In 1958, the U.S. Air Force bombed South Carolina. Surprisingly, the bombing of Mars Bluff, a rural area near Florence, was not intentional. The bomb was a nuclear weapon carried by a B-47 Stratojet en route from Savannah, Georgia, to the United Kingdom. (The Air Force was not planning to bomb the Brits; the plane was on its way to military exercises and was required to carry nuclear weapons in the event of a sudden Dr. Strangelovian incident with the Soviet Union.) A fault light in the cockpit indicated that the bomb harness locking pin for the transatlantic flight did not engage, and the navigator was summoned to the bomb bay to investigate. As he reached around the bomb to pull himself up, he mistakenly grabbed the emergency release pin. The bomb dropped to the floor of the B-47, its weight forcing the bomb bay doors open and sending the bomb 15,000 feet down to unsuspecting Mars Bluff. Oops.
Because the removable core of fissionable uranium and plutonium was stored separately on board the plane, the bomb was not actually atomic, but it did contain 7,600 pounds of explosives. And it created a pretty good mushroom cloud over Mars Bluff, leaving a 75-foot wide and 35-foot deep crater where Walter Gregg’s home and vegetable garden had been. The only real casualties were several chickens who bought the farm so to speak.
The crater is still preserved but grown over, pretty much just a big hole. Steven Smith, who chaired a 50th anniversary event a few years ago, couldn’t understand why it never became a real tourist attraction. “It sure could be,” he said. “This is a national treasure!”