Entrance to the Kennedy Bunker in Peanut Island. The 1,600-square-foot-bunker was designed for survival in the case of a nuclear attack with the Soviet Union, and was equipped to be the nerve center of U.S. and NATO forces if war broke out.
Peanut Island has always been the place to party. In days gone by, carousers arrived to the tiny manmade island under the cover of darkness and searched high and low for the hidden entrance to a chamber built for less festive circumstances; today, the island stretches 80 acres, and its main attractions are its beaches and snorkel spots.
But Peanut Island is also a hotspot of historical intrigue. It is home to both a former U.S. Coast Guard Station, built in 1936, and a fallout shelter intended for use by President John F. Kennedy in case of nuclear attack. The bunker was constructed in 1961 and, fortunately, was never needed, but Kennedy did visit it several times for drills. He didn’t like it much—he complained that it looked like a sewer and that it smelled bad. Today, it still looks the same, but the smell has neutralized. And those same revelers who came to carouse are now visiting again as middle-aged museum patrons, this time checking out the bunker for a different purpose altogether.
Built in 1936, the retired U.S. Coast Guard Station now acts as a museum, giving visitors a chance to peruse objects and the living space of guardsmen who helped protect Florida’s coast and inhabitants from a range of threats, from German U-boats from World War II to rescuing stranded seafarers.
The Kennedy Bunker has something in common with another spot known for its walk on the wild side: Key West. On the floor of the Kennedy Bunker is painted one of only two official presidential seals in the state of Florida; the other is found in Harry S. Truman’s Little White House, located a mile from the southernmost point of the continental United States. The presence of these ordained seals required express permission from the White House itself.
A replica of President John F. Kennedy’s desk, complete with period newspapers and artifacts, sits in the bunker as if undisturbed from the previous owner.
Keep an eye out for some new exciting offerings from the Palm Beach Maritime Museum on the horizon, but in the meantime, pay a visit to the Kennedy Bunker and the former Coast Guard Station, now converted into a museum. It’s a little snippet of South Florida mingling with the federal goings-on of Washington, D.C., and you just might be greeted by Jack and Jackie themselves—two museum kitties who call Peanut Island home. (Also keep an eye out for Marilyn Monroe, a slinky white female cat—she gets around.)
While quaint, and rather Spartan, by today’s standards, the Kennedy Bunker was a state-of-the-art facility, equipped with some of the era’s top technological components, all at the ready in the case of a state of a emergency.
If you plan to visit:
- Half-hour guided tours of the U.S. Coast Guard Station and the Kennedy Bunker are offered Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Group and VIP tours are also available. Visitors can arrive to Peanut Island by public ferry or private boat and walk over to the museum on the south side of the island. A ferry runs between the Palm Beach Maritime Museum’s two sites, Currie Park and Peanut Island, on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 561-723-2028visit pbmm.info.