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"I'll go out there and cut the chain for you and put on a new padlock, but I won't go in there, not for anything."
October 20, 2010 8:31 AM   Subscribe

"Then the powers that had built the site abandoned it. But the glass endured — a splotchy green circle 200 feet in diameter, dull by night, bright by day, a monument to man's inhumanity to man. This monument was surrounded by a high fence, tight strands of barbed wire, and multilingual warning signs. The gate in the fence was chained with three padlocks — two put there by government agencies — serving as links in the chain. If you got through any of the three, you could gain admission to Trinity Site. And that's what I did. In July, 1951, I entered the site, and I took the glass. Let me explain.
posted by anastasiav (43 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there a mirror for this somewhere?
posted by tmt at 8:45 AM on October 20, 2010


Google cache
posted by phirleh at 8:53 AM on October 20, 2010


Not even the Google Cache for this page is loading. Grrrr.

I'll just say now that I grew up with a chunk of trinitite. Or rather, my father has a piece in the bottom drawer of his dresser with all his other odd knick-knacks and stuff. The details on how he got it are fuzzy for me, but I've seen it a few times. Pretty green stuff.

But then, growing up in southern NM, you encounter oddness attached to White Sands Missile Range and Los Alamos quite a bit. I never really thought much about it.
posted by hippybear at 8:56 AM on October 20, 2010


Weird. That paragraph in the OP reminded me of Ozymandias.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:59 AM on October 20, 2010


no load
posted by clavdivs at 9:03 AM on October 20, 2010


Site's responding, but very slow. Google cache is too; I think it's still trying to retrieve images. Maybe turn images off in your browser, try again.

The article is about Ralph Pray removing Trinitite from The Trinity bomb test site. It's rather haunting, and you get a sense that Pray is really trying to atone for his involvement in America's nuclear weapons program.

another recollection of the site by Pray.
posted by boo_radley at 9:06 AM on October 20, 2010


Federal agencies had been sponsoring an annual trek to worship at Trinity, and the green disc of radioactive glass was there for innocents to pray over.

Really!? I've been out to the spot and my only reaction was to spit in the sand (for all the good it did...) and stare at the cloudless sky before heading back to the pecan groves of La Mesilla to sit in the shade and watch the Rio Grande flow by. I can't imagine what wretched sort of religion would encourage it's penitents to pray at an altar as mean as that in such an unforgiving land.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 9:06 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Trinity site is open to the public twice a year. Go scavange your own trinitite: there are still pieces left in the sand, in addition to a couple square yards or so of untouched glass under protection.
posted by hanoixan at 9:07 AM on October 20, 2010


Here another account of trinitite collection. Seems similar but not the same, as the original link.
posted by Danf at 9:12 AM on October 20, 2010


I finally got the article to load, and you know... I wish that there were a few more photographs or other evidence of the veracity of this man's story.

Because a lot of the details just feel wrong to me.

Why would anyone drive from Trinity site to El Paso to visit a rock shop to get the samples geiger tested? That's, like, a 3 hour drive. Albuquerque is MUCH closer. And I'm sure it took a LOT longer in 1951, before any of the interstates were built.

And fighter planes aren't stationed at White Sands. Maybe he meant Holloman AFB or maybe Ft. Bliss.

And, well, yeah. Maybe it's the intervening years which have allowed the story to grow in his mind before he wrote it down or something... but there is a lot about this telling which just tastes wrong to me. Makes me wonder how much of any of it is true.
posted by hippybear at 9:13 AM on October 20, 2010


Oops. . .boo_radley has the same link. Use his. . . .It is a much better link.
posted by Danf at 9:13 AM on October 20, 2010


Ah, okay, I missed some details as to why he would be going to El Paso.

Eh, whatever. The whole thing still feels somehow false to me, but I won't be the one to call it an outright lie. Maybe he did carry 4 pickup-loads of trinitite out of central New Mexico to be buried in 55 gallon drums up near Los Alamos. *shrug*
posted by hippybear at 9:18 AM on October 20, 2010


i think Kirkland covers white sands.
posted by clavdivs at 9:19 AM on October 20, 2010


This could be a great opening paragraph to a very interesting novel.
posted by sharkitect at 9:19 AM on October 20, 2010


I can't imagine what wretched sort of religion would encourage it's penitents to pray at an altar as mean as that...

Here you go
posted by DU at 9:21 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


One reason to drive it to El Paso instead of pretty much anyplace else in Central New
Mexico is because there were a lot of people that worked on the Bomb, from Socorro to
Santa Fe, and they were mostly still there in 1951, and they might have recognized the
stuff, and dropped a dime on him.

The footprint of the Bomb on New Mexico was a lot larger in 1951, just a few years after
the success of the Manhattan Project.

Kirtland Air Force Base, is in Albuquerque.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:41 AM on October 20, 2010


If this is true, it seems to me to be a great disservice to history.

Perhaps he feels he is erasing a blight, but what he is erasing is history. What was done that day MUST be remembered, both for the greatness of it, and for the horror, and deciding for yourself that the evidence must be removed from the sight of future generations is hubris of the most dangerous kind.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:53 AM on October 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I had a piece of Trinitite as a boy, as well. I think they sold it through Edmund Scientific.
posted by kozad at 9:53 AM on October 20, 2010


hippybear:
Early in the piece he makes reference to buying a truck in El Paso, and mentions selling jewlery in Juarez, 'across the bridge from El Paso.' He also visits an El Paso hardware store; my guess is he was living in El Paso at the time, which would make it very much not out of the way...
posted by kaibutsu at 9:56 AM on October 20, 2010


Then the powers that had built the site abandoned it. -- I don't know that they abandoned it. I think they just put it on an underpowered server.
posted by crunchland at 10:00 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Perhaps he feels he is erasing a blight, but what he is erasing is history.

Somehow, I don't feel preserving a chunk of radioactive glass is really "erasing history". There's been thousands of bomb testings since and I'm sure whatever point in the future people can't remember the horror of nuclear weapons means either they're no longer generally available or we've moved up to something worse.
posted by yeloson at 10:00 AM on October 20, 2010


I was just at the Trinity Site three weeks ago. They open it to the public the first weekend in April and in October. It was a pretty great experience. My Dad and I are both fascinated by the Manhattan Project. That seems odd, but he took some business trips to WSMR some times, having worked for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing for 40 years. So I guess it runs in the family.

I was surprised to actually find some Trinitite in the sand. I put a piece in my pocket, then thought it better to leave it behind for someone else to find and marvel over.
posted by little_c at 10:06 AM on October 20, 2010


I can't imagine what wretched sort of religion would encourage it's penitents to pray at an altar as mean as that in such an unforgiving land.

Not saying it's right, but given the other option -

Casualty predictions varied widely but were extremely high for both sides: depending on the degree to which Japanese civilians resisted the invasion, estimates ran into the millions for Allied casualties[1] and tens of millions for Japanese casualties.

- I can understand why a lot of people were ecstatically happy in the years following WWII that it ended the way it did.
posted by Ahab at 10:06 AM on October 20, 2010


The sound of my tires on the virgin glass was like breaking soda crackers.

It's kind of making me mad, and ill.
posted by polyhedron at 10:08 AM on October 20, 2010


At my request, mathowie has replaced my original link with the one boo_radley posted above, as they have the same content. This was the original (now overwhelmed) link.
posted by anastasiav at 10:16 AM on October 20, 2010


It's a neat story, but part of me is thinking "Thanks for ruining ground zero for everyone else, crazyman!"
posted by Artw at 10:23 AM on October 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how a miner can say: "Near the center of this vast expanse lies man's first great insult against the earth". I would call strip-mining a "insult against the earth" (if I thought the Earth a person that could be insulted). Mountain-top removal didn't start until 1967, but contour strip mining and pit mining existed before then. To me, the digging of an ugly hole in the ground is in insult, as is all the pollution it creates.
posted by thylacine at 10:28 AM on October 20, 2010


This is exactly what Dag spilled all over the place in Douglas Coupland's Generation X (third link, to page 76).
posted by limeonaire at 10:41 AM on October 20, 2010


So, can we get pictures of this special glass? And does it bestow super powers?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:46 AM on October 20, 2010


I went out to the bomb site about ten years ago during the October opening, and it was haunting. There were people praying at (not *to*) Ground Zero while I was there. The rest of us wandered around the area kind of dazedly, while members of the military kept watch. It was barren and dead, kind of like you'd picture the desert in The Dark Tower, and surrounded by a low barbed wire fence. It was also very windy. The remains of the site that were still there, like the bunker, made the whole experience that much more surreal and somber. The atmosphere was much more suited to a memorial than any of the famous memorials in Washington, where people walk around laughing and taking pictures of each other. Reading that this one man took it upon himself to cart away one of those most singular things about the original area just made me viscerally angry. I'm pretty sure rocks have no feeling about the difference between their spiritual and physical locations.

Though upon reading other accounts of the bomb site, I'm finding completely different sizes for the trinitite radius, as well as reports that the government bulldozed and buried it there. I've seen a few sources that say it was fairly radioactive after the explosion. In fact, if it was that radioactive and he purposely moved it closer to human-occupied areas to "save" that spot of the desert, that makes him even more of a dick. If it was not radioactive and he moved it, then he desecrated one of those areas that would have been better frozen in time. If it was radioactive, burying it far out in the desert was the best thing.

By the way, it is illegal to scavenge the remaining trinitite.
posted by wending my way at 10:48 AM on October 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, can we get pictures of this special glass?

Google Image search for Trinite
posted by anastasiav at 10:57 AM on October 20, 2010


You can buy trinitite (or what they claim is trinitite from united nuclear.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:20 AM on October 20, 2010


Why the green color?
posted by odinsdream at 11:43 AM on October 20, 2010


Don't know this for sure with regard to trinitite, but glass is often naturally green. It usually requires decoloring during manufacture.
posted by Ahab at 11:47 AM on October 20, 2010


> but glass is often naturally green

See image search for Libyan Desert Glass, created by nature's own kinetic megatonnage.

So it's American Desert Glass, the Highway of Diamonds with nobody on it.
posted by billb at 12:21 PM on October 20, 2010


I can understand why a lot of people were ecstatically happy in the years following WWII that it ended the way it did.

I'm not even gonna wade in on that race (it's been hashed out at holiday dinners in my family since time immemorial, and if my grandfather who served in the South Pacific felt no need to weigh in, then I have even less reason to). But to worship at (or to) that site seems odd. I'm a pretty set-in-his way, non-militant atheist, but even I've seen things that caused me to stop and consider my place in the universe on occasion, and if I were to be compelled to stop in that particular stretch of earth again, I'd far more likely be put in my place by the overwhelming expanse of the night sky above than the wasted and wrecked earth below.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:07 PM on October 20, 2010


Kirtland Air Force Base, is in Albuquerque.


why, yes it is.
posted by clavdivs at 1:43 PM on October 20, 2010


Yeah,I got a chunk of trinitite from United Nuclear. They sell all sorts of fun stuff.
posted by Relay at 2:06 PM on October 20, 2010


James Accord makes art from nuclear waste.
posted by Danf at 2:32 PM on October 20, 2010


Fascinating story, thanks for posting. Good Metafilter.
posted by Area Control at 4:07 PM on October 20, 2010


Somehow, I don't feel preserving a chunk of radioactive glass is really "erasing history". There's been thousands of bomb testings since and I'm sure whatever point in the future people can't remember the horror of nuclear weapons means either they're no longer generally available or we've moved up to something worse.

Well, you can't erase history, but you can erase people's sensory connections to it. I suppose you could remove this, and people wouldn't exactly forget what happened there. Is knowing the history, or seeing a picture of it, equivalent to seeing a site like that? I'll save you the suspense. It is not.

Can't speak for the "prayer" element of it, in that I have no idea what these particular people have going through their heads. Hiroshima gets a lot of war tourism I don't quite get either. But the mayor also regularly hosts prayer -- for world peace -- and that seems entirely appropriate.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:43 PM on October 20, 2010


In fact, if it was that radioactive and he purposely moved it closer to human-occupied areas to "save" that spot of the desert, that makes him even more of a dick. If it was not radioactive and he moved it, then he desecrated one of those areas that would have been better frozen in time. If it was radioactive, burying it far out in the desert was the best thing.

Well, he does claim that it ended up in nuclear waste drums at Los Alamos, presumably c/o his contact in Santa Fe.

my guess is he was living in El Paso

He states that he was in school at Fort Bliss, which is adjacent to El Paso (which has grown around it, so it's like a pie slice taken out).

I do feel this was tilting at windmills somewhat, or at any rate closing a barn door well past the horses making book. The trinitite "belongs" to history and to that location. The location has, obviously, endured as an icon or even an altar of sorts. Its relevance has little to do with the artifacts.

You can't stuff the Atomic Age back into the Gadget.
posted by dhartung at 10:10 PM on October 20, 2010


Went out there in April of '07. It was cold as hell but there were hundreds of people. There were even a dozen or so vendors in the parking lot selling everything from hot dogs to keychains.
posted by slightly ridiculous at 10:54 AM on October 21, 2010


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