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Nov. 10-17: Celebrate Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Join in anniversary festivities at home or in Los Alamos!
October 30, 2020
Structures and landscapes from Project Y, the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos Site, are spread across downtown Los Alamos and inside Los Alamos National Laboratory. Since 2018, more than 300 people have been on guided tours on Lab property (shown above), which fill up fast. “I’ve waited 62 years for this tour,” one visitor said.

Structures and landscapes from Project Y, the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos Site, are spread across downtown Los Alamos and inside Los Alamos National Laboratory. Since 2018, more than 300 people have been on guided tours on Lab property (shown above, pre-pandemic), which fill up fast. “I’ve waited 62 years for this tour,” one visitor said.

Contact  

  • Stacy Baker
  • CPA-CPO
  • (505) 664-0244
  • Email

At an official ceremony five years ago on Nov. 10, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior declared the Manhattan Project National Historical Park “... will share with the world the story of one of America’s most transformative scientific discoveries that fundamentally altered the course of the 20th century.” This one-of-a-kind national historical park is fulfilling its mission at its Los Alamos site through preservation work and eye-opening ways to experience the remnants of our Secret City.

During the second week of November, families and online visitors are invited to celebrate the park’s fifth anniversary, along with Los Alamos County, the Bradbury Science Museum, the Los Alamos Historical Society and other local partners.

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Former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz sign a memorandum of agreement between the two agencies in 2015, formally establishing the park. Rather than being in one place, this park spans Site W at Hanford, Washington; Site X at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Project Y at Los Alamos, New Mexico — all of which played a crucial role in the top-secret government project to create the world’s first atomic weapon.

Go, see, do (and stay safe)

Speakers and events

Virtual and in-person celebrations are planned. Please follow the state’s COVID-19 precautions if you choose to attend activities at the park.

Get details and registration information by visiting the webpage for the celebration. For updates, watch the Los Alamos County or park Facebook pages. Questions? Contact Linda Matteson at linda.matteson@lacnm.us or 505-662-8086.

Tuesday, Nov. 10, noon webinar, panel of guest speakers will recollect origins of park and discuss future plans.

Wednesday, Nov. 11, PAC-8 will broadcast footage captured during the Los Alamos Site Grand Opening held on Veterans Day 2015.

Thursday, Nov. 12, new digital display unveiled in Fuller Lodge lobby at 8 a.m., Historic District’s Walking Tour begins at 11 a.m. (register now); 5 p.m. webinar, “History of the Making of the Park,” Atomic Heritage Foundation founder and President Cindy Kelly. Projects related to the Manhattan Project and the history of Los Alamos will be featured on Facebook throughout the day, including a special Manhattan Project stamp promotion.

Saturday, Nov. 14, family fun scavenger hunt engaging locals and online visitors in a search for clues related to the Manhattan Project.

Sunday, Nov. 15, virtual tour online of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) Building recently acquired by Los Alamos County.

Monday, Nov. 16, in-person guided tours of the Historic District continue along with many other promotions offered through the County’s Facebook Page. Register now.

Tuesday, Nov. 17, SPY DAY offers a rebooted spy tour on Facebook and a special spy article from LANL; 6 p.m. virtual lecture, "The 'Best-Kept Secret of the War'? The Successes and Failures of Manhattan Project Secrecy," historian Alex Wellerstein, Stevens Institute of Technology.

Secret City app

Designed to feel like a computer game, the “The Secret City: Project Y” mobile application allows you to wander around and explore Los Alamos as it was in 1945! Download the free, overhauled version at the Apple App Store or Google Play App Store beginning on Thursday, Nov. 12.

Walk into the atomic age

The park offers a self-guided tour of historic sites in downtown Los Alamos, which you can easily do while following COVID-19 social-distancing precautions. Get the site map.

Junior Ranger Badge

Children can earn their very own Junior Ranger badge by learning about the science and history of the Manhattan Project and World War II. Here’s the booklet for Los Alamos (PDF). The visitor center is temporarily closed but children can mail completed booklets to Manhattan Project National Historical Park, 475 20th Street, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

Shop souvenirs

In celebration of the 5-year anniversary, you’ll get a 10% discount on park merchandise at the Gadgets museum gift shop Nov. 9-15. Use the code MAPR10. Shop online. Or shop in person Nov. 13, 10 a.m.-noon, at the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce.

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Los Alamos National Laboratory is re-launching “The Secret City: Project Y” mobile app.

30 historic sites at Los Alamos

Because it is jointly managed and administered through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, this park is unlike any other in the National Park system. Rather than being in one place, this park spans three different locations — Site W at Hanford, Washington; Site X at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Project Y at Los Alamos, New Mexico — all of which played a crucial role in the top-secret government project to create the world’s first atomic weapon. And there’s no entry fee!

The park legislation references 17 sites at Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as 13 sites in downtown Los Alamos. These sites represent the world-changing history of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Their preservation and interpretation show visitors the scientific, social, political and cultural stories of the men and women who ushered in the atomic age.

Downtown, some buildings — like Fuller Lodge, the Guest Cottage and the Hans Bethe House (both part of Los Alamos Historical Museum) — are open to the public, but others are private or vacant properties with interpretive markers.

There are 17 properties within the Laboratory boundaries listed in the park legislation. Due to active operations at the Laboratory, a handful of historic sites are off-limits to the public. Guided tours of some historic sites on Lab property, like Pond Cabin and the Slotin Building, are available on a limited basis and fill up quickly.

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Visitors hear the story of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Laboratory’s first director, and Army Lt. General Leslie Groves, the Manhattan Project director, on a downtown walking tour. During the pandemic, you can take a self-guided walking tour or register for in-person guided tour. Photo courtesy of Los Alamos County, taken pre-pandemic.

Visitor Center welcomed 20,000 guests last year

The National Park Service operates a visitor center near Ashley Pond in the heart of Los Alamos. In 2019, over 20,000 people came into the visitor center to learn more about our town’s history! Here, visitors can watch a short film and get an official park “stamp” in their NPS passport.

Behind the scenes, Los Alamos National Laboratory is involved in helping the park achieve its purpose. “Operating a national historical park at LANL serves as a meaningful reminder of the significance of our Laboratory’s place in world history. Being entrusted to preserve, protect and educate the public about the legacy of the Manhattan Project is an honor for all of us,” said Cheryl Abeyta, the Laboratory’s program manager for the park.

The Lab’s Bradbury Science Museum also shares Manhattan Project stories through interactive exhibits, films and historic artifacts. “The Bradbury, as your window to Los Alamos National Laboratory, begins its story of the Lab with the Manhattan Project. This is fitting, in that it began the legacy of what the Lab continues to be today … in service to the country and the world for our ensured mutual security and well-being,” said Linda Deck, museum director. “We are a great place to become acquainted with, and deepen your understanding of, the Lab’s Manhattan Project origin story and work today.”

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The National Park Service Visitor Center in downtown Los Alamos. Photo courtesy of Los Alamos County.
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Bradbury Science Museum collection specialist sets up an exhibit about the Trinity test.

Touring historic sites on Lab property

“I’ve waited 62 years for this tour.” –Manhattan Project Pajarito Site tour participant

A key part of the park’s legislation is providing public access to these historically significant places. However, public access is inherently tricky at a functioning national security laboratory.

Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Manhattan Project team at LANL, the park opened TA-18 (Pajarito Site) to 12 public tours per year — allowing visitors to experience a location that profoundly impacted the Lab then and now.

Since the first guided tours began in 2018, more than 300 people have joined in this unique experience with each tour filling to capacity within 30 minutes of registration going live! One tour participant commented, “Thank you all for the opportunity to see these historic sites. It was a very moving experience.” Another said, “This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see TA-18.”

Due to COVID-19, the 2020 Los Alamos site tours were canceled, but planning and content development continues for 2021. Learn more about special tours here.

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A participant on the LANL site tour gets a peek inside Pond Cabin, where Manhattan Project scientists supported plutonium chemistry research. Lab site tours are postponed due to the pandemic.

Preserving history

One of the Laboratory’s major tasks for the park is the preservation of historically significant structures within its boundary. Together, with assistance from the National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Field Office, DOE Legacy Management, the National Park Service and Los Alamos County, the Lab ensures these historic sites remain in place, giving future generations the opportunity to learn about this world-changing era.

Preservation work presents its own challenges. Wartime pressure led to many hastily constructed buildings, which Manhattan Project scientists and engineers believed would only be needed until the end of the war. The Lab’s Historic Buildings team continuously works to maintain the integrity of Manhattan Project site structures. Concrete Bowl and Gun Site are recent accomplishments, and now the team is focused on V Site where Manhattan Project staff assembled components for the world’s first nuclear test at Trinity in 1945.

Preservation project updates are posted on the Bradbury Science Museum website and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park website.

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Before and after: Preservation work at Concrete Bowl. In an attempt to recover costly plutonium, Manhattan Project researchers constructed this bowl and built a water tank on a tower in the center. In this water tank, they would place a bomb mock-up with explosives and non-fissile material. The water from the explosion would fall into this concrete reservoir and allow researchers to filter out the bits of nuclear material.