Cindy Kelly: I am Cindy Kelly with Atomic Heritage Foundation and it is Wednesday, July 31, 2013 and I am with Ellen Bradbury Reid. My first question for Ellen is to please tell us your name and spell it.
Ellen Bradbury Reid: Ellen Bradbury Reid. Actually I was Ellen Wilder, and then I married John Bradbury and then eventually married Ed Reid so it is E-l-l-e-n, B-r-a-d-b-u-r-y, R-e-i-d.
Kelly: Ellen I want to know about your very beginnings. Can you tell us what year you were born and some of the circumstances about your very earliest years?
Reid: I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1939 and my father was a chemical engineer. I guess he was a chemist. He worked in a brewery, Eardles Brewery, which made what we now call a microbrew, a local distributor, and he said that was what he did for the war effort—he was making beer—which was very important to the war he thought.
He was eventually drafted into the Navy I think in 1943 or 1944. Initially he failed the draft—he had some problem with his lungs—but when he was drafted, he was eventually sent to Oak Ridge because he had skills that they were looking for. He was at Oak Ridge a short period of time and then Norris Bradbury was looking for people who knew I guess chemistry or high explosives and he interviewed Daddy.
Norris eventually selected seven guys from I think all over the country, they were all in the military, to come to Los Alamos to work on the implosion detonator. It was when they could not make the plutonium they were getting from Hanford to detonate. The plutonium they had been getting from [Ernest] Lawrence was very, very pure but the plutonium coming out of Hanford pre-detonated or fizzled. So they recruited these seven guys.
So Daddy went out to Los Alamos and eventually we followed with some thought that we would have a house. But when we got to—well you’ve been to 109 East Palace—anyway there wasn’t any housing. For a little while we stayed in a motel in Albuquerque; they would not let any more people stay in Santa Fe. Santa Fe had more than its quota of strange people—Los Alamos could not accommodate them so they were living in Santa Fe and they did not want any more people doing that so we went to Albuquerque and that was very far away. Eventually Daddy and another family, the Wilsons, bought sheepherder’s tents and we moved into a tent in Bandelier in the bottom of Frijoles Canyon.
Now the year previously, I think in 1944, before the plutonium crisis, they had housed some of the people at Los Alamos in Bandelier where there was a little guest ranch, and Mrs. Frye ran it. I think and I am not sure this is true, but because of the proximity to S-site where they were working with conventional explosives, they moved everybody out of those houses. They would not let us move in the houses, but we put up two great big tents and we lived in a tent and it was great for Daddy, he thought, because he could drive up the back way and go in the back gate to S-Site—you will have some map to show where S-site is. It was summer and to a kid it seemed just great.
My father and mother, both on different sides of the family, came from Kentucky and they had houses that were like plantations, big houses. They had lived not in great luxury but to go from living in a big house with some maids and a lot of family around to living in a tent—my mother is a chemist too, although she did not work at the lab—it was I think for my mother in particular, quite a shock to go live in a tent with two kids under the age of six. We got water out of a little tap, we cooked on a campfire, and squirrels stole all the food and at night the skunks came in the tent, we thought it was very exciting.
The other family, the Wilsons, we camped close together and I am not really sure, they left one car for the women, but the men took one car up to work every day. We were close so we could hear the explosions—they tested all the time at Los Alamos and they did after the war too. We were used to big explosions and from a kid’s point of view that was cool. And we could climb in the ruins. I cannot believe they let us do this.
We walked up to the ceremonial cave, if anyone has ever been there, and I pushed my brother in a Kiva once and went home and they said, “Where is your brother?”
And I said, “I do not know.”
Anyway he was in a Kiva crying. There was one ranger and that poor ranger had to go get him out of the Kiva where I still insisted that did not know how he had gotten there. For a little kid it was pretty amazing to live down there, for my mother, as she said, well we did what we could to help the war effort.
Kelly: How old was your brother at the time?
Reid: He was three when I pushed him in the Kiva. I think the Kiva was filled up with dirt, I mean I did not push him—it is not as deep as it is now, and he did not seem to be hurt at all.
Kelly: But he could not get out?
Reid: No, no, he could not get out, I thought that was the good part, he could not get out.
Kelly: I thought I remembered another story you pushed him in a culvert.
Reid: That was later, yes. I know, yes I did. I can go on and tell that. Well, that summer at some point there were a lot of fish in the creek and I think it was because the canyon had been closed a long time. We would just wade around and pick up fish behind their gills. We could not see why anybody would use a pole when you could just wade around and pick up a fish. Sometimes we threw rocks at the fish, they were not in much danger, but one time my brother hit my thumb instead of a fish and he broke my thumb. I guess it was a Saturday because Daddy was home and he wanted to take me up to the hospital at Los Alamos.
We got to the back gate and the MP would not let me in because I did not have a pass. I remember my father really got pretty mad at this MP who was probably eighteen and had his orders, and I was sitting there sobbing with my little bleeding thumb. The MP finally just said, “Go on.” And I said to my father, “Why couldn’t I go?”
And he said, “Well we are doing something very important and it is very secret and we have to protect the secret.”
I thought, “Hmm, I will find out what this secret is and I will tell.”
We got to the hospital and I looked all around and boy, it did not look like anything very interesting to me compared to Bandelier, which had rabbits and squirrels and deer and skunks. Here were just these military buildings with a lot of fences. However, on the pond in the center there were ducks and I thought well that has to be it—we did not have any ducks in Bandelier. So I counted there were eleven ducks—that was about the extent of my numerical abilities. Eleven ducks, I thought, “That has to be it!”
They fixed my thumb, we go home, the war ended and we got a house in Los Alamos in the McKee area and it was right near the fence and I thought, “Oh this is good,” because then I can sit by the fence and whoever—I was a little unclear who was a spy, I thought I was a spy too—the spy will come by and I will say eleven ducks then I can get even with these people.
Well no one ever came, I mean the MPs came and they would say, “What are you doing, little girl?” And I would say, “Nothing,” I am just sitting by the fence waiting. They had jeep patrols a lot and they had sometimes horses but no one ever asked except what I was doing and of course, I could not tell them.
Finally I got tired of sitting there and I got my brother who was smaller, I wanted him to go under the fence where there was a culvert and find whoever it was and bring them to me, and I would say, “Eleven ducks.” Then I can get my security clearance because I did want to live with my parents and I knew you needed a clearance to get into Los Alamos. [At that time, when you were six, you got a clearance.]
Anyway, I pushed him into this culvert and he got his knees and elbows caught up underneath him because I pushed him. He could not move and he started to cry. I thought this is not good, and the MP came by and he said, “Well what is the matter?” Well, he was stuck in the culvert. I was sure he was going to tell on me and then pretty soon my mother came, they could not get him out of the culvert. Finally, my father, they got my father from S-site to get him out. He just pulled his legs and then he came out and I thought this is it he is going to tell on me, I know how he got in the culvert but he was so upset he did not tell. I thought well I guess I will change careers, I thought I would be a trapeze artist, that would be a safer career than being a spy because spying was not working out for me.
Then I got my pass at six at Los Alamos you got a security clearance and I was fingerprinted and mug shot and had a pass, I thought it was extremely cool and I had abandoned espionage as a career.
Kelly: That is wonderful. What has become of Marshall?
Reid: He survived all that.
Kelly: He has not pursued espionage as a career.
Reid: No, no, neither one of us, no but there are still ducks. I think another story about the ducks, I am not sure this is true, but I read that as Los Alamos was being put together they would just ship things. At some point they hired a guy who had come from someplace in Texas where he ran some sort of facility for shell-shocked soldiers and he wanted it to be very tranquil and it had a lake and he ordered some ducks which he thought added to the tranquility.
When he got to Los Alamos he looked around and thought it was another facility for shell-shocked soldiers, they did not tell him what [was going on at Los Alamos], so he ordered ducks. I do not know if that really is true about the ducks but there has always been ducks there even now when it is being redone there is a duck rescue going on so they are taking care of the ducks.
Well, I may have told you this, because we were living in the [deep canyon with no, what you might call amenities]—well the car was the only place that had a radio. After what must have been the Hiroshima drop, the radio station KRS—I know other people have talked to you about this radio station where Teller sometimes played the piano or Oppenheimer loaned them records—we got in the car because they played this wire, not a tape, of the cockpit recording, it must have been the Enola Gay. So what we heard—and Daddy said you should listen to this, this is really very important, this is what we have been doing—you heard the plane motors then they counted down—ten, nine, eight, seven, six—and they said, “Bomb’s away” and then there was the plane dips and pulls away to avoid the shock wave.
What I thought was most interesting was they could count backwards. I thought explosions [were pretty ordinary], we heard [lots of] those, but counting backwards that was very cool. That piece of tape may be still batting around Los Alamos somewhere. That would be something that would be important for all of us to get ahold of if we could.
Kelly: Terrific. Why don’t you tell us about the radio station there? We do not have a good story about that or a description of it.
Reid: It was run by a guy named Bob Porton for a long time.
The radio station KRS, which then became KRSN, must have had some small frequency so it did not go very far. In retrospect it is pretty funny: in a place that was so obsessed with secrecy, certainly you could hear the radio station outside the fence because we were living way outside the fence.
It was a station, something that maybe you had other people talk about, but the atmosphere at Los Alamos was people were really very interested in music and they had amateur theatricals, particularly when the British got to Los Alamos. The Brits of course loved to do the crazy skits and they did Gilbert and Sullivan. There was an interest in music and theater and culture.
This station was, maybe you would have in part called it a classical music station; people loaned them records and they played records. As I said, Teller would sometimes play the piano for them and the announcer Bob Porton was there for a long, long time. It was a community radio station that is still on the air I think. It was important to us even in the 2000 fire I think. They needed, before the Internet, some way of getting everybody to say okay the fire is too close and we are going to evacuate and keep track of people and things. It was an important part of the community for a long time.
Kelly: Did you remember any story hour that the radio program might have had?
Reid: I do not, no.
Kelly: I think I had heard some of the scientists like Teller would read stories of the Big Bad Wolf or something. I know it sort of stuck in my mind. Anyway, let me see, at this point, at the end of the war you are still just six years old, is that right?
Kelly: Okay so when did you start going to school?
Reid: I was in the first class and went all the way through school at Los Alamos. I started in first grade and there were I am sure people have said, many children born at Los Alamos. It was the pre-baby boom baby boom. I think it cost a dollar to have a baby so everybody did. There is that story at one point Groves says to Oppenheimer, “You have to get a handle on this, there are too many babies born." Oppenheimer’s wife was pregnant at the time and he said he did not think that was included in his responsibilities.
When I started there were so many kids that we had two first grades and my teacher was Mrs. Tinsley who I just loved. I had taught myself to read and I thought I would get in trouble if they knew that I could read but I was so shy I would not talk. She figured out that I could read though. I do not think it was an experiment, but by and large that class stayed together until we graduated. We went all the way through school together as this first grade class of the two first grades; Mrs. Hillhouse was the other teacher. We went to Central School and I think we had very good teachers all the way through.
By the time I was in third grade when the war ended of course a lot of scientists left and then some came back, which is a whole other topic. One of the things Norris Bradbury realized he had to do was have better housing and better schools. So the built the Western Area and some houses that are around where Canyon School. There were then two elementary schools, Mesa School and Canyon School. So by the third grade we moved to the Western Area to a real house, not a pre-fab house. Have people talked about Bathtub Row a little?
Kelly: That would be good for you.
Reid: Anyway Bathtub Row consisted of the houses that were there from the boy’s school and they were log cabins. They were not all designed as houses, some were like school facilities but they all became houses and they had bathtubs. When Groves started housing up the hill, that was all pre-fab and there were no bathtubs, there were showers everywhere. They started calling this row of houses Bathtub Row. Now also Bathtub Row had big trees and lilacs and apricot trees, I mean it was lush by comparison because nothing else—no grass, it was just muddy when it rained—that would be a luxury.
The thinking was of course that the town would just disappear after the war so why would you do anything. But of course it did not disappear, we plunged immediately into the Cold War and the hydrogen bomb and the whole build up to that, they needed to keep the scientists there. Norris Bradbury had them build better houses, the Western Area houses had bathtubs, and they had yards with grass and we had something called Zia Company.
Zia Company would come and fix anything so the men did not have to fix things because that would distract them from their work. Zia Company would come fix your fence or just do anything, anything that broke, the hot water heater or something Zia would come and fix it. It was just great growing up with Zia Company. They mowed the gross—not in your yard but all I guess what we call now common area, Zia Company maintained them. They worked both inside and outside the fence.
At that point, I think you might have had to be twelve to have a pass. The age kept going up, it was six and then eight so twelve maybe. There was still a fence but it was an easy fence to get around. The first fence you could wiggle underneath it or push your brother through a culvert whichever. Now when we lived in the Western Area, which was probably late 1940s, early 1950s you could easily jump over the fence and we did all the time. We just played in the canyons and it was really a wonderful place to grow up because it was totally safe, we did not have crime, and we did have bullies I think. You still had security everywhere, and even to live in the residential area, I guess we still had passes.
At one point I lost my pass and I still have this pass, I must have been twelve and it was really very bad if you lost your pass, it was very serious. You could not leave without your pass; you could not hide it you had to confess. It was one of the things if your mother let you carry your own pass, do not lose it. Well I did so I got another pass then I found the pass I had lost and I was way too scared to tell her that I had found the pass so I still have it. It was like oh my god; I did not want to tell anybody I had found the pass after I had gotten the second pass.
It is interesting in a funny way, it did not seem restricted to me but I think I had no other point of reference. We were all thrilled to get a pass. My friend Paula Schreiber just wanted to get a pass, she was always just a little too young and she thought it was so cool if you had a pass. She finally got a pass. But I mean instead of thinking that you were in some sort of concentration camp because we did live inside a fence—well we could get out of the fence, there wasn’t any place to go. It never struck me as oppressive guess. You could ride your bike anywhere, if you got in trouble somebody knew you and picked you up and sent you home.
I liked to climb things, I climbed a cliff once and got stuck and the fire chief had to come get me down off the cliff. That was embarrassing, but it was nice that they had so little to do that they could get kittens out of trees, bears off telephone poles, kids who climbed cliffs. I mean they had in a way that fifties kind of, despite the work, this very tranquil feeling about the town itself to me. Lots of clubs, women’s clubs, lots of churches, still not much going back and forth to Santa Fe.
It was a little far and I think within Santa Fe they thought it was almost weird. To go on with that at the time we were in high school, there was more rivalry because how would you like the kids from Los Alamos, they have better football equipment, they have prettier cheerleaders, they have a better debating team. Anywhere you went, there was Los Alamos and here is poor New Mexico, struggling along and then the kids from Los Alamos pop up, win everything and go home again behind the fence. So the fights after the football and basketball games were always much more exciting than the games. Try to get the team from the court back on the bus without having a fight? Yeah [chuckle].
But I mean being on the inside you do not have much vantage of the larger world, it always seemed, I was interested in things. I can remember the Oppenheimer trial when Oppenheimer lost his clearance, I did not really understand what he had done and indeed, we don’t understand that very well now. He hadn’t done anything. I could see that people were really upset about that. I mean it was sort of the first time I thought Teller was more or less like the devil, which was universal. Time Magazine had a picture of Edward Teller on the magazine cover for some reason and everybody at Los Alamos cancelled their subscription, the library, everyone, could not have that.
Kelly: Can you explain, people may not be familiar, just give them—
Reid: When Oppenheimer was really being prosecuted by a guy named Lewis Strauss, who was perhaps jealous of Oppenheimer’s facility—and Oppenheimer had shown that facility in a way that made Strauss look silly—they put up what was really a witch-hunt to get Oppenheimer and the result was he lost his clearance so he could not go behind the fence and go into the lab areas. He would have the clearance had anyone with any sense been able to intervene. It’s a more complicated thing because it involves Teller pushing the hydrogen bomb.
Oppenheimer was not the director at that point, Norris Bradbury was the director and a lot of jockeying around with the Air Force and who was going to build this bomb fueled partly by the fear of the Soviet Union and partly be Teller pushing it. In the end Teller came back to Los Alamos but was not really made completely in charge of the hydrogen bomb development. A huge grudge grew up between Teller and Los Alamos even though he came back and worked. He worked for Norris who was really pretty sympathetic to Teller I think considering everything. He used to tell me Teller had a difficult childhood and it is true actually.
Anyway as these things played out Teller was the only scientist willing to really testify against Oppenheimer and say on the public record that he felt, he did not really say he was a security risk but he inferred that. That was enough for this committee to pull Oppenheimer’s clearance. I think that that event is still resonating through policy and through science and certainly in the United States I think it made scientists pull back from the political arena.
It was a decisive moment and to go back to me as a kid I did not really understand all the implications. I knew I had never seen the adults that I knew as upset about something that was happening in Washington. They played, I do not know if it was live, but the hearing transcripts on this radio station KRS, so you could hear what everybody was saying in this testimony. At Los Alamos the Oppenheimer trials were a huge event that even percolating down to say a thirteen year old, you got it in the air, something had really gone off the tracks here.
Later, when I was maybe eighteen or nineteen, then Oppenheimer would come in the summer but he could not go behind the fence because he did not have a clearance. The Bradbury’s, my soon to be in-laws, would have parties and Oppie would be there and all the scientists and then the wives and stray kids or something. At one of these parties, I was passing some sort of hors d’oeuvres—these parties seem to go on a long time. I mean they were not really parties, the men would go down to the barbeque and talk about physics and women would sit around. We all lived close together, maybe go home and come back. To drop back as a footnote, Groves would not let the FBI in Los Alamos. After the war, I do not know if the FBI was watching. Priscilla McMillan might know this.
The parties were like a cover. I was passing these chicken wings or something and there was Oppenheimer standing alone. I had by accident seen films of the raw footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was appalled, I was pretty sure that maybe the mEn did not know what happened when they dropped the bomb. I asked some of them because they were our neighbors and some people talked to me. Carson Mark said well you should ask Oppie, Oppie would be the person you should ask, what did we think. Here he was. By then I thought about it and I walked up to him and said, “Would you like a chicken wing?” And [I said], “I think you are some sort of saint.”
He looked at me and he said, “Why would you ever say that to me?”
And I said, “Well because you had second thoughts.”
He put his hat on and walked out. I really had thought I was talking to a statue, it never occurred me I would hurt his feelings.
Norris Bradbury came up and said, “What did you say to Oppie? What did you say to Oppie?”
But I think he was in this most secure place where he was most beloved. This little child of this place wanders by and asks him this question. I do not know, anyway I did not mean to hurt his feelings or start up something with him but it obviously did.
Kelly: How do you interpret his reaction?
Reid: I think he had at that age what I had called second thoughts. Maybe he felt he had been powerless to do anything about it. It’s an event that there is going to be a whole spectrum of opinion. I think that Oppenheimer had felt that he could perhaps control the course of events after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course he hadn’t been able to and he knew how terrible they were but he perhaps felt that maybe it has to be that terrible so everyone, like intervention, you have to hit bottom before you can come up, I do not know.
He obviously had thought about this a lot and I think he had just been so adored at Los Alamos that to have a little wafty kid wander by was really an arrow to his heart. I did not intend that. I was just worried that maybe they did not understand what had happened when they dropped the bombs.
They hired a high school kid to run the projector to show these films of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the now world of hyper security, would you hire a fourteen year old guy who was in the radio club to run the film? But they did. He was some guy I sort of had a crush on, so I went to see him in the projection booth and he was just standing there like that and we watched all these films that have now been sanitized but they were not then.
Kelly: After that, you must assume then that Oppenheimer was fully aware maybe of seeing these films.
Reid: I guess. I do not know if he ever saw the films. They sent people in right after the explosions and these were just like shots panning around. I do not know if he saw them or not. I mean as a footnote to that Stalin of course sent an observer in too and as we know now the Soviets were well on their way with their own bomb. Apparently, Stalin after he saw photographs, I do not know footage he said, “Oh I want one of those, I want it in five years” and maybe to [Igor] Kurchatov he said, “And if I don’t get it I will kill you all.” That is a motivating factor.
It was very shocking, but you know Dresden is shocking; war is shocking. Is it more shocking? It might be said to be more shocking because of the radioactivity, which I do not think was well understood at all at the time. They knew about it but in the estimates that they had projected as the casualties of these two bombs they never included the deaths from radiation because they did not know enough. The tolls are squishy in a way because the effects of radiation killed more later.
Kelly: To go back to the party then, the party for the people that had committed to working at Los Alamos, presumable bigger and better bombs, they were working on the hydrogen bomb. How did they rationalize that?
Reid: I do not know, I really do not know. Because it was all secret; I know they did it but I do not know, those are political decisions. They are decisions that came out of Washington almost on orders and in those days science could do anything. You had penicillin, you had technological miracles, and I think they felt these scientists could do anything.
The early hydrogen bomb tests are way out of control tests, you could get somebody to talk about Mike Ivy and those tests where they just got the calculations wrong, and the bombs were much larger than they had thought. That might have been the result of this push for speed because they felt the Soviets were close on our heels. Really at what point does it end?
The Cuban Missile Crisis was just an enormous buildup of nuclear weapons on both sides with Johnny von Neumann talking about MAD [Mutually Assured Destruction], but during that period of time—this was after the Oppenheimer [case], where they tear him up—is there any governing intelligence on what is really going on? Does anyone really understand that we do one, you do one, we do one, you do one? And we get these enormous stockpiles of weapons that we have subsequently been taking down. Although it is a very peaceful, prosperous time in the United States the nuclear buildup is way out of control and no one seems to have had a real handle on it.
Could anyone have stopped it? It would take both sides to stop it. We were not talking to the Soviets until the Cuban Missile Crisis when finally Kennedy and Khrushchev realized that we were just about ready to blow each other up and we have to have a means of communication to say the Dr. Strangelove thing, “Hello Nikki” or whatever he says, “Dmitri, do not yell at me!” We were just heading for real trouble. Was the attitude at Los Alamos we just do what we were told? Well that is way too simplistic I don’t think that is really what it was. Could they have stopped it? Could they have refused?
It is my father-in-law Norris Bradbury who is building those bombs who is a very thoughtful, cultured man. I used to talk to him about all of this because even from a little kid, even after I gave up espionage, I was really concerned about what was going on. I certainly did not have a deep understanding of it, but I did not think bombs were a very good answer but it seemed to be the only answer that anybody had come up with.
When we were still living in Bandelier and I guess this was after I could not get in to have my thumb fixed, I asked Daddy what they were doing and he said, “Well we are building a bomb.”
I thought, "Oh dear this isn’t fair, you told me you were doing something brand new and it’s a bomb? They’ve already been invented!" I did not think that was going to work, I was worried about him.
So I thought I would invent something myself—a better weapon. I was going to make a lizard run into the campfire and turn into a dinosaur. I spent a lot of time trying to herd lizards with a stick into the campfire. Finally, one day I did get a lizard to run into the fire and I was terrified it would work and I realized it was going to eat my family first. I made a good weapon but it was already out of control and I ran out to get the rangers, poor ranger, and I wanted to run back because I was sure this dinosaur I had made would eat my family.
I ran back, this guy followed me, there was no lizard and everybody was fine. And I thought, yeah, “weapons control”—it is really very dangerous you have to be careful if you are going to build something, what happens when it works [chuckle]. That I think was the situation perhaps we are still in.
Kelly: In terms of the conversations I mean one of the things that is implied in what you just described as the way Los Alamos thought about these things is as scientists they felt they did their assignment, they were doing what they do best, per instructions from Washington. But beyond that did they talk about the political ramifications or threat of Armageddon or were there undercurrents?
Reid: Not that I [recall], but as a kid you would not hear that anyway.
Kelly: Not among other children, di other children talk about the duck and cover exercises?
Reid: We made hideouts in case something happened, we were going to run down the canyon and live in this little cave we had found. It did not seem very, I don’t think it haunted—maybe it did haunted people. Duck and cover I think was a little while, maybe they did at Los Alamos, but it was for those guys clearly ridiculous. If that was designed to make people feel better, the people at Los Alamos knew way too much to think that was going to make any difference to you.
I do not know, I do not think so, I think really by and large that the closed, cloistered atmosphere of the lab at that time was you just didn’t talk outside the lab. I mean you did not know what anybody’s father did and it never occurred to us to ask. I do not know.
The high school class was very, very mixed. Maryann Naranjo and Ana Mae Naranjo were some of my best friends and they were much better at algebra than I was. It did not seem like a huge big deal and I think in retrospect this was because you did not know what anybody’s father was doing. In general you get your status in high school or grade school from your father, but we had no idea what anybody’s father was doing. We might have lived in a slightly nicer house, but class presidents, cheerleaders, it was all very mixed up and did not seem like a really big deal to me or maybe to anybody.
Another part of that was of course now I realize there were a lot of Jewish people, the European Jewish community who were there. I had no idea what Jewish people were at all. It was just like, I would not say a utopian situation, but I think because of the secrecy, which had many bad effects, but because you did not know what anybody was doing, you were all sort of in the same soup. Those differences probably by the end of high school might have become more marked but not a lot.
What the Los Alamos school system, which was very good, did for the Hispanic kids was give them a terrific high school education. Many of them, like Dimas Chavez, were able to go on to college out of situations that had they stayed in a rural community, they never would have had the opportunities. I think Los Alamos was an economic force in northern New Mexico that really changed northern New Mexico.
The Indian kids did not go. They could have, but they did not go to school at Los Alamos, although the lab ran shuttles down to the pueblos and brought workers up because they did not have cars every day. It used to be that the whole lab would close on January twenty-third, San Ildefonso Day, because you could not get enough maintenance workers to run the lab. It was a curious sort of mix. So you had Hispanic kids, you know we all had houses and lived up there. The Indians lived in the Pueblos but came up to work so there was a division between the Indians who did not want to live up there and Hispanic people who were getting nicer houses and good schools. It was just everybody was in there together.
Kelly: Was there segregation among neighborhoods or people were all integrated? How did that work?
Reid: It was pretty integrated. I think that they said that the housing, once I got to Western Area, was allocated according to need or size of family. But at one point during one of the fires, some New York Times reporter who must have been going crazy figured out that if you looked at the Western Area the streets from 41st to say 48th pretty much represented the rungs of the ladder in the lab. I did not ever think that at the time, but when I read it I thought oh yeah they are right. It was not so stated at all.
Before you could own your house you paid some rent that was some ridiculously low thing. As there was more housing, the economics of the housing began to make some difference but not like cities where you have real segregated situations, no.
Kelly: What happened to everyone after the war? You said some scientists left. How many scientists left do you think?
Reid: Some came back. I think that when Oppenheimer left I think in September of 1945, the quite naïve assumption was that the job was done, the war was won, and everybody could go back to academia and many did. I heard people say this, that they got back and it was not as exciting as Los Alamos had been.
Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project years, I mean I talked to some of the men who were there, and one of them said to me, “I was smarter then I will ever be again”. He said it was just an eclectic atmosphere. We just worked all the time and anything we wanted they tried to get us and we were young and we had parties, it was exciting and fun. And academia was pale by comparison to this. They all adored Oppenheimer.
I can tell you this other funny story that is I think of how they worked. McAllister Hull, who was a wonderful physicist, he told me the story. He worked in the building next to my father and they did not know each other because everything was in a little compartment. He was pouring—Daddy did this too—the shaped the explosive lenses for the implosion detonator. They would pour these layers of explosives and then they had to cool. While they were waiting for them to cool, they would play baseball and this was inside S-site, which is where they worked with conventional explosives. They had this ongoing baseball game while you were waiting for something and you did not want to go home. Mac said sometimes you would just lay down on the floor and go to sleep because you knew you were going to have to wake up in two hours.
Anyway, they have this baseball game and at one point, one team brought in an outside guy who could really pitch. He throws two or three balls and they go, “Wait, wait, stop the game!” “You [the pitcher]! You! Do you know what the periodic table is?” [Chuckle] They had brought in a ringer who could pitch.
They had the S-site cafeteria, which we used to think was like Sardi’s. They would serve meals almost twenty-four hours a day because these guys were working like that. They would have these intervals while things cooled and they would go over to the S-Site cafeteria and boy as kids if we would get to at the S-Site cafeteria that was the best. Everybody thought the S-Site cafeteria was the best cafeteria. They had, it turns out now, fried chicken and hamburgers, it was not like Sardi’s but it was really good food.
Inside S-Site where they were working with conventional explosives, they started taking down all those buildings that were the buildings that housed the different labs for pouring these lenses. Before the big fire at Los Alamos, we went in to try to save the last building at V-Site—which we did, thank you. And you looked at the equipment they were using, which had all been just sitting there, and they had these big graphs that they used to tell what the temperature was on the explosives. They would say, “Cool,” “Not so cool,” “Temperate,” “Warmer.” They did not have any numbers at all they just had these descriptions. And they had this little slot that would say, “Man in charge” and then you could put your name in and out so you would know who was in charge.
They were doing all this with slide rules and in their heads. They cooked the explosives in these hard candy cookers that they ordered from some place in Ohio that were used to make peppermint. That is how they cooked the explosives and that they did not have more accidents than they did, because my father said they would blow things up all the time. That they never got a ditch—they would just ignite something and run as far as they could and then throw themselves down on the ground. People would say, “We ought to dig a little trench, we could jump in the trench that would be better”, but they never got around to doing it. Daddy said, “Well you know if you landed on Iwo Jima or Okinawa you did not have a trench to jump in; they are taking many more risks than we are”.
But there are all sorts of stories bout S-Site that they were moving explosives over these terrible dirt roads. At one point General Groves came to see something at S-Site and they took the springs out of his jeep. The General was rotund and he pounded his way on this road in a jeep with no springs and after that he paved the road [chuckle]. He said that it was not a good road to move the high explosives.
They would test at ten and twelve and three so you would know it was a test it was not an accident. Any time there was an explosion out of that sequence you could see everybody in town go, “Hmm, that’s not good,” but you never knew. Then there would be several tests that would go “Boom, boom, BOOM,” that was a good one. We liked big ones that knocked the plates off the wall, the pictures would rattle or something. We thought we were real connoisseurs of big explosions. Little explosions were nothing.
They had always kept those conventional explosives separate. So the result was of course that during the war until maybe the 1950s they had the plutonium. Well they did not have very much plutonium before the war, but that was all downtown, what is now downtown, because you were not sure it would work. But the conventional explosives were at S-Site and both the V-Site, which is where you can go now on rare occasions to see where they would make sure the component parts would fit inside the casing, and the Gun Site, which was for the uranium bomb, which will someday perhaps be open to the public.
They need I think a lot of story because when you get to those places it is not like the story becomes evident, you have to know what it is that they were trying to do. It’s great that they have both been saved because I think the simple “garage bomb” aspect of that work comes through in those facilities. There was nothing fancy; it was just using available materials and tape.
My father was particularly interested in tape because they taped all those fuses on for the Trinity test because they did not want to solder on the live explosives. So we always had tape, we were always testing tape at home, pieces of tape hung here and there because they were things that we were testing. He worked with 3M on the tape. And when you look at the gadget, you see all this tape all over it and all those fuses are taped on.
S-Site is pretty interesting I think, but except for V-Site, [all the old buildings,] the baseball diamond is gone. There are very few buildings, the Gun Site is there and the concrete bowl. Should we talk about the concrete bowl? You can get somebody else to talk about the concrete bowl.
Kelly: To describe its function.
Reid: It was to save the plutonium because they had such a small amount of plutonium that if the test did not work they wanted to recapture the plutonium, which would roll towards the center of this. Talk about naïve about what was going to happen. I think to everybody, the fact that these young guys, average age twenty-four to twenty-six, in twenty-six months put together two different types of bombs and they both worked—it is an organizational miracle really that they could get different nationalities, different people in a remote location where supplies were always erratic, they could do this. I think even Teller said that it was Oppenheimer who was the leader, the catalyst and the inspiration who rose above what anyone had ever thought he could do. Everyone who worked there thought that it was in large part due to Oppenheimer that they were able to work together and get this done.
Kelly: To what extent did women feel part of this whole gamut or did they feel somewhat isolated. How did this experience affect women?
Reid: I think one of the original plans was of course that the women would be secretaries. A lot of them worked on those Marchant adding machines because it was before they had a computer. They just sat and punched numbers in because they were doing so many calculations. They also thought when women who had some degrees would work, but I think that by and large it was the tenor of the time that the men were going to do the important big work. The women by and large had very young children and stayed home. We had maids too, we had maids from Zia Company who came and helped clean and take care of the kids.
I think not just in Los Alamos but everywhere in the forties there was a lot more drinking and smoking than now. I think that it was a difficult environment. Francoise Ulam [Stanislaw Ulam’s wife] said it was like a camp; you had to wear plaid. Francoise was of course Polish and French and was very fashionable. Everyone one is wearing blue jeans and everyone is wearing plaid shirts.
That takes up a lot of women’s time if you are going to live that kind of life. And even though you might have a maid, you can get a maid who has never seen running water. And maybe she is going to be good with the kids, maybe she can iron, but can she work the washing machine? There were a lot of cultural levels that I think occupied women more than men, they were sort of sucked in to get the understructure going so men could come home.
One of the things Oppenheimer said was that he wanted the scientists to be happy and they should have their families. The population under five at Los Alamos by 1945, I do not know what it was but it was very large because everybody had had a baby so there was the laundry, stress on the laundry was extreme.
Kelly: Tell us, where did they recruit the maids?
Reid: From San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, San Juan—the nearby Pueblos. They would bring them up and they spoke Tewa. I thought we should all learn Tewa because everybody I thought spoke Tewa. My mother kept saying Spanish, but actually it was Tewa and that was the language we heard. I think for everybody was what you might call another goddam learning experience because they brought up these maids to help but often the maids had never been in houses like that. They did help, but I wonder what they thought when they went home. It would seem to me that everybody also helped their maids; they would be very worried the maids would have babies at home. Everybody bought pottery, which was how you helped your maid. Most of the maids were potters, and we all bought pottery, a lot of pottery and that helped them I think.
We went to Indian dances and the Indians came up to Los Alamos and the scientists taught them to square dance and then the Indians would teach us how to dance like Indians. There are pictures of trying to teach the Indians how to square dance. I think the Indians were so exotic really that when you say class came in, the Indians were in some other world. They had a whole different set of life and cultural traditions. You would pick a Pueblo and support that Pueblo and your maid.
For a long time they didn’t have cars so they would just run these little pickup trucks with a little house on the back and the Indians would crawl in and drive up to Los Alamos, but they got paid. So they put these people on a cash economy, which was for those Pueblos at that time—I have read that someone said you destroyed their culture. I don’t really think that is true, I think that the people at Los Alamos appreciated that culture because it was so different. Then they said, “Well, they bought all the pottery.” They could produce pottery faster than we could buy it. It made Maria [Montoya Martinez] famous, Maria is the great potter of San Ildefonso. All the prices of the pottery went up and if you look at what people are giving their children and grandchildren now it is a lot of pottery, we all had a lot of pottery. It seemed natural.