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.”
Also, if you need any further evidence that our species is doomed, take a look at the quantity of missile types we’ve developed. We are idiots
A Haight-Ashbury Museum of Psychedelic Art and History is in development in San Francisco, but former Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen has beaten them to the idea. In June, Kaukonen will officially open the Psylodelic Museum, a collection of Haight-connected artifacts, at his Fur Peace Ranch in southeast Ohio.
“It’s a window of the time,” Kaukonen says. “To use a mixed-metaphor song title, it’s about the way we were.”
Housed in an old silo on the grounds of the ranch (hence the punny name), the museum currently includes donations from Kaukonen and longtime San Francisco-related friends. From his own personal collection, Kaukonen contributed concert posters from the Fillmore and Winterland (featuring Love, Muddy Waters and Moby Grape) as well as a rug from the famed Jefferson Airplane house. His old friend Wavy Gravy donated the sleeping bag he used at Woodstock. Jack Casady, Kaukonen’s former Airplane bandmate and ongoing partner in Hot Tuna, donated a custom-made tunic he wore at Woodstock and some of his old eyeglasses.
“You look at this stuff and think, ‘What were we thinking?'” Kaukonen says with a chuckle. “Jack had some of these unbelievably large glasses – like Elton John’s but without the jewelry.”
Casady credits his late wife, Diana, who recently passed away from cancer, with helping him salvage his vintage wardrobe. “I would say to her, ‘I’ll just rid of these clothes,’ and she would say, ‘No, we’ll find a place for them,'” he says. “So years ago I had them all dry-cleaned and hung and stuck in a closet. The clothes went along with the whole scene back then. It wasn’t about your image. It was just a hoot getting involved in designing your own clothes and guitar straps.”
In a sign of how far the musicians pushed the fashion envelope at the time, Casady remembers once trying to wear an outfit made from furniture upholstery: “The material was fantastic, but it was too hot to play in, so it was almost unusable.”
Although the posters and milieu bring to mind the heyday of the Airplane and theGrateful Dead, Kaukonen says tie-dye will be in short supply at the museum (which has so far raised just over $25,000 on Kickstarter); “A lot of people think of hippies as tie-dyed, but my memory of what I consider to be hippies is the people who dressed in Edwardian clothes or things from the American West,” he says. In that vein, Kaukonen donated some of the Native American-based jewelry he bought at the time, including a necklace that unintentionally resembled the Nazi symbol. “I wore it for a number of years,” he says. “Obviously, many people saw the Hakenkreuz [the Nazi party symbol], not the spiritual item I saw.”
Many items from the era didn’t survive those heady times. Kaukonen says his own patch-covered bell bottoms are long gone (“mercifully,” he says), as are Casady’s legendary headbands. The bassist’s own set of Fillmore concert posters also bit the dust. “When I shared a flat with Marty Balin in the Panhandle in San Francisco, I had every poster pinned to the wall,” Casady recalls. “So when it was time for me to get a house of my own, I just left them all on the wall. And there you have it.”
For future exhibits, Kaukonen is hoping to reach out to old musical friends like David Crosby and Paul Kantner, as well as Grace Slick, who retired from music years ago and now concentrates on painting. “She doesn’t do email,” he says, “so when I called her last year and got her answering machine, her outgoing message is her blowing a huge raspberry. Grace is still so funny.”
Founded in 1989, Fur Peace Ranch hosts guitar workshops and concerts (Steve Earlerecently played there), and Kaukonen admits that pulling in additional tourist revenue is another goal of the museum. “Even though we’re non-profit, we’re only non-profit by accident,” he says with another laugh. “My wife, Vanessa, thought we should have something of interest, like roadside America. All I know is that it’s going to be more interesting than the world’s largest ball of twine in Kansas.”
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