Los Alamos National LaboratoryBradbury Science Museum
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Bradbury Science Museum

From tool to TV prop to artifact

Early Lab equipment arrives back home
June 1, 2016
From Los Alamos to TV prop and back again, this camera recorded some images too fast for the human eye to see.

From Los Alamos to TV prop and back again, this camera recorded some images too fast for the human eye to see.

When I think about the fact that there is a link between these celebrities and myself—however tenuous and remote—I get distinct fangirl chills.
When working among the collections of the Bradbury Science Museum, it’s impossible not to feel a little starstruck. Some of the most brilliant minds in the world have handled the objects in our cabinets, and it is humbling and awe-inspiring to realize they are left in my care. With gloved (of course) hands, I have carefully placed Oppenheimer’s saddle onto a decorative blanket for display. I have hefted the same camera cases Berlyn Brixner took to the Trinity test. I have also handled the dishes from which John Kennedy ate during his 1962 visit here. When I think about the fact that there is a link between these celebrities and myself—however tenuous and remote—I get distinct fangirl chills.

Thanks to a recent, very unique, acquisition circumstance, I am now in the presence of artifacts themselves that are actually TV stars!

In February, the Museum staff learned that the WGN television show Manhattan, which fictionalized events surrounding Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project, would not be renewed for a third season. We knew the show was filmed in nearby Santa Fe and wondered if we could possibly acquire any of the props that might be relevant to the collection—even if they were reproductions.

Through our contacts with the Los Alamos County Film Board, and some Lab employees who were consultants on the show, I was able to make trips to the set to collect a few items that hadn’t been sold off to other production companies.

I expected to find 1940’s-era tools and equipment that the Museum could accession and display as “examples” of items that had been used at the Lab. But I never expected to find what I did—objects that had once been Laboratory property, containing original property stamps and numbers!

Evidently, the property scouts for the TV show—in their search for period lab equipment—were able to find a source of salvaged Lab items. The production contacts who allowed us on set weren’t sure of the secondary (or even potentially tertiary) source of the items but suggested they may have been given access to the now-closed “Black Hole” surplus shop that operated for decades here in Los Alamos, as well as an electronics store in Albuquerque that sells vintage equipment.

Items from the set that have “come home” include a Leeds and Northrup Co. Speedomax recorder (turns data into graphs), a Du Mont oscillograph-record camera and film magazine, and some sort of potentiometer marked “E Division Property.” Seth Neddermeyer and Deak Parsons worked in the Engineering Division during the Manhattan Project timeframe.

The items are being cleaned, cataloged, and stored for future use. We’re not yet sure exactly how we’ll use them, but we’re glad they’re back in our hands.

Should you come across an historic item that you would like to donate to the Museum, please send a photograph and description to me at wstrohmeyer@lanl.gov.

Wendy Strohmeyer, Collections Specialist