Los Alamos Historical Society Discusses Manhattan Episode 9

Maria and Marcos Gomez visiting the site of their homestead on Two-Mile Mesa. Courtesy/Los Alamos Historical Society Archives

LAHS News:

With only four episodes to go, there was another great turnout for the Los Alamos Historical Society’s viewing of the ninth episode of WGN’s new series, Manhattan, a fictionalized look at life in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. A special thanks to the members of the Los Alamos High School Class of ’64 who came to watch the show with us Sunday night. It was great to have you with us! Every week the Society updates 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, www.losalamoshistory.org, 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).

Ep. 109: “Spooky Action at a Distance”

Did any scientists work off-site?

Emilio Segrè worked off-site during the Manhattan Project. Segrè was in charge of the Radioactivity Group (P-5). His group was set up in the Pajarito Canyon near Los Alamos in an unused Forest Service cabin. His group’s job was to measure and catalog the radioactivity of various fission products; they also measured the gamma radiation from the Trinity test.

Did B-29s drop bombs here?

No. However, some explosive charges were dropped out of airplanes in the area for the photography group to test their high-speed equipment and film. Berlyn Brixer worked as a photographer and camera engineer at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project (and his photographs are the focus of a current exhibit at the History Museum). He captured photographs of the dropping of dummy bombs. In 1946, atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll were occurring. Albert Bartlett, also a part of the Manhattan Project, was assigned to photograph these. He shipped home the silk parachute from a magnesium flare and his wife Eleanor used the silk for her wedding dress.  This dress is now in the Los Alamos Historical Society collections. 

Were there often loud explosions?

Yes, explosive experiments often happened periodically in Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project causing a loud explosion that could be heard throughout town. The Laboratory continues to test and use explosives today.

Did the government take the land from Native Americans for the Manhattan Project?

The Native American populations that lived on the Pajarito Plateau vacated the plateau around 1600, most likely because of drought. The plateau did not play a large part in the Spanish Colonial and Territorial periods after the Spanish arrived in 1592. It was most likely used for grazing and seasonal use. In 1742, the viceroy of Spain granted a portion of the plateau to Pedro Sánchez, which became the Ramón Vigil Grant. Homesteading began on the plateau in the late 1880s. The Ramón Vigil Grant was eventually bought and sold and then bought again by Harold H. Brook, a homesteader. In 1914, Ashley Pond Jr. bought the land from Brook and started the Los Alamos Ranch School in 1917. In 1943, the Ranch School was bought for $335,000 by the government for the Manhattan Project. Homesteaders living on the land were also bought out, but received less per acre and in many cases were told with short notice.

Was radiation detected in newborn babies?

No. Hundreds of babies were born in Post Office Box 1663 (the official address of Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project) and there is no scientific data of adverse effects. Liza was using a Geiger counter to detect the radiation in the babies. The Geiger counter was invented by Hans Geiger in 1928. 

Notables

  • In 1943, New Mexico was below normal levels of precipitation throughout the year, so it is very possible that the harvest was not good that year, as Paloma’s cousin told Frank. 
  • 83 babies were born in the first year of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos!
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