunker at his home at 500 Hinchey Road in Gates. Allowing a picture of his wife and daughter posing comfortably in its protection to run in city newspapers, Abbott offered himself as a model for his fellow citizens to follow.

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An article from a May 1955 Rochester Times-Union urging Rochesterians to adopt greater preparedness for a nuclear attack on the city. Robert Abbott is quoted throughout in the story on the left-hand side of the page, and his wife, Winona, and daughter, Roberta, are pictured in the Abbott family shelter. Click to see detail.


News clippings of Robert Abbott speaking out in favor of greater civil defense against the specter of communism.