In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Perpetual Shadows: Representing the Atomic Age
  • DeeDee Halleck (bio)

Figures


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Figure 1.

Perpetual shadows. Film frame from Hiroshima-Nagasaki, August 1945. Photo courtesy Erik Barnouw.


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Figure 2.

The author’s father’s Reunion T-shirt. Courtesy DeeDee Halleck.


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Figure 3.

Irradiated dime from Oak Ridge. Courtesy DeeDee Halleck.


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Figure 4a.

Film frames from Hiroshima-Nagasaki, August 1945. Photos courtesy Erik Barnouw.


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Figure 4b.

Film frames from Hiroshima-Nagasaki, August 1945. Photos courtesy Erik Barnouw.


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Figure 4c.

Film frames from Hiroshima-Nagasaki, August 1945. Photos courtesy Erik Barnouw.


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Figure 5.

Film frame of “human effects,” from Hiroshima-Nagasaki, August 1945. Photo courtesy Erik Barnouw.

I grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a government reservation bent on atomic weapon construction. When my family moved there in 1946, Oak Ridge was still a top secret town, though everyone knew the atomic bomb was developed in its factories enclosed in barbed wire. In fact, Oak Ridge itself was encircled in barbed wire: it had gates at each end of the highway that passed through town where guards would study ID cards before they let you in or out. This atmosphere of secrecy and intrigue made it hard to gossip about the place when we went to visit relatives back in Saint Louis. My parents were uncharacteristically vague about just where we lived in Tennessee. There was no discussion of what my father did. He was a lowly metals research engineer, but as far as I knew, he might have been Oppenheimer’s assistant. Out of a sense of “ignorance is bliss,” my three sisters and I didn’t want to know.

As a child, I sensed that neither of my parents liked the fact that Oak Ridge was identified with atomic weaponry—especially since the government had actually used the bomb during World War II. The national celebration, so prevalent in Life magazine’s version of post-war America, did not extend to that part of Tennessee. Maybe Oak Ridge knew too much. But as the months went by, Oak Ridgers began to be proud of their role in ending the war. At the drug store, you could buy a pennant with the name “Oak Ridge” surrounded by [End Page 71] little mushroom clouds. One of our school softball teams called themselves the “Neutrinos.” A new red, white and blue sign went up as the guarded gates went down: “Welcome to Oak Ridge—Birthplace of the Atomic Age.” Slowly, Oak Ridge was opening up to the outside world.

An “Army town,” Oak Ridge offered few official cultural activities. There weren’t any museums or galleries. Many of the scientists were refugees from war-torn Europe, or MIT and Princeton post-docs who were accustomed to elite high culture. To help fill this cultural vacuum, my parents were part of a group that started a symphony orchestra. It wasn’t hard to fill the second violin section. And there were probably more oboe players in Oak Ridge than in all of Eastern Tennessee at that time.

One day, city officials announced that there would be a new museum of atomic energy. Its slogan was “Atoms for Peace!” The atomic energy industry was just getting underway, and the possibility of atomic power excited people. Oak Ridgers even talked about having little reactors in automobiles. My dad was part of a team to design a plane that was powered by an onboard reactor. (For their twenty-five year reunion, the veterans of this ill-fated project made a commemorative tee-shirt with a white elephant, flying Dumbo-like, grinning mischievously.

Everyone was excited about the new museum. Finally, Oak Ridge would have a cultural institution with a theme ideally suited to the town’s history and place in the world: atomic science! A museum of atomic energy would show school children and tourists alike the glorious possibilities of the atomic age. And, it would establish Oak Ridge as...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3354
Print ISSN
0160-6840
Pages
pp. 70-76
Launched on MUSE
1998-04-01
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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