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  • Imagine a city so shrouded in secrecy

  • it could only receive mail through a fake address

  • at a university, a place residents were discouraged

  • from using their real names, and where no one was

  • above suspicion of being a spy.

  • We're talking Los Alamos, New Mexico.

  • This wasn't just another American town.

  • It was a military facility housing the world's most highly

  • top secret and dangerous scientific research project,

  • and the people living there were building an atomic bomb.

  • Today, we're going to take a look

  • at what life was like at Los Alamos

  • while building the atomic bomb.

  • But before we don the blast suits,

  • be sure to subscribe to the Weird History Channel

  • and leave us a comment letting us

  • know what top secret government project you

  • would like to hear more about.

  • Now, shall we stare into the light of trinity?

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • When the US government decided to proceed

  • with the creation of an atomic bomb,

  • they knew maintaining secrecy would be essential.

  • With somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000 people

  • working on the project, physical isolation would be necessary.

  • Eventually, they decided to place the research facility

  • at a remote location in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

  • Mail in and out of the town was heavily monitored.

  • Scientists weren't even allowed to have magazine subscriptions

  • because the military was worried it would look suspicious.

  • The facility was surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire

  • fences.

  • Entering required passing through multiple security

  • checkpoints, and every single person involved needed security

  • clearance.

  • Despite all this, the government was still worried.

  • They understood that yappy employees were, in many ways,

  • as big of a threat as enemy agents.

  • After all, loose lips sink ships.

  • Leaders would constantly remind the scientists

  • that the things they saw, heard, and did within the ground

  • had to stay within the ground.

  • To really underscore this point, a billboard

  • was installed in a highly visible location

  • to remind everyone about staying quiet.

  • "It read, keep mum about this job."

  • Very subtle.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • When you're trying to keep a secret as big as the Manhattan

  • Project, there's no such thing as being too security

  • conscious.

  • Secrecy was vigorously enforced.

  • Scientists were forbidden from telling anyone, even

  • their spouses, about their work, and merely leaving

  • the area would require authorization.

  • One measure taken to prevent scientists and employees

  • from spreading the identities of other workers on the project

  • was to have everyone live under an assumed name.

  • In this way, a scientist couldn't even accidentally tell

  • anyone else who was involved since they didn't know who they

  • were talking to to begin with.

  • Despite the fact that they were building in a bomb there,

  • Los Alamos was an ideal place to have children.

  • Indeed, while the bomb was being developed,

  • the city experienced its own baby boom.

  • However, when it came to the Manhattan Project,

  • everything was top secret, even the babies,

  • so birth certificates from those born at Los Alamos

  • during this period was PO box 1663 New

  • Mexico as their place of birth rather than the town's name.

  • This, not coincidentally, was also

  • the address used for absolutely everything shipped

  • to the facility, whether it was a postcard

  • or a ton of machinery.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • The librarian at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project

  • was Charlotte Serber.

  • She had been asked to join the project

  • by her close friend, lead scientist J Robert Oppenheimer.

  • Part of her job included protecting

  • the sensitive materials stored in the library.

  • However, getting the scientists to observe the strict secrecy

  • rules was no easy feat.

  • On one of her nightly security sweeps through the library,

  • Serber discovered some technical specs that

  • had been left lying around.

  • She confronted the scientist responsible,

  • who sarcastically retorted that there was no need

  • to worry about this particular report falling into enemy hands

  • because the report was all wrong.

  • Regardless of her efforts and her connections,

  • Serber herself eventually came under suspicion

  • for being a communist sympathizer.

  • In 1943, she was investigated and the Army recommended firing

  • her.

  • Luckily for her, Oppenheimer dropped the power bomb,

  • insisting that she could be trusted.

  • As a result, no action was taken.

  • Boom.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • As a fully functional city, Los Alamos

  • had a school system for the children of those

  • working on the project.

  • The local school was staffed mostly

  • by the wives of the scientists and functioned

  • like any other school.

  • But the school wasn't exactly like other schools.

  • One major difference was that the children

  • were required to follow the Manhattan Project's

  • strict security rules as much as their parents were.

  • Kids as young as six years old would

  • be issued an official security ID so they could enter and exit

  • the town.

  • One resident recalled that the strict security protocols

  • benefited parents.

  • A parent who wanted to stop their kids from leaving

  • the area only needed to take their security ID away,

  • because without one, you couldn't leave Los

  • Alamos under any circumstances.

  • Oh, much like The Beach Boys song,

  • and they'll have fun, fun, fun until their daddy took

  • their top secret government ID away.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • To the people of nearby Santa Fe,

  • the new military installation at Los Alamos was hardly a secret,

  • and residents inevitably began to wonder

  • what was going on at the highly guarded facility.

  • In an effort to keep the locals in the dark,

  • several of the scientists and civilians on the project

  • would occasionally make efforts to spread misinformation.

  • For example, remember librarian Charlotte Serber?

  • Well, Charlotte and her husband, physician Robert Serber,

  • once visited a bar in Santa Fe where they spent their time

  • spreading the rumor that the facility was

  • building an electric rocket.

  • You'd probably think some local Santa Fe residents would

  • be fascinated to get top secret details of what

  • was going on at a heavily guarded military research

  • facility, but not so much.

  • Charlotte recalls asking one man what

  • he thought was going on at the base

  • only to be told that he didn't care.

  • He just wanted to dance with her.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • With so many people working on the project,

  • there were bound to be some close calls, and there were.

  • During one incident, the operation

  • was nearly exposed by the Santa Fe Public Library.

  • As is usual, the library kept a log

  • of visitors who checked out books.

  • One day, they sent a mass mailing to the names

  • in the log, many of whom happened

  • to be scientists at Los Alamos.

  • This sent the military security folks into a crisis mode.

  • They were baffled as to how the library was

  • able to obtain so many of the project scientists' real names.

  • Turns out the scientists, who weren't

  • used to living under such strict security measures,

  • had been using the real names to check out the books.

  • This was, of course, a major violation of security protocol,

  • and the scientists were quickly reprimanded.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • The rules of the project held that residents of Los Alamos

  • were never allowed to state their location

  • in correspondence except to say that they were somewhere

  • in New Mexico.

  • They were also forbidden from discussing

  • how many people were working on the project

  • or who any of those people were.

  • Accordingly, all mail in and out of the facility

  • was screened by the Office of Censorship.

  • Many of the scientists involved weren't

  • used to this level of secrecy and would occasionally

  • try to find ways around it.

  • Physicist Richard