The Manhattan Project

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Evelyn Ellingson's Interview

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Evelyn Ellingson

Evelyn Ellingson describes working as a woman at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, expounding on the security measures but also the vibrant social life of a city populated predominantly by young men and women in their early twenties.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
September 22, 2005
Location of the Interview: 
Oak Ridge
Transcript: 

Evelyn Ellingson: My name is Evelyn Ellingson, E-L-L-I-N-G-S-O-N.  

Cynthia Kelly: And can you tell me where you’re from and how you happened to arrive in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project?

Ellingson: Well, I’m originally from Alabama and, in 1943, I was working in Atlanta, Georgia and a friend of mine from the University of Alabama—we went to school together—was working for Tennessee Eastman in Kingsport, Tennessee. And she called me long distance and she says, “Well, they’re starting up a big project, a war project.” She says, “Now, we can’t talk about it. It’s very secret. But I think you could get a job if you would come up to Kingsport to be interviewed,” and she says, “We’ll pay your way.”

Well, you know, when you’re young and single and somebody says, “We’ll pay your way,” you’ll go anywhere. So I said I might as well go see Mary Elizabeth—that was her name. So I hopped on the train in Atlanta and went to Kingsport, Tennessee, and was interviewed by Mr. Ronald Flannery, who was head of the accounting department of Tennessee Eastman. And he offered me a job. And I was trying to think this morning how much I made; I think it was 135 dollars a month, and so I told him, well, yes, I’d take the job.

But I went back to Atlanta and resigned my job there and then went to Kingsport. And we stayed in Kingsport for about three weeks ‘til the group of people from Kingsport that were to operate the plant here in Oak Ridge moved from Kingsport to Oak Ridge.  

Now, there was no place to live in Oak Ridge, so my friend and I, we lived in Fountain City for three weeks and commuted from Fountain City to Oak Ridge ‘til there was housing here. And she had a car, and so there were three men in the neighborhood where we were staying in Fountain City that rode with us. So, in other words, we had a car pool for those three weeks from Fountain City to Oak Ridge.  

Our offices were in the old AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] building, which is where the present DOE [Department of Energy] building is. It was the first building there, and they were actually building that building around us. We had an office, but we actually didn’t do any work because people were coming in all the time and we were just getting settled. 

Now, the first place there was to live were the dormitories, and so when the first dormitory was opened, which was the dormitory for women—and they were numbered like W1, W2, W3. And the one I lived in was W3 and it was called Beacon Hall, and it was right there on Central Avenue.

We still have Central Avenue in Oak Ridge, and it was where the one skyscraper that Oak Ridge has, that Jackson Plaza is now, and that’s where the dormitories were for women, right in that area. Right across the street was the central cafeteria where everybody ate, and that was the only place to eat, so you saw everybody there. 

What else do you want to know?  

Kelly: So how old were you when you arrived?

Ellingson: I was twenty-four, I guess. Yeah. Twenty-four.

Kelly: What was it like to be part of this community of mostly twenty-somethings?

Ellingson: Oh yes, oh it was delightful! There were a lot of single men and there were lots of single women, so we had a good time. And, as we remember, in the back of central cafeteria there was a big room, and in that room they had a juke box, our nickelodeon, you know. And every night after dinner, a lot of us would go in that room and dance. 

And that is where I met my husband. And the men would come in there and the women would go in there and we would dance. And the men’s dormitories were down sort of behind the central cafeteria. They were on that road back there—what is that? Tyrone Road? Well anyway, back in there, and that’s where my husband lived with his friend. 

So we had a good time, and Mary Elizabeth, my friend, and I, we roomed together. And she had a car. We went into Knoxville an awful lot because there wasn’t anything, of course, in Oak Ridge, and there weren’t any places to eat in Oak Ridge. So I think we frequented every restaurant in Knoxville at the time just to find some different place to eat, and to have something to do.  

One of the main places we’d go to for a nice dinner was Johnson Hall, and that was the dining room that was in the—what was the name of the hotel? 

Bob Ellingson: Johnson Hotel.

Ellingson: Oh yes, Andrew Johnson Hotel.  How could I forget—Tennessean from East Tennessee. 

And it was a nice dining room where they had the white tablecloths, you know, and then they had waiters waiting on you and all of that. So for a treat we would go to Johnson Hall for dinner. And Regas Restaurant was open at that time, and we’d go to Regas’ quite a bit. And, as I said, it was just a lot of young people and we had a good time.  

[Tape switch.]

Kelly: I was going to ask you about any trouble with all of the security and the secrecy and, you know, living behind a fence, and getting in and out with the passes. What was that like, having to wear a badge everywhere? 

Ellingson: Well we had to wear a badge everywhere. That really wasn’t any trouble. I wasn’t in any position, just to be truthful, where I handled any secret information or anything like that. 

I did want to say—I’m like everybody else—we have to talk about the mud.  

Beacon Hall was across the turnpike from where we were, the AEC building, and we walked to work. And it was in the days of the mud, and there were days when we literally carried our shoes and walked to work barefooted. And, after we got there, we would wash our feet and put our shoes on because you wouldn’t dare wear your shoes through all that mud, you know. 

But, as I said, I didn’t have any problems with security or anything like that. We wore our badge everywhere and became quite accustomed to that. That didn’t particularly bother us. But that was it.  

Kelly: What are some of your fondest memories, or do you remember any funny incidents? Some little anecdote you want to share?

Ellingson: You know, I can’t remember anything particularly. We’ve got some funny ones on my husband but I can’t recall—I know there were some, but I can’t recall anything that was particularly funny. 

Kelly: So how do you feel overall about your days, your years, the time spent in the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge?

Ellingson: It was a wonderful experience and I feel very fortunate that I had this opportunity and that I came here, and met Bob here. And we’ve remained here, had two daughters, and one daughter still lives here. And I have a granddaughter that’s now a senior in high school here. And so Oak Ridge has been just a marvelous place: wonderful people and lots of interesting activities, and just a nice place to live, a very happy time. 

[End]

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