June 26, 2006

Hopkins History: When Air Raids Were a Threat

Terrorism, which trips off the tongue so easily these days, had a forerunner in World War II: the prospect of air raids on American cities. And Johns Hopkins was prepared to respond.

Fearing that the German Air Force might be bold enough to fly across the Atlantic and bomb East Coast cities, the university’s campuses joined other venues from Maine to Florida that were carrying out air raid drills.

When the sirens sounded, students, faculty, staff and visitors stopped what they were doing and headed for designated shelters.

In January 1942, on a cool Saturday night, the siren sounded at Homewood. Forty couples were dancing to Big Band music in Levering Hall. They were ordered to leave the dance floor and go to a shelter in nearby Latrobe Hall. This caused some consternation among the dancers, and it prompted a letter from one Isaac George to President Isaiah Bowman.

“According to my cousin,” wrote Mr. George, “in the middle of the dance a campus police whistle blew for a practice Air Raid alarm and, without giving the men a chance to get their coats or the ladies an opportunity to get their wraps, all were asked to move to an adjacent building. The weather was quite cold and several in the party criticized the way it was handled.”

President Bowman turned the letter over to his no-nonsense provost, P. Stewart Macaulay. Macaulay wrote Mr. George that he was responsible for “air raid precautions on the Homewood Campus.” Further, he said, “the air raid test was properly authorized and carried out strictly in accordance with instructions.”

Suggesting that it was not too much of a hardship for the dancers to go outside without their coats and wraps, Macaulay added, “In fact during the evening many of the young men and ladies were observed on the steps of Levering Hall and strolling the grounds — without wraps.”

And then Macaulay, who was known for being direct, especially with people who annoyed him, wrote, “When we find certain groups that cannot fit into our plans, we shall close the campus to such groups for the duration. We already have restricted the use of the gymnasium and it may be that we should do the same at Levering.”

The file in the Hamburger Archives indicates no further communication from Mr. George.