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Community continues discussion with ‘Manhattan’ episode 5

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WGN’s “Manhattan” continues with another dramatic episode and great turnout for the Los Alamos Historical Society’s viewing of the fifth episode, which aired Aug. 24. 

Below are some of the common questions that the Historical Society heard that night and on social media. Every week the society will be updating a bulletin board in the museum to continue exploring questions and reactions as the 13-episode series continues. Previous episodes are discussed at losalamoshistory.org, on the Facebook page and in the museum. 

Join the Los Alamos Historical Society Sundays at Time Out Pizzeria in Los Alamos from 8–9:30 p.m. for a viewing and discussion of “Manhattan” (TV-14 rating). 

Did Richard Lavro exist? Did scientists have communist connections?

Richard Lavro did not exist. However, many scientists had communist ties before the Manhattan Project, and some during. Oppenheimer himself had past associations with communist organizations, which was a continuing concern for the FBI. The Solvay Conference, mentioned in this episode, did occur, and it was not uncommon for scientists from around the world to attend this and other conferences. Both Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr attended the 1927 Solvay Conference.

Was there prostitution?

Richard Rhodes quotes Town Council member Robert Wilson in The Making of the Atomic Bomb: “(The M.P.’s) recommended that we close (a certain women’s dorm) and dismiss the occupants. A tearful group of young ladies appeared before us to argue to the contrary. Supporting them, a determined group of bachelors argued even more persuasively against closing the dorm. It seems that the girls had been doing a flourishing business of requiting the basic needs of our young men, and at a price. All understandable to the army until disease reared its ugly head, hence their interference. By the time we got that matter straightened out — and we did decide to continue —I was a considerably more learned physicist than I intended to be a few years earlier…” (566–567)

Was Thin Man too fat?

The weight and size of atomic weapons did necessitate some changes to the bombers that would carry them, but weight concerns were not what made Thin Man, the gun-type plutonium bomb, ultimately not a viable design. Rather, the physics of reactor-produced plutonium meant that a gun-type bomb was not an optimal design.

Were there laws against homosexuality?

Yes, it was illegal in the United States and in the Soviet Union, as Glen Babbit mentioned in the episode, and he was correct in saying it was punishable with hard labor in the Soviet Union. It was also illegal in Great Britain, where mathematician Alan Turing was aiding the war effort at Bletchley Park. He successfully deciphered coded messages from German naval Enigma machines. In 1952, he was convicted of “gross indecency” and died two years later from cyanide poisoning, ruled a suicide.

Was there a historical character like Abby?

It is mentioned that Abby comes from a wealthy family. One real life story of a wealthy woman on the Hill is that of the heir of Joseph Pulitzer II, the editor and publisher of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Elinor Pulitzer married the Project’s medical director, Louis Hempelmann. 

Elinor was very wealthy and part of all the society columns. She arrived in Los Alamos with a lavish wardrobe. Not knowing how to cook or clean for herself, she made the most of it. 

In 109 East Palace, Jennet Conant recounts a story of Elinor waiting until her guests arrived for a dinner party to put the roast in the oven. Her guests all became so drunk waiting for the meat to cook that she earned a reputation as a fantastic hostess.

Notables:

• The bedtime story Charlie was reading was the story of the Sandman in Han Christian Andersen’s Ole Lukøje.

• The call letters for the radio station were KRS, not KPS.

• Although New Mexico did receive federal funds in the 1930s and early 1940s for road construction, including paving, most roads around Los Alamos were not paved and painted.

• The electric blender was patented in 1922.

• Chanel No. 5 was promoted beyond Coco Chanel’s boutiques in France in the 1940s. The directors of Parfums Chanel decided to sell the perfume at military PXs, which worked well as it became a product coveted by soldiers to send to their sweethearts back home.