Subterra Castle: Missile Silo Home
Shawnee County, Kansas
Ed Peden finally got his garage door to open. It took him 25 years, but it weighs 47 tons, and the vehicle that was parked behind it was a 78-foot-long Atlas E missile, topped with an atomic bomb. The door was designed to withstand the blast from a nuclear explosion.
Ed's door, and his home, are in an abandoned underground missile launch complex roughly 25 miles outside of Topeka, Kansas. He and his wife Dianna were the first people to turn one of these Cold War doomsday bunkers into a livable home, and they now run a business helping others to do the same. It cost Uncle Sam $4 million to build this place; Ed bought it for $40,000. But it needed some work.
"The gunk I hauled out of here in wheelbarrows was incredible," Ed tells us. "Hundreds of wheelbarrows of crap. The sheet rock had melted onto the floor." It had dissolved because the entire complex was flooded with up to nine feet of water. Ed first toured his future home in a canoe.
The Pedens now call their place "Subterra Castle," and it looks nothing like the abandoned hellhole Ed bought in 1982.
To the south is the vast missile launch bay, now empty, with its 18-inch-thick concrete walls, three-foot-thick concrete floors, and balky garage door. "It makes an excellent shop," Ed tells us, "but it caused me to collect far too much useless junk."
A large square hole in the floor leads to a gently sloping "flame pit" the size of a freeway tunnel. It directed the launch inferno from the missile down to a hillside exhaust port. We suggest to Ed that it would make a good skate park, and his eyes light up. "Yes! Skateboarders!" he cries, beaming like a pleased schoolteacher -- which is what he was when he bought this place -- "You captured that concept quickly!"
Jutting north from the launch bay is a 120-foot-long tunnel of steel and concrete. It leads to the other half of the Peden home, the former launch control center, which is where Ed and Dianna live. "Down here it's a little more pleasant," Ed says as he opens a simple wood door with a tiny knocker.
Beyond -- is a warm cocoon of good vibes and New Age ambience. The Cold War vanishes, replaced with natural fibers, rustic wood, rattan, rugs, tapestries, and stained glass. Incense flavors the air; native flutes trill softly over hidden loudspeakers. Ed explains that his home attempts to counter the "heavy energy" of the missile silo, and that he views it as "a transformational symbol."
"I'm really kind of a peacenik from the sixties," he confesses with a sheepish grin. Subterra Castle can be seen as the Earth Children flipping the bird to the military-industrial complex -- or something similarly profound. To us, it's just amazing. Who wouldn't want to live in a hole in the ground when it can be this much fun?
Ed shows us all the rooms converted to make the space livable -- a large eat-in kitchen, home offices, a laundry room and bathrooms. Then he takes us back to what he calls "the very best, favorite, favorite room" in the whole underground warren -- the former diesel generator room, a huge space that Ed and Dianna have converted into a drum circle room. "Sometimes we'll have 20, 25 people playing the drums and shakers, and then sitting and chatting for a while," Ed tells us. In fact, when we called to confirm our visit the previous evening, Dianna told us that Ed was otherwise occupied. He was back in the drum circle room, smackin' the rawhide or playing one of his native flutes.
Ed calls these old launch complexes "20th century castles," equating them to the medieval castles of Europe, and has in fact built castle towers over the old escape hatches of his underground home. But that decision was practical as well as thematic; the hatches were leaking and the towers keep the water out. Also on the property, inside the intruder detection perimeter and within view of the battlements, is a sweat lodge, a stone circle, and a fire walking pit.
One gets the sense that Ed stresses the castle metaphor to sell properties to the security-minded (and his video system keeps tabs on various locations, including the front gate). But his heart remains in the drum circle room.
"It's a very strange project that we've done here," he tells us. "It's been a life-defining thing for Dianna and I. And we are very proud of it, and we think there's kind of a message in it. I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate to ever, ever have stumbled onto such a thing."
And then the practical Ed creeps back. "I don't know what it's gonna be like to get old out here," he says. "I've got to climb twenty feet up to change the light bulbs in the missile bay."