Mary Brennan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She and her husband, Curtiss, moved next door to Dorothy McKibbin, “the Gatekeeper to Los Alamos.” In this interview, Mary discusses her memories of Dorothy, how Dorothy ended up in New Mexico, and Dorothy’s relationship to J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. In addition, she explains the specificities of the house and how it was a social destination for members of the project. The Brennans are the current owners of McKibbin’s house and still reside next door.
Curtiss Brennan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He and his wife Mary moved next door to Dorothy McKibbin, “the Gatekeeper to Los Alamos,” in the late 1970s. In this interview, Curtiss describes how he met and became friends with Dorothy. He explains how Dorothy designed the house to her unique specifications. He also discusses the restoration project he and his wife undertook when they bought the house after Dorothy’s death.
John Ruminer is a Board Member of the Los Alamos Historical Society, a docent at the Los Alamos History Museum, and the author of 109 East Palace Avenue: A Microcosm of Santa Fe’s Four Hundred Year History. He previously worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In this interview, Ruminer explains some of the fascinating history of the Plaza of Santa Fe. He provides detailed descriptions of the property’s history, and the Manhattan Project’s offices at 109 East Palace. Ruminer also describes how the Los Alamos Historical Society and the Historic Santa Fe Foundation are working to preserve history and to date historical buildings and sites.
Jennet Conant is an author who has written extensively on the Manhattan Project and some of its most prominent figures. Some of her books include “The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington” and “Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Warrior Scientist.” In this interview, Conant describes some of the stories she writes about in her book “109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos.” Specifically, she focuses on the life of Dorothy McKibbin, the “Gatekeeper to Los Alamos,” and her contributions to the Los Alamos laboratory during the war. She also discusses the Trinity Site, Klaus Fuchs’s espionage, and the stresses the Manhattan Project put on relationships between scientists and their families.
Jenny Kimball is the Chairman of the Board of the La Fonda on the Plaza hotel, which is the oldest hotel site in the United States. In this interview, she discusses the rich history of La Fonda, from its establishment in the 1600s through its development as part of the famous Harvey hotel chain to its award-winning status today. She describes the role of the Harvey family in branding the hotel, and the important work of Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, who designed La Fonda and other iconic Harvey hotels. She also explains her involvement in the hotel and her efforts to showcase La Fonda’s architectural and cultural history. Kimball describes the process of restoring the interior of La Fonda, and the work of artists and others to make the rooms match what they looked like in earlier decades. She concludes by talking about La Fonda’s role as a watering hole for Manhattan Project scientists working in Los Alamos.
Julie Melton is an author and expert on civil society, development, and democratization. She is the daughter of Manhattan Project historian David Hawkins and Frances Hawkins, the founder of the nursery school at Los Alamos. During the Manhattan Project, her family lived in the same four-family house as Victor and Ellen Weisskopf, who became some of their closest friends. In this interview, she shares her childhood memories of Los Alamos and anecdotes about prominent Manhattan Project scientists. She also describes her parents’ involvement in the Communist Party at Berkeley, where her father met J. Robert Oppenheimer. She concludes with a brief reflection on the frustrations of being a woman at Los Alamos.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Peter Lax fled Nazi persecution and came to America with his family at the age of 15. Drafted into the Army when he was 18, he joined other émigré scientists and mathematicians in Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Lax discusses his work as a member of the Manhattan Project’s Special Engineer Detachment and his mathematical contributions to the challenges of neutron transport, fluid dynamics, and shockwaves. He vividly describes what life was like at Los Alamos and offers keen insights on the revolutionizing development of scientific computing and atomic energy. He also recalls the many contributions of the Hungarian mathematicians and scientists at Los Alamos, who were nicknamed “the Martians.”
William G. (“Bill”) Hudgins spent most of his childhood years in New Mexico. He first heard about a secret wartime laboratory at Los Alamos in 1943, when he was a student at the University of New Mexico. Hudgins joined the Manhattan Project after writing a letter to Dorothy McKibbin. After briefly being called away for Army training, he returned to Los Alamos as a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. In this interview, he recalls interviewing for a job with McKibbin (who asked, “Where did you hear about me?”) and shares his memories of other Manhattan Project figures, including scientist Rebecca Bradford Diven and project historian David Hawkins. He also describes growing up in Santa Fe, and details the geologic and Native American history of the region.
Dorothy McKibbin was known as the “Gatekeeper to Los Alamos.” Everyone and everything who worked on the Manhattan Project at the site had to pass through her office at 109 East Palace in Santa Fe. Her important position as well as her friendly disposition helped her form lasting relationships with many Manhattan Project workers. In this interview, McKibbin discusses what happened to the scientists after the project, and details some of the stringent security procedures at Los Alamos. She also characterizes Oppenheimer as a charismatic and kind leader beloved by the community, who did not deserve the harsh treatment he was subjected to during his security hearing. She also describes how many of those who worked with Oppenheimer supported him, and some even tried to intervene during his hearing to no avail.
Louis Rosen, a native New Yorker and the son of Polish immigrants, was personally selected to work on the Manhattan project in Los Alamos while a graduate student in physics. Once in Los Alamos, Rosen was assigned to Edwin McMillan’s group, where he worked on implosion technology. Rosen remained in Los Alamos after the war ended and was considered the father of the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility. Rosen describes some of the struggles he faced in his early life and explains how he and his brother were able to save up enough money to attend college, the first members of their family to do so. Rosen recalls his encounter with Dorothy McKibbin when he first arrived in Santa Fe and describes the housing that was available to scientists who worked at Los Alamos. Finally, Rosen explains some of the scientific discoveries made after the Manhattan Project and offers valuable insight on the nature of science during the height of the Cold War.