Atom Bomb Dropped Here
Mars Bluff, South Carolina
It was built to blow up Reds behind the Iron Curtain. Instead, it blew a hole in rural Mars Bluff, South Carolina. It was an atomic bomb, and on March 11, 1958 it created the only tourist-accessible site in the U.S. accidentally cratered by a nuclear weapon.
The bomb was a 26-kiloton Mark 6, a more powerful version of the Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki. It mistakenly fell out of a B-47 jet, dropping 15,000 feet into the back yard of Walter Gregg and his family. The plutonium core didn't explode, but the 6,000 pounds of conventional high explosives detonated, transforming the Gregg's vegetable garden into a vast muddy crater and destroying their house. Bomb fragments flew all over the place. Several of them eventually found their way into a museum in nearby Florence.
There was no radiation (the core was still secured aboard the jet) and, amazingly, the only fatalities were a few chickens.
The property passed through several owners afterward, but none bothered to fill in the hole. It remained an obscure destination until the accident's 50th anniversary, when exhibits were set up at the crater and a state historical marker was erected by the highway (that actually took until the 51st anniversary).
The almost-atomic hell-hole is only a few hundred yards from US 301, but it's difficult to find. That's probably for the best, since the site remains on private property. No matter how well-intentioned, visitors are technically trespassers, and legally need permission to walk to the hole.
An overgrown path leads from an abandoned trailer park into a pine thicket, past the foundation of the Gregg house, to the crater. Fifty years of vegetation has reduced the formerly impressive pit to a leafy depression in the woods, filled with water when it rains, maybe 40 feet across. A tiny observation deck stands at its edge, a safe spot for shutterbugs. In a nearby clearing is a large plywood cutout of a bomb -- the actual size of the massive Mark 6 -- pointed nose-down to the ground. A canopied kiosk displays copies of local newspaper stories from 1958.
We spoke with Steven C. Smith, co-chair of the 50th anniversary event and the man who hacked out the path. He said that there used to be "atomic bomb crater" directional signs, but that most have been stolen -- he guessed by students at a nearby college. He also said that some visitors still mistakenly believe that the evil-looking water in the hole is radioactive. "When the crater was dry, it was used as a burn pit for logs and stumps," he said. "It's the ashes that make the water look terrible."
Because the property remains in private hands, yet is federally protected, no improvements beyond what already exists can be made to the site. Steven hopes that the owner will some day sell the crater so that it can become either a county or state park. "I don't know why it was never turned into a real tourist attraction," he said. "It sure could be. This is a national treasure!"