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Pair of historic bomb viewing glasses was all the rage on eclipse day

“These” were no ordinary disposable eclipse glasses.
September 5, 2017
goggles that had been used during atmospheric nuclear tests

Photo by Joey Montoya.

“These” were no ordinary disposable eclipse glasses. They were historic goggles that had been used during atmospheric nuclear tests.

When Lab employee Eileen Patterson stepped outside building SM-28 to view the solar eclipse, she was surprised how sharp the view was despite the light cloud cover. She ran inside to tell her colleagues, “If you want to see it, use these!”

“These” were no ordinary disposable eclipse glasses. They were historic goggles that had been used during atmospheric nuclear tests.

“The glasses I brought to work were the bomb glasses my father used to view nuclear tests in the Pacific. Specifically, he used them during Operation Red Wing in 1956,” she said. “Operation Redwing was a series of 17 nuclear tests held at Eniwetok and Bikini in 1956, May through July. The tests were of both Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence  Livermore National Laboratory designs.”

<1950s photo of people in radiaiton goggles

Patterson had used the bomb goggles many years ago to watch another partial eclipse.

“If you’ve got something fun, you might as well share,” she said.

So, she went to visit her friends Lisa Lindberg and Mary Timmers, not realizing that when they joined the throngs gathered outside the Lab's main office building, she would be tapped to share the historic goggles with a couple dozen labbies.

“It turned into a mob scene,” she said, “because everyone wanted to use those because they gave a better view.”

Unlike the disposable glasses most people used, her father’s bomb glasses fit completely over the eyes, shutting out all light.

“I’m surprised there weren’t more pairs of these goggles floating around yesterday. I can’t be the only one who still has a pair,” she said.

Bomb glasses are from father who did nuclear testing in Pacific

A storyteller by trade, Patterson of Communication Arts and Services (CPA-CAS) couldn’t resist sharing stories about her prized goggles and the man who wore them.

Her father, Frank Tallmadge, was a physicist-engineer who started working at the Laboratory in 1948.

“He brought his pair [of glasses] home with him, along with the crude, handmade sign that was posted in what he called ‘the recreation area’ on Eniwetok: ‘Goony Bird Athletic Club.’ The fact that ‘goony bird’ is misspelled (should be ‘gooney bird’) makes the sign all the funnier," Patterson said. "I don’t know if ‘recreation area’ was a place where the guys played volleyball or if it was a bar (could have been either one). He hung the sign over his workbench in our basement. It’s now hanging in my art studio. The bomb glasses are also hung there. I’ve had them so long that I almost forgot about them. I remembered them right before I left for work yesterday.”

Patterson said she plans to donate the handmade sign to the Bradbury Science Museum some day. “It’s a one-of-a-kind piece,” she said.

Her recollections of her father’s mysterious career drive home the harrowing work of the past.

“My father was one of the LANL scientists associated with the second shot of the series, Cherokee, a LANL-designed 3.8-megaton thermonuclear bomb dropped from a plane on May 20, 1956. It was the United States’ first air-dropped thermonuclear bomb," she said. "I don’t know exactly what his role was. I was too young to understand any of that, and our fathers never talked about their jobs anyway because everything was classified. I do know that on Eniwetok he had to sleep on a cot next to the bomb (it was huge) with one wrist chained to the bomb and a satchel of papers about the bomb chained to his other wrist.”

Patterson said she wished she had asked her father more questions before he died in 1990.

Story contributed by Diana Del Mauro