Community and Historical Society Discuss Third Episode of WGN’s Manhattan

Swimming at the cistern at Anchor Ranch ca. 1945: GIs Charles Graf and Burt Lutz with Stella and Josephine (last names unknown). Courtesy/Los Alamos Historical Society Archives

LAHS News:

As the drama continues in WGN’s new series, Manhattan, there was another great turnout for the Los Alamos Historical Society’s viewing of the third episode. 

Manhattan presents a fictionalized look at life in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. Below are some of the common questions that we heard that night and on social media. Every week the Society will be updating a bulletin board in the Museum to continue exploring questions and reactions as the 13-episode series continues. Previous episodes are discussed on our website,, on our Facebook page, and in the museum. 

Join the Los Alamos Historical Society 8-9:30 p.m. Sundays at Time Out Pizzeria in Los Alamos for a viewing and discussion of Manhattan (TV-14 rating).

Were they swimming in Ashley Pond?

Most likely Colonel Cox was not swimming at Ashley Pond since the Pond was closed early on during the project due to a fatal accident that occurred. He could be swimming at a pool that was located near Anchor Ranch (today known as S Site).

Did the Project use polygraphs?

The polygraph was invented in 1921 by John Augustus Larson, a medical student at the University of California at Berkeley and a police officer of the Berkeley Police Department. Lie detector tests were administered during the Manhattan Project as a part of security screening. 

Were there clergy on the hill?

There actually were both Protestant and Catholic chaplains on the hill during the Manhattan Project. These chaplains often were visiting from towns such as Santa Cruz. SED Jay Wechsler led Shabbat services in Los Alamos.

Was there compartmentalization?

Yes, General Groves insisted on a policy of compartmentalization, isolating information from those who didn’t need it. However, in Los Alamos, this policy mainly restricted communication with other Manhattan Project sites. Physicist Edward Condon found this policy and the overall security system so “morbidly depressing” that he left the Project after being in Los Alamos for six weeks.

Was there ever a tightening of security?

There was never a Sid Liao event, so no. Residents were allowed occasional trips off the Hill, and were allowed to socialize so long as they did not reveal any details of Los Alamos or its work. Random searches were not a part of daily life, but the personal freedoms of civilians living on a secret wartime Army base were limited.

Who went to Japanese internment camps?

Over 110,000 people with Japanese heritage on the West Coast were relocated to camps during the war. 62 percent were US citizens.

A character mentioned Jewish “quotas”?

During this era, it was common for universities to limit the number of Jewish students they accepted or how many Jewish professors they hired. Manhattan Project physicist Richard Feynman, for example, was not admitted to Columbia University for this reason.

Were there ration stamps?

Yes, there were ration stamps in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. Everyone had a ration book for items such as gasoline, coffee, tea and meat. The butchers were GIs and there are reports that they often helped women out if they did not have enough ration stamps for meat. 

Were spouses encouraged to work?

Scientists’ wives were very much encouraged to work. There were plenty of jobs including switchboard operators that needed to be filled and served an important purpose. 


  • It’s unlikely there were cottonwoods at the PX, as they mainly grow in the canyons.
  • Code words for uranium and plutonium were tube alloy and product, as the show stated.
  • Pajarito Rd didn’t exist in 1943.
  • Safes were locked (though they could be picked open, as Richard Feynman did).