109 Doorway. Courtesy photo
By SHARON SNYDER
Every history museum has an artifact that affects visitors emotionally as a powerful reminder of another time. The gated doorway to the 109 East Palace office of Dorothy McKibbin is such an object.
“On March 27, 1943, Dorothy Scarritt McKibbin, a 45-year- old woman of great warmth, patience, and optimism, became the first permanent employee of that Santa Fe office and the gatekeeper of that venerable doorway.”
With those words, author Nancy Cook Steeper introduced McKibbin in her biography, Gatekeeper to Los Alamos.
In 109 East Palace, Jennet Conant immortalized McKibbin and the thousands of people who would ultimately pass through the gate on their way to assume roles in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.
After the war, McKibbin continued in the renamed office of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory until 1963 when the 109 East Palace office finally closed. In the early 1990s, the gate and door frame were removed so that the entryway could be widened. Bill Field, owner of the property, realized the importance of the doorway to Los Alamos and generously donated the gate and lintel to the Historical Museum.
What was it like to walk into that 109 office, be handed a pass, and then disappear into a secret city at Project Y for the remainder of World War II, a length of time that none could foresee? Young GIs, secretaries, wives, children, as well as scientists with names like Fermi, Bohr and Feynman—all went through that door.
Stand in front of the 109 gate and ask yourself, “How would I have felt in their place”?
You will have that opportunity Dec. 30. Don’t miss the grand re-opening of the Los Alamos History Museum.