Bringing History Alive — Los Alamos

Whenever I substitute teach for history (like the past two weeks), I always like to find something that makes the events more meaningful.

My “Global” classes were studying the Cold War and all its ramifications, and that jogged a memory of a passage in a guide book I’d gotten a long time ago. Entitled Los Alamos: Beginning of an Era 1943-1945, it tells the story of the development of the atomic bomb.  It doesn’t have a copyright page, just an identifier as being from the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.

The first atomic bomb was exploded at 5:20:45 am Mountain War Time on July 16, 1945.  This book describes the observations and reactions of the scientists and associated personnel who either had helped or knew the test was imminent.  But what is fascinating to me were the reactions of people miles away who knew nothing about the test:

Elsewhere the momentous event had not gone unnoticed. The flash of light was seen in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Silver City, Gallup and El Paso. Windows rattled in Silver City and Gallup. So intense was the light that a blind girl riding in an automobile near Albuquerque asked, “What was that?”

A rancher between Alamogordo and the test site was awakened suddenly. “I thought a plane had crashed in the yard. It was like somebody turned on a light bulb right in my face.”

Another man, 30 miles away in Carrizozo, recalls, “It sure rocked the ground. You’d have thought it went off right in your back yard.”

A sleepless patient in the Los Alamos hospital reported seeing a strange light. The wife, waiting on Sawyer’s Hill behind Los Alamos, saw it too, and and wrote later:

“Then it came. The blinding light like no other light one had ever seen. The trees, illuminated, leaping out. The mountains flashing into life. Later, the long slow rumble. Something had happened, all right , for good or ill.”

That’s the best description I’ve ever found of our introduction to the Nuclear Age.

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