Wallstrom On Historical Society Summer Internship

Miriam Wallstrom, holding a glove used by pitcher Bun Ryan, helps to set up the Los Alamos History Museum’s exhibit on Pierotti’s Clowns in the Municipal Building. Cary Skidmore explains the glove’s significance as Curator Don Cavness look on. Photo by David Tietmeyer/LANL

Los Alamos Historical Society

This summer I’ve had the unique opportunity to intern at the Los Alamos Historical Society, where I’ve been given a taste of what happens behind the scenes of this non-profit organization. Working for a non-profit requires flexibility and the ability to wear many hats, as I’ve learned from being assigned diverse tasks.

One of my jobs was to be a docent in the Hans Bethe House, which holds the Harold Agnew Cold War Galleries. Originally built in 1931, the Bethe House has been home to Los Alamos Ranch School employees and scientists alike, the most famous of whom is Hans Bethe, who resided there during the end of the Manhattan Project from 1945-1946.

Being a docent in the Bethe House has helped me appreciate the scope of international visitors that travel to Los Alamos to learn about its history. Guests travel from all around the country and the world, carrying with them their own fascinating histories. As I welcome people into the space that tells the story of my town, sometimes they share stories of themselves with me.

After I explained the significance behind the name “Bathtub Row” to a delightfully curious young girl, she whispered to her grandpa who produced something from his pocket. She then presented me with an Oklahoma pin, representative of her home state. An energetic couple from Florida shared with me the stories of their travels to Cuba, and one woman enthusiastically described trails that traced their way through her home state of Washington.

Just as I listen with curiosity to tourists’ stories, they ask inquisitive questions about the Bethe House. They have inspired me to research more about my town and have taught me that there is still so much I do not know. I also had the great opportunity to work in the Historical Society Archives each week. I inventoried boxes of photographs and documents that residents had found and donated to the archives.

As a native of Los Alamos, I was interested to peer into the lives of Los Alamos residents who had come before me. Seeing the diligent work of the Archives’ staff, I realized the huge amount of time and energy that goes into preserving our town’s history.

One of my most valuable assignments was to create an exhibit on the women homesteaders of the Pajarito Plateau, which is scheduled to be on display in the Municipal Building in January. Designing an exhibit allowed me to do thorough historical research on a topic I knew nothing about. After living in Los Alamos my entire life, I was surprisingly ignorant about the status of the Pajarito Plateau even a mere 100 years ago. Researching women homesteaders gave me the opportunity to meet with Judy Machen, local historian and co-author of Homesteading on the Pajarito Plateau, 1887-1942. Machen was brimming with knowledge about the era and an invaluable resource for my research.

Before working at the Historical Society, I thought I knew the history of Los Alamos, but I have learned new pieces of history every day. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there still is to discover.

As I leave for college, I feel as though my time at the Historical Society has given me a greater appreciation of the complex story of our town and a better understanding of those who have come before me. Los Alamos will always stay with me, even as I travel hundreds of miles away.


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