After last month’s nuclear scare,  it’s hard to imagine anyone in Hawaii  — let alone thousands of people — looking forward to a nuclear explosion.

But that’s exactly what happened in the summer of 1962, when Hawaii had a very different kind of brush with nuclear weapons.

Just a few months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States conducted a series of high altitude nuclear tests off Johnston Island, a coral atoll about 800 miles west of Oahu.

Newspaper photographers captured the afterglow of the blast from Punchbowl. / Pipi Wakayama/ The Honolulu Advertiser

People in Hawaii were so excited to witness the blast that hotels in Waikiki planned watch parties, families lined up in parks and on beaches to find a good viewing spot, and newspapers printed viewing guides.

“It’s sort of a testament to American propagandists, that you could turn such a destructive force into visual majesty in a way that would get celebrated,” says Suzanna Reiss, a historian and associate professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa.

Travel back in time with Civil Beat’s Offshore podcast to hear about the detonation from one of the reporters who covered the tests, and a beauty pageant contestant who made headlines for opposing them.

Listen to the episode below, or click here to download the show in iTunes.

Want to hear more? Check out Civil Beat's other podcasts.

Are We Doomed?! And Other Burning Environmental Questions
Are We Doomed?! And Other Burning Environmental Questions

What the heck is reef-safe sunscreen? Where does all the trash go? Why is it so hot? Join Civil Beat as we tackle your questions about Hawaii's environment. Smart. Irreverent. Never boring. This is not your grandma's science podcast.

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Offshore is a new immersive storytelling podcast about a Hawaii most tourists never see.

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