Dr. Jon Hunner is a Professor of History at New Mexico State University, the author of “Inventing Los Alamos” and “J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War and the Atomic West,” and a former director of the New Mexico History Museum. In this interview, Hunner provides an overview of life at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, including its takeover of the Los Alamos Ranch School and its relationship with Hispanos and Pueblos in the area. He talks about how Manhattan Project scientists and their family members would arrive in Santa Fe, and the sites in Santa Fe that are linked to the project. Hunner also discusses J. Robert Oppenheimer and his family, and Oppenheimer’s security hearing that revoked his security clearance. He describes the devastating effects of the atomic bombs on the Japanese who lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and discusses his thoughts on the influence of the atomic bombs on Japan’s decision to surrender.
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.
W. Stanley Hall was eighteen years old when he was recruited to work as a machinist on the cyclotron, first at Princeton University and later at the Los Alamos Laboratory. He worked at Los Alamos as a civilian, then later was drafted and worked as part of the Special Engineer Detachment (SED). In this interview, he describes both his work and recreational experiences during the Manhattan Project. He witnessed the Trinity Test from a location ten miles away. Hall describes hearing “The Star Spangled Banner” play over the radio at the moment of the Trinity Test and the color and the noise of the explosion. Hall also talks about taking advantage of the hiking, fishing, and horseback riding opportunities around him, including some trouble he encountered walking Kitty Oppenheimer’s horse. He provides an overview of his forty-year-long career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he worked for the computing group.
Not long after completing his sophomore year at MIT, Norman Brown was recruited into the Manhattan Project. First stationed at Oak Ridge, he was deployed with the Special Engineer Detachment at Los Alamos. Brown helped process the plutonium that was used in the Trinity test and in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He discusses barracks life, security at Los Alamos, and his impressions of J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves. He also recounts his efforts to witness the Trinity test and a visit to the memorials at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Stanislaus Ulam was a Polish mathematician recruited to the Manhattan Project in 1943. Ulam worked on hydrodynamical calculations that were crucial to the design of the implosion-type weapon created at Los Alamos. After the war Ulam collaborated with fellow Manhattan Project scientist Edward Teller to create the design for the hydrogen bomb. In this interview Ulam discusses the challenges of performing the equations needed to design a nuclear weapon without the help of computers. He also explores the ongoing tensions with his former partner, Edward Teller, over the origins of what has come to be called the Ulam-Teller design. Finally, Ulam reflects on the legacies of the both the Manhattan Project and the numerous scientists who made it possible.
Peggy Bowditch was a young girl when she and her family moved to Los Alamos in 1943. Her father, Rear Admiral William Sterling “Deak” Parsons, was chosen by General Groves to become head of ordnance for the Manhattan Project. The Parsons lived on Bathtub Row, next door to the Oppenheimers. Deak Parsons and his wife were close friends of Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer, and Parsons had a fatal heart attack in 1953 after learning that Oppenheimer would be stripped of his security clearance for trumped-up security reasons. Bowditch’s babysitter was the infamous spy Klaus Fuchs, and Bowditch herself babysat Peter Oppenheimer on occasion. Bowditch talks about how her father’s lifelong emphasis on careful planning and preparing for the worst must have helped him with arming the Little Boy bomb in flight.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Lilli Hornig and her family immigrated to the United States from Berlin after her father was threatened with imprisonment in a concentration camp. She was a young chemist when her husband, Don Hornig, was personally asked by George Kistiakowsky to come to Los Alamos to work on a secret project. At first she worked on plutonium chemistry, but after concern was raised that plutonium could cause “reproductive damage” for women, she began working for the explosives group. A witness to the Trinity test, she recalls the vivid colors of the blast. Lilli signed the Los Alamos scientists’ petition to have a demonstration of the bomb’s destruction rather than dropping it on Japan.