Not many farmers can say a nuclear bomb fell less than 100 yards from the farmhouse and remained to tell the story but a family in South Carolina can.
Sixty years ago, on March 11, 1958, an Air Force bomber dropped a nuclear weapon on a farm in the rural Mars Bluff community outside Florence. The radioactive payload either wasn’t loaded in the warhead or didn’t detonate — the stories differ.
But the TNT trigger for the bomb blew a crater in Walter Gregg’s garden some 24 feet deep and 50 feet wide. The blast shredded his farmhouse about 100 yards away. Hudson, a cousin, had been playing with two of Gregg’s children in the backyard.
The atomic warhead would have been 30 kilotons — twice as powerful as the bomb that devastated Hiroshima in World War II. Florence, five miles away, would have been obliterated. Most of the rest of the 30,000 residents of Florence County would have been wiped out or sickened by radiation.
You’d think the crater site would be one of those ghoulish attractions that become a heavily promoted tourist site. But today it sits almost in obscurity on private property, in the woods at the edge of the backyard of a home in a modest neighborhood near Francis Marion University.
An information kiosk and a wooden silhouette of the 10-feet-tall, 7,600-pound bomb stand near what’s left of the hole, which is silting in. Hurricane debris limbs have been tossed along its rim and a few Pepsi and Bud Lite cans are scattered around. There’s no sign from the road to show it’s there.
No one died or was seriously injured in the Mars Bluff blast. But the Gregg family came away with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Walter Gregg eventually sued and was awarded $36,000, according to the exhibit at the Florence County Museum. That wasn’t enough to rebuild the house, much less replace the possessions lost or stolen in the aftermath, Holladay said.
“My daddy resented it all his life.”
The military had several mishaps with nuclear weapons in the 1950s including another drop outside Tybee Island, GA where a nuclear weapon was dropped and landed in the silt where it remains offshore.
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Photo courtesy AP