Esther Vigil was living in the Espanola Valley with her family when Los Alamos was selected as a site for the Manhattan Project. She attended school at Los Alamos for several years. Both she and her mother worked at Los Alamos, babysitting for famous scientists like Edward Teller and Stanislaus Ulam. Vigil also worked for the Supply and Property Department. In this interview, she discusses not only her experiences at Los Alamos but also her later contributions to preserving local culture, a passion her mother also shared.
Los Alamos, NM
Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly. I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I have with me Ruth Howes. I’m going to ask her to please say and spell her name.
Ruth Howes: I am Ruth Howes, and that’s R-u-t-h H-o-w-e-s.
Kelly: Ruth is a very distinguished historian of the Manhattan Project with a particular focus on women, women scientists. I’m going to ask her to talk about this and what she’s learned.
Cindy Kelly: OK. I’m Cindy Kelly. I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I’m with Robert Howes. Bob, can you say your full name and spell it for us?
Robert Howes: Okay. It’s Robert I. Howes, and I better put Junior. And it’s H-o-w-e-s.
Kelly: Tell us when you were born and where.
Robert I. (“Bob”) Howes Jr. is an American physicist. He was a young child when his father, Robert Ingersoll Howes, was recruited to work as a scientist on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. In this interview, Howes shares snapshots of daily life in the Los Alamos community from the perspective of a child. He also describes some of the interaction between the Manhattan Project and local Pueblo communities and recalls the misadventures of the family dog.
Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. This is Santa Fe, New Mexico, Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I have with me Julie Melton. My first question for Julie is to say her name and spell it.
Julie Melton: I’ve been widowed twice, so I’ve had a lot of last names, but my maiden name was Hawkins. My father was at Los Alamos. Now my name is Melton, Julie Melton. Just to make it complicated, I’ve written books on democratization in the developing world, and I used my pen name Fisher for that. So it does get complicated.
Martin Sherwin: In terms of the people who were invited in, I know [George] Kennan.
John Manley: That was for the Halloween meeting.
Sherwin: Yes. Do you remember anything about what Kennan said? What the impression he left was?
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 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.
Louis Hempelmann: I do not think the people who came later were ever as close as the people who were there at the beginning.
Martin Sherwin: Did most of the people who came later, were they junior people? That is, younger? [Enrico] Fermi came later.
Hempelmann: [George] Kistiakowsky came later.
Sherwin: He did? When you say “earlier” and “later,” what dates are you talking about?
Martin Sherwin: Good afternoon, this is an interview with John Manley at the Red Onion restaurant, January 9th, 1985, Los Alamos, New Mexico.
John Manley: —whether you want to start that yet or not? I’m not at all sure in what way I can help you.
Sherwin: Well, I would like to write a book. [Laughter]
Manley: I would like somebody else to write a book with information I could supply.
Martin Sherwin: What was the set-up at Los Alamos, in terms of your relationship to the director [J. Robert Oppenheimer] and how you operated?
Louis Hempelmann: I was working directly under him. I started out with my wife as a half-time secretary, and the technician I brought with me from St. Louis, and Kitty worked for me.
Sherwin: What did Kitty do for you?
Hempelmann: Did blood counts.
Sherwin: Was she a good technician?