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Unstoppable in his quest for peace, longtime Los Alamos crusader Ed Grothus lost his battle with cancer. He died quietly about noon Thursday in his Los Alamos home surrounded by family.
“When one is legendary, one must do legendary things,” Grothus often said. And so he did.
One need only Google his name to find him the subject of a trove of newspaper stories and magazine articles from around the world. Grothus, 85, also is the subject of several documentaries and a video that streams on YouTube.
“Ed Grothus was one of a kind,” said Executive Director Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group. “His passing leaves a unique void in the broader Los Alamos community. More than most, Ed was irreplaceable. He goes now to join his predecessors in the community of souls who have fought indefatigably for humanity’s survival in the nuclear age.”
Mello described Grothus as “easy to underestimate.”
"The man I knew grew every year, his messages gradually simpler, honing in toward humanity’s common and unchanging moral storehouse,” Mello said. “He crafted a persona that gave him freedom to act, playing the fool to say serious things that his beloved community might otherwise forget. He enriched a wide audience, helping all of us in the nuclear drama to ‘remember our humanity,’ as the Einstein-Russell manifesto put it - Who will do that now?”
Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesman Jeff Berger spoke of Grothus during an interview this morning. “Ed Grothus was a spirited person and outspoken and his outspokenness sometimes was directed at the lab,” Berger said. “But I think everyone can admire the fact that he was engaged and engaging and we send our condolences to his family and friends.”
Grothus arrived in Los Alamos in 1949. He often described his work at Los Alamos National Laboratory as “making better bombs.” After he retired in 1969, Grothus increased his anti-nuclear activities and opened The Black Hole at 4015 Arkansas Ave.
People came from all over the world to meet him and see his unusual establishment overflowing with laboratory surplus equipment, peace sayings and anti-nuke slogans.
“Welcome to the black hole museum of nuclear waste,” Grothus said to visitors.
Mello said that the artifacts Grothus collected from the past and the obelisks he wished to project into the future, together seemed to comprise an instrument in which the nuclear conscience could be caught and held against forgetting – held long enough, he hoped, by the products of human craft that he loved, to be healed.
“He wanted us to pause and to look into the broken and cast-off tools of science and find a mirror there in which we could see its brokenness and our own – the beginning, perhaps, of wisdom,” Mello said. “His death leaves a great void in the world.”
Grothus became interesting to writers and film makers as word of his activism and his activities at The Black Hole grew. Through his frequent letters to the editor and to anyone who would listen, Grothus spoke out against nuclear weapons and the war.
“One bomb is too many,” he would say. He quietly protested the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima each year at Ashley Pond. He spent the last couple of years focused on the creation of twin obelisks, he called the Doomsday Stones or Rosetta Stones for the Nuclear Age.
Grothus commissioned the thick granite pillars topped with large globes from a company in China. They cost some $200,000 to manufacture and ship to him. The 40-ton, 42-foot tall monuments remain in containers at The Black Hole because he wasn’t able to obtain permission to erect them in the county.
The family hopes to realize his dream of placing them in Los Alamos. They also are talking with a nearby Pueblo that has expressed an interest, his daughter Barbara said.
Grothus told people his obelisks were not to celebrate the bomb but to make note of the most important man-caused event in the history of the world.
The inscription on the monuments is translated into 15 languages:
“Welcome to Los Alamos, New Mexico, the United States of America, the city of fire. Our fires are brighter than a thousand suns. It was once believed that only God could destroy the world, but scientists working in Los Alamos first harnessed the power of the atom. The power released through fission and fusion gives many men the ability to commence the destruction of all life on Earth … nuclear bombs cannot be used rationally and dreams for safe and useful nuclear power may never be realized. It is only in Los Alamos that the potentials for unimagined, fantastic good and demonstrated, horrendous evil are proximate.”
Grothus was known for wearing a wide variety of bolo ties, many adorned with large turquoise stones, others with DOE medals. Some 20 or more hung on the bed post near where he lay dying.
When certain people came to see him in his final days, Grothus would motion toward the bolos and his daughter would say, “he wants you to have one.”
Grothus and his wife Margaret were married for 57 years. Together they had five children. Their youngest son, Ted, died in a motorcycle accident in 1976.
The Black Hole will remain open for the foreseeable future, Barbara said. The family intends to hold a number of large sales to thin out some of the inventory.
“It’s going to take time,” Barbara said, adding she isn’t sure what the family will ultimately do about the business.
Friends are invited to a viewing from 1-5 p.m. Sunday at DeVargas Funeral Home at 623 N. Railroad Ave., in Española. There will be a private interment at Guaje Pines Cemetery. A public memorial service is set for 2 p.m., April 4 at Duane Smith Auditorium.