46 days to the millennium: Reported disappointed in ‘Doom Town’ atomic blast
Paper: Daily Appeal – 46 days to the millennium – Monday, March 17, 1953
Editor and Publisher: Neal Van Sooy
Reporter: Bill Van der Ley
Advertising and Business Manager: I.B. Heistand
Press foreman: Jess Vogler
An independent newspaper published evenings except Saturday and Sunday at 102 S. Division Street.
Subscription Rates: In advance: by mail, one month 85 cents, six months $5, one year $9; by carrier, per week 20 cents, per copy 5 cents.
Leased wire: United Press
On St. Patrick’s Day 1953, Yucca Flat is prepped for another of the Atomic Energy Commission’s experiments in atomic energy.
“Observation shot,” or “Doom Town” as it was called by the media, was to test the effects of an atomic blast on humans.
More than 600 observers were invited to witness the blast. Incredibly, one of these, a United Press journalist named Robert Bennyhoff, reported he was disappointed in the the blast.
Two homes were built near the bomb site – one about six city blocks from the site of the blast, the other 12 blocks.
When exploded, the closer of the two homes disintegrated within 3 seconds. The United Press wire service sent six of its veteran reporters to cover the event. Several residents of Carson City including U.S. District Judge Clark Guild were in attendance.
“Observation shot” was the first public demonstration of an A-bomb blast by the AEC. More than 15 million people watched it on television. The mission for the day was twofold: scientific, and to impress America with the deadly seriousness of nuclear device detonations, an impression officials hoped would lead to a keener interest in defense.
The Nevada Appeal did not send a reporter, but included the UP wire stories in its evening edition.
Friday, March 13, 1953
“Six United Press veterans will report atom test”
Las Vegas – A veteran United Press staff of six correspondents has been assigned to cover next Tuesday’s atomic tests at Yucca Flat near here for the Nevada Appeal and other UP papers.
The UP crew is headed by Frank H. Bartholomew, vice president for the Pacific area, who witnessed the first Bikini atom blast from a grandstand seat in an Army B-29.
Also assigned for the current tests are Bob Bennyhoff, Reno bureau manager, and Murray Moler, Salt Lake City bureau manager, both of whom covered the original Bikini test. They will be assisted by Joe Quinn, former war correspondent in Korea; Ron Wagoner, Pacific division news manager; and Los Angeles bureau manager William Best.
Monday, March 16, 1953
“All ready for atomic tests early Tuesday”
By Frank H. Bartholomew
Atomic Test Site – An atomic device rested today in a “dog house” atop a spidery, 300-foot tower ready to sear autos, life-like dummies and two typical American homes with the “heat of 100 suns.”
The explosion, the 22nd atomic detonation within the boundaries of the United States, will take place before the sun rises tomorrow morning if weather permits.
Personnel busy in the area of “ground zero” included 200 from the Atomic Energy Commission organization, 300 unofficial observers from the civilian defense organization who will see the action the bomb against which they may one day have to cope, and 263 accredited correspondents, photographers and broadcasters.
The fate of the two houses constructed near the explosion center will give the civil defense workers new lessons in atomic survival and shelter techniques.
Tomorrow morning, 1,000 soldiers will be the human beings in closest proximity to an atomic explosion excepting only the Japanese of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On Tuesday, March 17, 1953, the paper contained the following reports on the blast:
Atom bomb site, March 17 – William C. Bullock, commander of Camp Desert Rock, was a colonel when he led his 1,600 troops into the atom bomb area early today and was a general when he came out. News of Bullock’s boost to brigadier general came after he left the atomic operation camp about 1:40 a.m.
“Eye witness account of atomic blast from two miles told by Bennyhoff”
(Editor’s note: United Press staff correspondent Robert Bennyhoff of Reno, who has reported on 21 previous atomic explosions in Bikini and southern Nevada, witnessed today’s “Operation St. Pat” blast from a trench only two miles from the detonation tower.)
By Robert Bennyhoff
Two Miles from Ground Zero, Atomic Test Site, March 17 (UP) – I stood two miles from an atomic explosion today expecting to get the jolt of my life – but what I saw and heard and felt was disappointing.
A nuclear device exploded in our laps at 5:20 a.m. but only the intense light of the detonation lived up to the advanced billings.
I felt none of the intense heat the scientists had predicted we would feel. The shock of the blast was nowhere near as violent as I expected.
It felt more like the gentle but determined roll of an earthquake than the jolt of nuclear fission. Nor was the atomic cloud anywhere near as beautiful as many other previous tests had been.
There was none of the boiling fireball and little of the violent changes of hue as the traditional mushroom began to form.
I found myself wondering if the scientist had not been absolutely right when they said only yesterday that we would have been just as safe in trenches only one mile from the enter of the explosion.
The blast notified us it was here by a brilliant white light. The walls of the trench against which we huddled began to vibrate slowly but unmistakable.
I’ve been in earthquakes before. This was an earthquake. I was disappointed in in the noise, too.
The first we heard was a loud clap like a sharp rap of thunder. Then it began echoing like thunder receding back and forth across the desert for nearly 30 seconds. There was no apparent trace of heat although the scientist had told us it would be intense.
It was pretty chilly in that trench but we didn’t feel the slightest trace of heat.
Man after man expressed the same thought: disappointment.
The dust cloud which swept across the trenches was choking and blinding and for more than five minutes we could see only a few hundred feet around us.
Thirty minutes after the explosion, the dust cloud still hung low over ground zero and it was impossible to see whether the 300-foot steel detonation tower had disappeared as expected.
“Carsonites see atomic tests here and there”
Judge Clark J. Guild today attended the atomic bomb test in southern Nevada as personal representative of Gov. Charles H. Russell.
Although the governor was invited by the AEC to witness the new atomic explosions, he was unable to accept because of pressing business thrust on him by the remaining few days of the 1953 legislative session.
Judge Guild yesterday welcomed delegations from various other states on behalf of the Nevada governor.
State civil defense director C. A. (Dutch) Carlson Jr. also had to decline an invitation to witness the explosion because of his present duties as secretary of the senate. He said that the state civil defense organization had been allotted three representatives, who were: A. E. Holgate, acting CD director for Washoe County; Col. Tom Miller, Reno and John Gammick, CD director at Elko.
Others present at the southern Nevada test site this morning included Fred Greulick, editor of Nevada Highways and Parks and Adrian Atwater, publication’s photographer.
Many Carsonites witnessed the blast from their own homes this morning. Those who got up to see the 5:20 a.m. explosion report that the white flare and ensuing cloud were extremely visible there.
“Newest atomic test shows civilian effect”
By Frank H. Bartholomew
Atomic Test Site – A brilliant nuclear explosion over the Nevada desert early today spared 1,600 troops entrenched two miles away but raised havoc with two typical American homes and half of the 50 cars that were in the area to test their resistance to the atomic bomb.
A mean, swirling cloud of radioactive dust made full determination of damage slow and difficult. The dust was kicked up by an explosion that was heard 300 miles away.
The atomic device exploded at 5:20 a.m. right on schedule while it was still dark on this St. Patrick’s day morning. The flash from atop a 300-foot tower in the middle of Yucca Flat.
Vail Pittman, former governor of Nevada and a veteran western newspaperman, described today’s atomic explosion as of “tremendous importance.”
Many of the troops came out of their five-foot deep slit trenches with smiles on their faces, despite their admittedly shaky knees. They quickly maneuvered through Ground Zero and the damage they saw turned many of the smiles to frowns.
They reported that a two story frame house three-quarters of a mile from the atomized and vanished detonation tower had collapsed although it did not burn. Civil defense officials were hopeful that mannequins in basement bomb shelters can be examined soon to show if human occupants of such a house would have survived the blast.
A second house at Main and Elm streets in “Doom Town” – was a mile and a half from the vanished tower. It still stood but was enveloped in a cloud of radioactivity so poisonous that actual examination was impossible for four hours.
When a selected team of experts finally were able to enter house No. 2 they found that hurricane-like winds had hurled glass splinters and doorknobs around like shrapnel, damaging its department store dummy residents.
They said it was reasonable to assume that fire might have started in the farther house had it contained any of the usual inflammable draperies or rugs. Walls were damaged and floors displaced by as much as six inches.
The announced energy yield of today’s atomic device was fixed at 15 kilotons equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT. This is about five kilotons less than the 1945 bomb that devastated Nagasaki and far less than America’s newer A-bombs are known to develop.
This potency apparently is similar to that expected to be delivered by the atomic artillery shell that will be tested here in about six weeks. Today’s device was described by a military spokesman as simulating, for maneuver purposes, the explosive head of the A-canon charge.
The predawn blast was heard in Pasadena, 300 miles to the west. It was felt as far away as Cedar City, 175 miles to the northeast. In Las Vegas, 65 miles to the southeast, the brilliance of the flash made the gaudy neon signs along gambling rows appear dim.
A predominately purple fireball sparked atop the detonation tower. It disappeared quickly as a weird, ice-topped cloud formed its characteristic mushroom top.
Today’s spectacular atomic blast here was a preview of the punch to be delivered by the Army’s new atomic cannon, observers returning from forward foxholes reported.