30 Years Ago, My City Wasn’t Nuked

GeekMom TV and Movies
Lawrence getting nuked.
Illustration by Marziah Karch

I’m a proud resident of Lawrence, Kansas, but 30 years ago it was blown up. Well, they pretended to blow it up.

The 1983 made for TV special The Day After  was filmed on location here in Lawrence. The cast included many now well-known stars like John Lithgow and Steve Guttenberg, and while it was filmed on location, they got a few of the details wrong. Many of the scenes take place at the University of Kansas Hospital in Lawrence.  Although KU is in Lawrence, the university’s teaching hospital is in Kansas City and would have destroyed in the nuclear blast.

The Day After was filmed in the middle of the Cold War and tried to show just how devastating a nuclear attack would be by showing it from the perspective of one town in the midwest. A bomb goes off in nearby downtown Kansas City, leaving Lawrence partially destroyed and full of injured survivors.

It was unusually graphic for shows of the time and spent the first half of the movie making sure you liked the characters they were about to kill, maim, orphan, and widow. The show began with graphic content warnings, and the second half of the show aired without any commercials. I remember watching the movie  as a child when it aired and being disturbed by it, so while I may show it to my daughter one day, it won’t be this year.

Lawrence hosted a screening of the movie on Saturday at the Spencer Museum of Art at KU, where some of the filming took place (although in the movie it was implied the interior shots were of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which is in downtown Kansas City.)  Last Thursday, local extras from the cast gathered to reminisce about the experience making the movie.

Other shows with Lawrence connections include Supernatural and  Heroes.  In Jericho, they skip Kansas City and nuke Lawrence.

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