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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Colleen Black’s Interview (2005)

Manhattan Project Locations:

Colleen Black was one of the many women who lived and worked in the secret cities of the Manhattan Project. In Oak Ridge, she worked in the leak-testing department, ensuring the efficiency of pipes used during experimental testing. In this first interview, Black discusses everyday life, secrecy, and working as a woman on the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. From housing to security, Ms. Black discusses the hardships of living at Oak Ridge while revealing the positive attitude and happiness of those living there.

Date of Interview:
September 22, 2005
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly: We’re going to start with your name: could you tell us your name and spell it?

Black: My name is Colleen Black, C-O-L-L-E-E-N B-L-A-C-K. 

Kelly: Terrific. Good job.

Black: [Laughter.] Thank you.

Kelly: All right, what we need to do is find out about where you’re from and how you happened to get to Oak Ridge in World War II. Tell us about that.

Black: Okay. I’m from Nashville, Tennessee, down the road a piece. I came to Oak Ridge in 1944. I graduated from high school in 1943 and I couldn’t come then because housing was so short. You could get a job, probably, in late ‘43, but you couldn’t get housing.

My uncles worked here. They were in construction. And I had three uncles who worked in Happy Valley; that’s right at K-25. They were working on the project, the secret project. I had a couple of uncles who were working in the city of Oak Ridge for Stone & Webster and somebody else. And they lived in trailer camp six, where—in Happy Valley they lived in trailers, huts, whatever they could get, but there were not—probably not anything for families right away.  

So I came with my parents in 1944, early 1944, and got a job at Ford, Bacon & Davis. I was a leak test operator. That meant that I would find leaks in a pipe in the wells and mark it, send it back if it had [a] leak, and if it didn’t put an “Okay” on it. And I didn’t know where it was going, what it was going to carry in those pipes, and I didn’t ask; we weren’t supposed to. Security was very tight. 

And my mother was an inspector because she was older, I guess, and had more sense than I did, but there were many, many girls just my age out of high school who were working. And at one time they said these mass spectrometers—and we weren’t supposed to say that word—could only be operated PhDs. But then they found out that if you taught these Tennessee girls how to operate the machines, they did a good job. And we climbed all over the pipes and did a good job finding the leaks with helium.

And I didn’t know the—whatever went to it. I mean the G.I.s knew exactly what they were doing and why the machines worked like they did, but I didn’t know, didn’t care, didn’t ask questions. We were doing something for the war effort. And I wanted to win the war quickly and get back home to Nashville, Tennessee because my brother was fighting in Europe and I wanted to bring him home, bring home my uncles and friends, and just get back to normal. So that’s why I came here and why I stayed here.

At first I lived in a trailer with my parents, very crowded; there were ten children in the family. But I signed up for a dorm room. My brother signed up for a hut once brother was work—was serving in Europe and the little children were going to school in Happy Valley.

In Happy Valley—I guess there were 13,000 people living in Happy Valley in the little trailers. And they had a whole community: a post office; they had a bowling alley, grocery store, dry goods store. Anything you would want, it was right there. They also had recreation halls. You could go dance the night away and just make sure you were there for your shift the next day.

They worked three shifts at K-25, rotated shifts sometimes, and everybody was busy and everybody was in a good mood, and they were all working for the war effort. And later I got my dorm room in the city. And it was a wonderful place to be.

Kelly: Can you describe—backing up a little bit—I think that was great. What did you know about K-25? What is—let’s—can you just say, “K-25 was,” and then tell us what it was, what it meant to you? Was it just a—I mean, it sounds like a box of cereal.

Black: [Laughter.] It does. K-25, I didn’t know what it stood for; I just knew I went to work there at K-25. I knew it was big but I was in a small section. I wasn’t in the great big “U” building and I didn’t even know it was a great big “U” building; I just knew it was a great big building.

We were off in the “conditioning building,” they called it. We conditioned things to go in the great big building. I knew we didn’t keep all these pipes and all the things that we conditioned in the condition building. And there was also a lab in the conditioning building. I don’t know what they did. My cousin worked in the lab but she never told me what she did; I never told her what I did.

But she would always come home with holes all in her clothes from acid that ate through. I had to wear overalls or pants because we had to climb up on the pipes, and in those days women didn’t wear pants; usually they just wore skirts. But, you know, we did what we were supposed to do and we didn’t talk about it.  

We got to work by bus or—in K-25—when I lived at K-25 in the trailer camp I could walk to work and they had cars that would bring us home to our trailer. It was hard to find; all the trailers looked alike. They were all khaki. It was always muddy. It was not very good living conditions. We didn’t have a bath; we had a path down to the bathhouse. But, again, you’d do anything for the war effort, and we did.

Kelly: That’s great. Did your whole family come? Ten people jump in the car from Nashville? Tell us that story.

Black: [Laughter.] Well, it was almost the whole family. Like I say, I had a brother in the service, so he was overseas. And the children didn’t come right away because we had to get housing. And my mother came first because she wanted the job, and she got the job but she couldn’t get the housing because a woman was not considered the head of the house and she had to have a husband.

My father was a postal clerk in Nashville, Tennessee and he couldn’t quit his job because it was essential to the war effort, and if he quit then he could not get a job because no one would give him a job. You know, it was unconstitutional to quit your job. So he did quit because he wanted to join my mother, so—and he—we had to have him to get the trailer.

So anyway, he quit and he was the house husband with the little children. And, like I say, I was already up here and one brother was up here, and so it took a little while to get the whole family together. But it was the war again and you—we just had one car, so that took time to get us all together, all in the trailer.

And it was very crowded but we ate in shifts. We worked in shifts, ate in shifts, slept in shifts. [Laughter.] And we managed. So it was—my mother kind of said, “You know, just pretend like you’re camping.” You know, we didn’t move our furniture.

We rented out our house in Nashville to an officer who was at some place in Nashville—stationed in Nashville. And so that was the patriotic thing to do, to rent it furnished to an officer and his family. So that’s what we did, whatever it took.

Kelly: Let’s see, we were talking about leak protection. How many women were involved in the project? You mentioned that there were several of—

Black: There were many women involved. You know, the men had been drafted. I mean, it—there was manpower shortage. And so the men who were here were, you know, top brass or 4-Fs or G.I.s. I mean, it was an Army-looking camp and I guess the Army ran this area. It was just strictly—everything was according to the Army. You did everything—all the rules and regulations were Army, so that’s the rules we lived by. And whatever they said, we did.

Kelly: Tell us about what—when Happy Valley was built and when—you mentioned there were 13,000 people there and it went—I mean, over what period of time did it grow and how long did it last?

Black: Well, it was probably in ‘43 when they started construction of the K-25 because it was for the workers who worked there. It was J.A. Jones; you worked for J.A. Jones Construction Company. Most—I mean, the men did, the ones who could get the trailers for the families.

And then the women worked. There was no problem getting a job. They would train you if you were trainable. You know, if you had a high school education you’d train for something like I did, and if you had a college—but, you know, in those days the women—there were not any engineers that I knew of, or any chemists, or physicists. The women usually were educated: home ec. [economics] majors, teachers, nurses. And they got jobs readily. And the others, they would train you. We had a lot of teachers that came and they’d train them for leak test or supervisors or something like that.

And the women could not get housing on their own. First thing, in order to get a house, you had—first you had to be married, and then you had to qualify: you had to have so many children of the opposite sex in order to get the proper housing. So housing was always short; it was always in demand. “Flat tops” were luxuries that we never got. And, like I say, we never got out of the trailer at K-25.  

I guess we left there in late November 1945. I got married in ’45, so my mother left and went back to Nashville. The war was over, so many people left. You know, Oak Ridge was just almost cut in two. But they asked you to stay on the job. But people who were from all over the country, the first thing they wanted to do was go back home, get back to normal, meet their loved ones who were coming back from overseas.

So my parents left then, and I got married. And my husband was in a hut and I was in a dorm and there was no visiting. And it wasn’t until—well, I guess it was after the bomb was dropped, they did assign G.I—married G.I.s housing, and we got a “victory cottage”. And we were delighted with it.

Anyway, from then on when I got pregnant we got another house and another house, and I really wanted the “D” house. But in order to qualify we had to go back to the hospital a lot of times, and I eventually had eight children. So I may have overqualified for that house. [Laughter.] But I’m still in that house. It was designed very well.  

I guess in the beginning, when they first designed Oak Ridge, Roosevelt sent for Frank Lloyd Wright. He was the leading architect at the time. And he thought that he would do a good job because he knew how to do with the nature and the slope of the hills, and, you know, maybe we would have had falling water creeks running through our house, who knows.

But anyway, Frank Lloyd Wright came down to Washington and they got in an argument—Roosevelt and Frank Lloyd Wright got in an argument and Roosevelt never asked him to design the houses. Instead they got Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to design the town. And it was very well-designed. I mean, you know, they did try to cling to the mountainsides and use the trees and keep the landscape like it was. So I think they did a real good job.

But they didn’t tell him what the house was for, what the town was for. They said, “Oh it’s a secret project.” Well, they designed it anyway. But I think they had to expand it two or three times because first, I think, it was just for maybe 15,000 and then, you know, as they went along they could see they needed more and more help to complete this project. 

And the men wouldn’t come here without the families, and, of course, the families had to have schools and every other, you know, facility; the grocery store. And so it was a whole town was built. And it was built around little neighborhoods that were great; they had schools and grocery stores in all these little sections. And that was good too. But you weren’t supposed to tell your neighbor what you were doing or where you worked, anything about that.  

So life was fun for the single girl, although it was very difficult to be a glamour girl in those days and that’s what Hollywood was projecting. You had beautiful long hair, and how could you roll up your hair without bobby pins? They’d taken the bobby pins; they’d gone to war because of the metal. And I used to have little curlers, little metal curlers: they’d gone to war and my brothers had thrown them in the scrap pile for one of the scrap drives.

And everything was hard to get. Even if you had the money, you couldn’t buy pots and pans, you couldn’t buy towels, tablecloths, sheets. Everything had gone to war—and shampoo. It was just difficult.

We had to—I guess—in 1942 they quit making cars. They were making Jeeps, tanks, airplanes, and they didn’t make any cars. So we didn’t have cars. And if we had the cars, we didn’t have the gas, so we couldn’t go places and do things. We were kind of restricted.

And we couldn’t wear nylon hose; the nylons were going to make parachutes. Our lipsticks came in a little cardboard containers because the lipstick factories were making bullets. So it was very difficult to be glamorous. We tried. And we had leg makeup, and we would paint our legs to look like we had on hose. And then we’d take our eyebrow pencils and draw the seam up the side because that was the fashion then. But if it rained, look out.

Shoes were rationed, and in Oak Ridge that was terrible because of the mud and the boardwalks. If you had high heels you’d lose them in the boardwalk cracks. And sometimes, if you did a misstep, you would just go in the mud and the shoes would just disappear. And shoes were rationed; you couldn’t buy any more.

We had a shoe repair shop in Jackson Square, and it was open twenty-four hours a day because people had to get half-soles and soles and sewed-up shoes. I mean, it was very difficult. You couldn’t buy boots. Sometimes I wore my husband’s G.I. shoes to hang up the clothes in the yard because, you know, you couldn’t go barefoot out there.  

A lot of women who worked in the offices down at the administration building would carry their shoes and go barefoot because they had to protect their shoes. But we did look glamorous. And when the guys at the PX had a girlfriend he would bring them soap and boxes and maybe a candy bar instead of flowers and a box of candy. And so those girls felt really pampered.

Anyway, we had a good time and we could meet people from all over the country. And it was difficult understanding them and they had a hard time understanding us. When I first met my husband—he was from Michigan, graduated Michigan State. He was a G.I. He was my boss.

And I brought him home and my mother just fell in love with him. She said, “Oh, he is so nice. He just hangs on your every word.” And later my husband told me, “Well, I had to. I couldn’t understand a word you were saying.” [Laughter.] So anyway, he finally got used to what I was saying and he slowed down his speech a little bit. But it was just a different life. 

And for entertainment there was ping pong. There were—at the recreation centers there were dances. We had twenty-five dances a week. You could go dancing every night, every shift. And there were no lights on the tennis courts. But Bill Pollock was the man in charge of the music and he did a beautiful job with these old-fashioned records. And so we danced on the tennis courts. I think it was the only place that didn’t have any mud; it was free of mud. [Laughter.] And a lot of people met their future spouse on the tennis court. 

What else did we do? Well, there was the library and the library was a wonderful place.  It had newspapers from all over the country because the people here demanded the newspapers. And I think they didn’t have enough books one time and they sent out a plea in the little Oak Ridge journal and they said, “Please, we need some books.” Well, you wouldn’t believe how many books they got. Every family had brought a couple of books with them and they donated to the library, so we filled up the library and we had a good place to go and read.

And what else did they do? They—we had movies, and we ate in the cafeteria. And the cafeteria wasn’t just for eating; we would eat and meet, meet and eat. And then maybe we’d stay along and have a sing-along afterwards, something like that. All good clean fun.

Big Ridge Park wasn’t very far away and usually they had buses going to Big Ridge Park.  They wanted to keep up the morale of the people here in Oak Ridge. And usually every shift had a ball team, and ball games were very popular: softball, football, anything. And that was the life.

Kelly: Sounds great. [Checks time on tape with cameraman.] Okay. Do you want to read us your poem?

Black: Yes.

Kelly: Great.

Black: This is a poem we, my husband and I, wrote for one of the S.E.D.—that’s the Special Engineer Detachment—who was stationed here during the war. And this—we wrote it for a reunion.

We’re fighting the war in a secret city.

It’s crowded, it’s muddy, and it ain’t pretty.  

We’re fenced in: in barracks, a hut, or a dorm; 

Army life here is not exactly the norm.

Oak Ridge, Tennessee is the city. It’s not on any map.  

We can’t give you directions; we don’t want to take the rap.  

Nearby residents will not say,

Nor the workers who commute every day.  

We’re secret. Security’s tight.  

Guards on horseback patrol at night.  

MPs [Military Police] guard the seven gates and search cars, too.  

No cameras, firearms, or firewater get through.  

We’re fenced in behind barbed wire, and, by the way, 

We’re paid the usual Army pay.  

No G.I. calisthenics must we do 

And ID badges must be worn in plain view.  

We work with civilians, helping each other.  

Our mission is secret, can’t even tell Mother.  

The mail is late, the laundry’s lost,  

Meat is rationed; no steaks at any cost.  

We chow down three times a day, but not the usual Army mess;  

We eat in cafeterias with civilians, no less.  

We slosh through the mud to get anywhere, 

And we have mud on our feet clear up to our hair.

It’s hot. Buses are crowded. Some workers smell.  

“Don’t open the windows,” the women all yell,

“Or you will be covered in dust head to toe, 

And we’re out of soap, to add to our woe.”  

We work in shifts. We do what it takes,  

Making whatever our plant makes.  

We’re special G.I.s, the chosen few, 

Selected for our knowledge and high IQ.

We work hard all day, and play hard all night. 

But don’t worry, we never get tight.  

The project is dry, no liquor allowed, 

But that doesn’t seem to bother this crowd.  

We head for our PX. It isn’t far.  

And we settle for a beer at the Casablanca Bar.  

Or we go to the rec. hall for dancing or ping pong,

Or we may join the girls for a sing-along.  

We love this life, the work, the softball games.  

The girls are pretty and wear badges with names.  

We love the tennis court dances, bowling, the spirit.  

We’re happy behind the fence. We do not fear it.  

We attend church each Sunday at the Chapel on the Hill.

It’s for all denominations, with different hours to fill.  

Many G.I. weddings take place here—so sweet—

Brides in white satin dresses with muddy boots on their feet.  

Last one. [Laughter.]

Whatever we’re making, shhh! We’ll never tell.  

And someday we’ll be able to tell. 

But we built something that will help win World War Two,  

And I hope that everyone will be proud of us, too.

Kelly: That’s great. Can you read the last paragraph again? Just because you were—

Black: Okay.

Kelly: —the pages around.

Black: Whatever we’re making, shhh! We’re making it well.

And someday we’ll be able to tell

How we built something that helped win World War Two,  

And I hope everyone will be proud of us, too.

Kelly: That is great. That is a great poem. What fun.

Black: What fun.

Kelly: Yes indeed. Well, that’s going to be a—

Black: Okay, that’s it. And I wanted to tell you about the—how young we were then.

Kelly: Yes. No, no, no please! Here, why don’t we hold that [poem] for you so it doesn’t rustle? 

Black: Okay. We were so young then. Everybody in Oak Ridge was very young, median age, what, thirty-five or so. And later Margaret Mead came and she said, “Something terrible’s going to happen to this town; this is the town without a grandmother. You know, it’s terrible.” And now we’re all grandmothers and great-grandmothers, so I guess something terrible happened.

But we were so young we did not have a funeral home. And there was one that came in maybe way back in the ‘50s, and it had to go out of business; it didn’t have any business. So they went out of business. [Laughter.] But now we have two funeral homes and they’re busy all the time. That’s all.

Kelly: That’s an interesting thought, very interesting. Let’s see, why don’t we pick up on a couple of these things because you were annotating it, you know, before we got started reading it. Let’s see what things you might want to elaborate on. Any more come to mind on the guards on horseback, the security? Were you sort of afraid of—to go out alone? Or what kind of roles did they have to—during the war?

Black: Okay. In K-25 you could see the guards on horseback, and my brothers used to go out and talk to the guards as they went by. And no, we weren’t afraid, I mean—and I’ve heard since then that people from Harriman and Oliver Springs would come by. Little kids—they could see the light from far away, see—and they would come and crawl down and watch the guard go by on horseback. And he was digging a little place to go under. 

And they would dig, dig, dig, and maybe they’d have to come back several times, and they finally would dig enough to get under and come to Oak Ridge. And they loved Oak Ridge. We had movies; you know, we had canteens and places that these little kids liked. So that’s what one of the guys told me that lived in Oliver Springs and Harriman. So the guards were friendly on the horseback.

Kelly: So what were they guarding against, what was—

Black: Well, guarding against people getting into the area. You know, when you came to the area you had to have your badge to go in and to go out. It was—you couldn’t live here unless you worked here, maybe unless you were really old and somebody said they had their mother living with them. I don’t know.

Security was tight and I remember walking down the turnpike one day without my badge. I’d come in from work , thrown my badge down, and just—I said, “I’m going to the grocery store and just buy a loaf of bread and baloney, if we can get it, or peanut butter, and just make our—sandwich in our room.” And we were picked up by the MPs: “Where’s your badge?” We didn’t—“Oh, right over in the dorm; go get it.” “No.” I was with my cousin.

And so the guards took us down, fingerprinted us, did the whole bit because we weren’t supposed to be seen without our badges. That’s how tight security was. So now when you go to a party in Oak Ridge they always stick a badge on you, “Hello, I’m so-and-so.” I think it reflects the olden days.

Kelly: Let’s see…

Black: With all that red mud it was very difficult to stay clean, and without any soap. And we didn’t have automatic washers or dryers. And when we went to the dormitory we had our own little scrub board and we had to take it with us and wash our clothes and hang them up and dry them.

There was a laundry and I think they shipped our clothes off, maybe to Alabama or somewhere. But we called this laundry “the shredder”, and it would shred your clothes in about a week. You know, you’d come back and the buttons were crushed and the clothes were ripped up. But you didn’t want to send your clothes to the laundry unless you really had to.  

And there was one guy who—he was muddy every day. He worked out in the field and he always was muddy. And when he came in, he jumped in the shower with his clothes on because he said, “I do my laundry and my bath at the same time.”

Kelly: That’s great. 

[Tape Switch.]

Kelly: Okay. Why don’t you talk about Afro-Americans and what their roles were here and how they were treated and so on?

Black: Well, in those days—I’ve heard people ask me about what was the black situation in Oak Ridge in the early days. I don’t believe there was a black situation. First, we didn’t call them blacks. I mean, in those days, that was not a good term to use for them; we called them Negroes. And they were very nice. And I think they were as happy to be here as we were because there were jobs here and they were making more money here than we could make anywhere.

The black people, I think—all over the country the black people were segregated, and it was the same here in the South as it was in other parts of the South. I didn’t really know many black people at that time because they didn’t work in—at K-25, that I knew them—they had other jobs. I think they did what they were qualified to do.

And, again, there was a housing shortage for the blacks as well as for the whites, and their qualifications were the same as ours. I mean, you had to—first you had to have a job here, and in order to get a house—there were no real estate agents; you couldn’t go out and do a real estate agent. If you wanted to bring your family here you had to find housing off the area, which is what a lot of the white people did, and a lot of the whites that didn’t qualify for housing in Oak Ridge.

The unskilled laborers got the worst housing, as you might expect. There were huts for them, dormitories, and they were restricted because—I mean, they had a dorm mother and they—you were not allowed to bring women in the men’s dorm or men in the women’s dorm. That was just the way it was for the blacks and the whites. The blacks were segregated over in Scarboro. But that was the custom in those days, to have the blacks in a different part of town.

They lived in huts, and the G.I.s lived in huts, and construction workers lived in huts because they didn’t qualify for anything else, and the huts were cheap. They probably got less money a week than, say, the scientists did, so they didn’t have that much money to spend and the huts were cheap.

There were four persons to a hut, and there was a stove in the middle, and then there was no bath, just a path to the latrine or bathhouse, and I think it was the same for the blacks as it was for the whites.

Actually, we didn’t complain. I mean, my brother didn’t complain; I mean, he was glad to get the job, get the house because it was just a temporary situation. They weren’t going to be here long; they were just here for the war effort. They were glad to be here rather than in the foxholes in Europe.

I don’t remember shopping. I mean, we couldn’t buy anything anyway, and so I don’t know if they had their own shopping facilities. I think they had their own grocery store, everything, and I’m not sure about the schools. I believe they had to be bussed to Knoxville, but maybe they didn’t have enough children to build a school for the blacks. 

And, like I say, as far as I know they weren’t complaining and we weren’t complaining. And I don’t say it was a fair thing, but that’s the way it was at the time.  

Kelly: Good. What were the schools like for the whites? And the shopping centers and so forth?

Black: Well, my little brothers and sisters went to school. They were crowded; they had children from every state in the Union. And we had wonderful teachers. They had imported teachers from all over the country, and apparently they did a good job. I was through school by that time.  But sometimes they had three children to a desk, I heard.  This was what my sister told me.

And she said—but the teachers were lovely. They put paper down the hall and—while they were conducting one class—and then they’d tell the children to draw something, pyramids or whatever, on the walls, and then they’d change seats. And it was wonderful. 

And you never knew who was going to be there. In Happy Valley, it was always shifting.  Maybe some construction workers would be there one week, and maybe they wouldn’t be there the next. And sometime they would be there for the duration, say. So schools were very good; the teachers were very good

Kelly: Can you—is there any irony in the name “Happy Valley”?

Black: I don’t know how they got that name. That was what was on the post office. I guess they wanted people to be happy, and it was in a valley, and it was just in the shadow of K-25. There’s not a trace of it now. There were trailers on both sides of the road then, and huts and barracks, cafeterias. There’s nothing there now; you wouldn’t even know it existed.

Kelly: Do you remember the—I mean, did you get to see much of the plant? Like the S-50 plant, the thermal diffusion plant across the river there?

Black: No, no, that was restricted. Each badge—should have worn my badge—had a color code and when you go in the plant you could only go in this color. I mean, I think I had a color for my station, one for the restroom, and one for the cafeteria. And I wasn’t allowed to go in any other section of this conditioning building, and it was the same with all the others. I couldn’t have gone to the big building; I didn’t have the badge for it. So it was restricted even in the plant area.

Kelly: When you lived—you said you lived downtown for a while. How did you get back and forth to your work?

Black: The bus. In the beginning the buses were free. They were crowded and they were free. They called them “cattle cars,” and I think they had come from Chicago from the World’s Fair in 1934. And they had come to Oak Ridge; we needed so many, many buses. 

And there were benches on either side of these cattle cars, and they had a stove in the middle, too. And you would slide back and forth on it. And they’d just pack those buses from there to K-25. You’d run down there, stand in line, get on the bus, and it was free. And it was wonderful.

Kelly: When you talk about shifts, were there shifts twenty-four hours a day?

Black: Twenty-four hours a day. You could go to the cafeteria. You could work. It was kind of like Las Vegas; you didn’t know what time it was. Everything was booming. Yes.

Kelly: Maybe you could say that again because they won’t hear my question. Can you say, “The shifts were twenty-four hours a day…?”

Black: They had twenty-four hour a day shifts. They—there were three shifts, twenty-four hours. They had the day shift, the afternoon shift, and the midnight shift. And sometimes people rotated, and sometimes you were permanent on one shift. A lot of people loved the evening shift. Some wouldn’t work anything but days. So it was to please everybody.

Kelly: Did the—was there overtime or extra pay allowed for the—

Black: There was. There was overtime for—I guess the women probably couldn’t work overtime. The G.I.s worked around the clock. I mean, it was just—if they needed them, they worked. And of course they didn’t get any extra pay. But the others—what did they call it—time and again or double time; it depended. What were the—the forty-hour week, I guess, hadn’t come in yet. I don’t know. I’m not too sure about that. I just know I worked when they told me to.

Kelly: [Exchange with Cameraman.] Let’s see. Gosh, you have some great stories. Wonderful.

Black: [Laughter.] I don’t know.

Kelly: Really, I mean, it’s fabulous. Now, what else should I—what other—maybe we’ve got onto the category of other funny stories. [Laughter.]

Black: I don’t know.

Kelly: I mean, they help people, you know, in the future, understand what life was like—what it was like. We’ve talked about secrecy, we’ve talked about—

Black: We talked about secrecy. With the secrecy thing, they had churches here, you know, and they had cemeteries here. And you were allowed to bring the body back to bury—you know, your family because of the family plots. And what they told me is, when the bodies came in to be buried, that the guards would stick a pin in the body to see if it was alive or if it was a spy. So if it didn’t scream or shout they could be buried. [Laughter.] Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.

The other thing—let’s see. I should have written some notes. I don’t know.

Kelly: What about—tell us about the Chapel on the Hill a little bit. And, I mean, tell us about—I’d like a little snippet on the Chapel on the Hill, what it was, the Alexander Inn, what it was and what went on there. And did you say—

Black: Okay.

Kelly: —you got married there? I don’t know. Just bear—change your wedding dress, or, you know, whatever, just something little about each of those properties.

Black: Okay. The Chapel on the Hill is still there. And, in those days, it was for all denominations. The Catholics got it at five forty-five in the morning, thank you very much. And then we could go to Mass and go to work on our shift, and that’s what we did. We also got it back maybe at noon, and, in the meantime, we had mass at the Grove Theater and the Center Theater. And my little brothers and sisters loved to go to the theater because they didn’t have to kneel, you know, they could just sit in the seats.

But the—it was funny to watch at the Chapel on the Hill because the Catholics have a crucifix, and they would hang the crucifix, and then another would come in and take down the crucifix and put up a plain cross. And then the Catholics would come in and set up a confessional down front where you could see. We didn’t really like that; we liked the old confessional boxes with the curtains. But if you went to confession at the Chapel on the Hill, you had to be in plain view of the people in back of you, I mean, and it—they set up little chairs and the priests would hear your confessions.

But it worked. Anything for the war effort. And they were always crowded. Now, that was one place you had to stand in line too, to get to church! You know, it was just crowded; everybody wanted to go to church.

And the Guest House was right down from the Chapel on the Hill. And it was—

Kelly: Can you start again? So—because we’re going to have this sort of like two segments. So start, you know—

Black: Okay. So the Guest House. The Guest House was located down from the Chapel on the Hill and across the street from the recreation hall. The day I got married, you know, the night I stayed at the Guest House to get ready. Catholics usually got married in the morning. I don’t know why, but they usually did because, if you went to mass, you had to fast; rules in those days.

Anyway, I wanted to get married as late as I could and that was noon, so I was married at high noon at the Chapel on the Hill. But I had to schedule it; there was a line for weddings, you know. So we were going to schedule it so we would have—the other people getting married before and after us, we were going to use the same flowers. And I wanted to be married last that day so I could take the flowers to the reception; you know, we were saving.

So anyway, I stayed at the Guest House, and my brother was supposed to pick me up and take me to the chapel for the wedding, with my boots on, and it was spitting snow. And he forgot me; because there were so many children in the family, he made so many trips from the trailer to the church, and he just got to the church and collapsed. And I wasn’t there.

Of course, the bride is the least important person in a wedding. And so finally they discovered—I mean, the organist played and played. And I wanted to run up the hill in my wedding gown but the clerk at the guest house said “No, no, you can’t do that.”

So anyway, my father was in his outfit and it was a military wedding, of course; all the G.I.s were in uniform and my husband was in uniform. And I finally got to the church, but when I got to the church the photographer had already gone. He said, you know, that he was scheduled and he couldn’t wait for me. So I did get married at the Chapel on the Hill and it was much afternoon, but I guess it was legal.

And then afterwards we went to the rec. hall across the street for the reception. And it was on Thanksgiving Day because we were having two Thanksgiving Days that year. I don’t think it’s ever happened again; the government had changed it to make room for Christmas shopping or holiday or something. Anyway, we went down and the Guest House was booked, so we couldn’t have the reception at the Guest House.  

Guest House you could get a room for a night for two-fifty, or maybe three dollars with a private bath. So it was a very busy place and that’s where all the famous scientists stayed under assumed names. You know, there were many guests there but you never knew who they were.

But anyway, the wedding went off as per schedule even though it was late. And the reception was okay and they brought the flowers down to use for the decorations and the cake arrived, and everything went off well.

That was mish-mashed. I should have written it—

Kelly: What a funny story! That’s great. That’s terrific. 


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