From the Manhattan Project to Manhattan: My New Family

I met Larry in December and we married June 2nd the following summer. Several friends advised me not to get pregnant right away. I assured them I wouldn’t. I waited a whole three months.

Then the day came that many of us were told our tour of duty with the Manhattan Project on the Berkeley campus was over. Larry and I were both offered to continue with the Project either in Oakridge, Tennessee or Los Alamos, New Mexico. We decided to decline. Larry was hired at a new project for the war, based in Manhattan in New York City. His office was on the 64th floor of the Empire State Building. I wanted to stay home to take care of our baby, “Little Larry.” We sublet an apartment on the sixth floor in Knickerbocker Village.

One morning Larry got up and left early on a Saturday to go to work. I was feeding our baby and listening to the radio. Suddenly the announcer interrupted to say that he had been told an airplane had crashed into the Empire State Building at 9:45 a.m. I couldn’t believe it. There was nothing I could do but stay home, take care of Little Larry, and continue to listen to the radio announcements.

Time went by and I was horrified at the chaos of what was going on. Apparently the crash was between the 78th and 80th floor, and I knew Larry’s office was on the 64th floor. The Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world at the time, and the rumor was that it had been attacked by the enemy. Because of the War, many people were working a six-day work week and hundreds were now trapped in their offices, with the fire, smoke, and building damage. Elevators had crashed to the sub-basement. There was widespread panic.

My radio was still on at about 2:30 in the afternoon when in walked Larry with his briefcase. I was so grateful that he was safe. He calmly told me that all the traffic had been blocked by the incident, with fire trucks, ambulances, and emergency vehicles, so he had had to walk all the way home. He was concerned for the people who had died and been injured.

He told me that the building shook with the crash and explosions, and there was smoke and fumes. People around him were yelling and screaming and rushing to get to the elevators. He told them the elevators might not be safe, and he stayed at his desk, collected his most important papers into his briefcase, locked up his desk and files, and then started to walk down 64 floors with some of the other workers. Some were injured and had to be helped. There was broken glass, twisted metal, concrete, and other rubble, and at one point their stairway had become completely blocked. They looked all around, and found one of the elevators still seemed to be functioning. Larry felt enough time had passed that it would probably be safe, and took it down. Then with the roads blocked off for emergency vehicles, and no other traffic allowed, he simply walked all the way home.

What had happened that morning, July 28th, 1945 was that the pilot of a US Army B-52 bomber on a routine personnel transport mission became disoriented in the heavy fog and crashed through the windows and walls of the 74th floor. Parts of the engine flew ahead and severed the cables of two elevators, which crashed all the way down. The high octane fuel in the plane exploded within the building, hurling flames and fumes down through hallways and stairwells inside. People passed out due to the smoke and fumes. Fourteen people died and twenty-six others were seriously injured.

Larry, Carolyn, and new baby, Larry Jr. (aka “Ren”)
Larry, Carolyn, and new baby, Larry Jr. (aka “Ren”)

 

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Larry’s job at this time was to coordinate four Universities that were all working on a project designing how to send radio messages “that could not be intercepted” by the enemy. Part of the system was that first they encoded the message, and then sent it through the airwaves in one momentary spurt. When it was received it had to be “stretched out” and then decoded. Coordinating four Universities meant that Larry was gone four days a week, traveling up and down the East Coast.

C-NewsweekOne day when he was away the news was broadcast that an atom bomb had been tested and exploded in New Mexico. I still had very disturbed feelings about having worked on that bomb. Bernard Baruch had been appointed head of the Atomic Energy Commission. I sat down and wrote a letter to him, as well as to President Roosevelt and some news magazines, about my concerns about the bomb. I was just finishing typing the letter when Larry walked in. I pulled the letter from the typewriter and said, “See what I just wrote.” He read it through, and without a word pulled out his pen and signed it! I was appalled. I wrote the letter and he signed it? After I thought about it for a while I decided that since I was a twenty-one year old housewife, and he was a physicist and electrical engineer, his signature had more weight than mine, so I sent out the letters with his name.

Later, one afternoon when he came back from his weekly trip, he told me he had been riding on the train to Boston. The man in the seat next to him asked him if he had read in the current Newsweek a particular letter to the editor, about the atom bomb. The man passed over that magazine, pointing out the letter, and Larry said to him, “I wrote it.”

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