I met a man in Santa Fe named Seamus. He lived there and was interested in the Manhattan Project. He mentioned the MP’s Santa Fe office, told me how to find it, and recommended a short book in the Nutshell Series by John Ruminer that was for sale there, if I could find it. I did. The book was a publication of the Los Alamos Historical Society. I bought it.
It was a bit hard to find this historically significant office but well worth the effort. In 1943 a Santa Fe woman named Dorothy McKibbin met an acquaintance at the La Fonda Hotel. They discussed a job that Dorothy figured had something to do with the ongoing war effort. She interviewed for that job and met J Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who became involved in the development of a new kind of bomb, oversaw the construction of the labs at Los Alamos, and is commonly called the Father of the Atomic Bomb. Dorothy acquired her own title, Gatekeeper to Los Alamos, as she worked at 109 East Palace Avenue for 20 years.
Oppenheimer maintained an office in Santa Fe for only about a month before heading to Los Alamos. When he moved out, Dorothy moved in with her assistant. According to John Ruminer, she especially liked Oppenheimer’s chair. “That office became the portal to Project Y, the Los Alamos component of the Manhattan Project,” adds Ruminer. Dorothy became the first human that scientists, technicians, and probably some spies had contact with while they were on their way to Los Alamos to build the bomb. 65 people per day reportedly knocked on Dorothy’s door during World War II.
A block from Santa Fe’s landmark Palace of the Governors, the office is still there. It’s behind a courtyard lined with shops. A plaque at the courtyard’s entrance tells those who are lucky enough to find it that this was the portal that men and women involved in creating the 1st atomic bomb, a seriously secret mission, passed through.
I found a good source of travelers’ reactions to this important entrance on TripAdvisor. Google 109 East Palace to read a variety of comments. My favorite notes, “…sometimes you just get to see a place from history and the consequences of that place just rush all over you.” Exactly right.