In A Small Town, Pride And Shame Over Atomic Legacy

Leah Sottile: RICHLAND, Wash. — The workers inside Hanford’s nuclear reactors in the early 1940s knew their jobs were important, even if many of them didn’t know why. They worked hard, and for that they were paid well, tucking their children into bed at night inside handsome homes with green lawns on streets named for brilliant engineers: Goethals Drive, Jadwin Avenue.

The secrecy around Hanford, a part of the Manhattan Project, came to light on Aug. 9, 1945, when U.S. forces dropped a thick-bellied, 10,000-pound plutonium-filled bomb called Fat Man on Nagasaki, Japan — vaporizing some 60-80,000 people in an instant and thereby ending World War II. All along at Hanford, they’d been contributing to the war effort, producing plutonium that would make up the core of the Nagasaki bomb.

“Peace!” the local newspaper headlines cried on Aug. 14, 1945. “Our bomb clinched it!”

“This town just went totally nuts,” said Burt Pierard, 74, who remembers beating pots and pans in a parade of children around his neighborhood. “It was euphoria, just the whole atmosphere was party-time, patriotic.”

Richland’s pride flooded into the hallways of the local high school. That fall, the students of Columbia High voted to change their mascot from the Beavers to the Bombers, and the yearbook for that school year was dedicated to the atomic bomb. Mushroom clouds found their way onto the school crest, class rings and football helmets. In the 1980s the school became Richland High and adopted a new logo: a bright yellow capital R with a white mushroom cloud billowing out behind it. They called it the R-Cloud.

Joe Gould’s Teeth

Jill Lepore: For a long time, Joe Gould thought he was going blind. This was before he lost his teeth, and years before he lost the history of the world he’d been writing in hundreds of dime-store composition notebooks, their black covers mottled like the pelt of a speckled goat, their white pages lined with thin blue veins.

He wrote with a fountain pen. He filled it with ink he stole from the post office. “I have created a vital new literary form,” he boasted. “Unfortunately, my manuscript is not typed.”

He told everyone who would listen that he was writing down nearly everything anyone said to him. “I am trying to record these complex times with the technique of a Herodotus or Froissart,” he explained to the Harvard historian George Sarton, in 1931, soliciting support. Herodotus wrote his Histories in ancient Greece; Jean Froissart wrote his Chronicles in medieval Europe. Gould was writing his history, a talking history, in modern America. “My book is very voluminous,” Gould told Sarton:

I imagine that the most valuable sections will be those which deal with groups that are inarticulate such as the Negro, the reservation Indian and the immigrant. It seems to me that the average person is just as much history as the ruler or celebrity as he illustrates the social forces of heredity and environment. Therefore I am trying to present lyrical episodes of everyday life. I would like to widen the sphere of history as Walt Whitman did that of poetry.

The Lost Girls

Jason Cherkis: In 1974, when she was only 14, Jackie Fuchs would wake up way before her parents and catch a ride with friends from her house in the San Fernando Valley across the Santa Monica Mountains and into Malibu. She’d hit the beach and paddle out in the quiet, pre-dawn dark.

It was the only time she could be on the water and not have to deal with the catcalls and the teasing, the good-natured gibes that gradually shaded into something harder and meaner. Before sunrise, she was just another surfer, her back to the sand, waiting for the right wave. She liked being the only girl out there.

Tall and slender with bright blue eyes and brown hair down to her shoulders, Jackie could have passed for Mary Tyler Moore’s daughter. The surfer dudes called her “Malibu Barbie.” One editor of a surfing magazine struck up a correspondence and sent her letters addressed to “Maliboobie.” “You had better get hot and send some good photos,” he wrote to her in black marker. “Your competition in photos is getting tough! You should see what some girls are sending in!” She could never tell how seriously to take the attention. In a letter to the editor published in June 1974, Jackie admonished one magazine for its skin-deep coverage of female surfers: “If they’re so hot, why don’t you show them surfing? Some of us chicks have more than just hot bods! Awoo!”

When Jackie heard that only male surfers were being paid to attend the national championships that year in North Carolina, she organized two benefit screenings of surf films to cover the travel expenses for female competitors. She cold-called directors to cajole them into donating reels of their documentaries for her events, and phoned local officials to arrange for fire permits, security and space. She passed out hundreds of homemade flyers up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. At the door, she took tickets until there wasn’t room left to stand. No one seemed to care how young she was.

“As rebellious as we thought we were,” says Steven Diamond, a childhood friend, “we were nothing compared to Jackie.” She was smarter and bolder than the other teenagers, constantly doing things girls were told they shouldn’t. She attended summer school just to take shop. She learned power chords on her Stratocaster and went to bed with the radio on, hoping to hear Fanny, the one all-female rock band in the universe, on KLOS. A middle school friend remembers driving to the grocery store with her mother one afternoon and spotting Jackie at the freeway on-ramp, her 6-foot-10-inch custom fiberglass swallowtail board under one arm and her thumb out.

Bernie Sanders Has A Secret

This is how you profile.

Michael Kruse: One morning last month in Burlington, Vermont, at the law office of John Franco, one of Bernie Sanders’ best friends since the 1970s, Franco talked to me at length about Sanders’ commitment and his consistency and his charisma. Even at the beginning of Sanders’ career, he said, four decades before he started packing arenas in college towns and liberal havens as a renegade 73-year-old self-described socialist taking on Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment, “people didn’t want him to stop talking.” He talked about how Sanders “completely changed the political culture” in Vermont. He talked about how Sanders’ surprising current surge in national polls is “validation.”

“I’m proud of Bernard,” he said.

All of that was interesting. But I wanted to know not just about what Sanders has done. I wanted to know more about who he has been. So I asked what I thought was an innocuous question about Sanders’ son. How did Sanders juggle aspirations as an eager political activist with his role as a divorced young father?

“That’s out of bounds,” Franco said.

Out of bounds?

“It’s none of your f—-ing business,” he said. He smiled, but he wasn’t joking.

The Invisible Man

Jeff Sharlet: Open your eyes. Sunday. Another lucky day. Darkness. A luxury afforded the man who owns two tents, one popped right inside the other. No street light filtering in, no headlights rising along tent walls. Just—dark. You could be anywhere. Your father’s house, before dawn, in Cameroon, or Paris, or Berlin. Or America. Stretch: You want to run, the canyon, your long legs striding, up out of the city until you reach the vista. L.A. You’ll close your eyes and feel the sun on your face, and in your mind a movie will roll, the film of all that is yet to come. You’ve always been gifted like this, granted stories and the power to believe them. Merci, you think. Thank you, God. Blessed with this body. Lean. “Very, very strong,” says your sister, Line, the other half of who you are.

Open your eyes. March 1, 2015. Sunday. You need to call her. Bonne nuit, you texted her last night. Every day you text her. I’ll call tomorrow, my heart, my dear.

Darkness. Silence. Earplugs: You don’t hear the street begin to breathe. The tent people and the blanket people, the single-room-occupancy people coming out for prayer and breakfast at the missions, the stay-awake-all-night dancing-in-place-for-twenty-hours tweaking people, the flat-out face-down sidewalk people. The corner men who piss at the foot of the two-story glass cross on the side of the mission. The cross that brought you to this corner.

Now, They Hug

Robert Samuels: URBANDALE, Iowa — As this state’s most visible culture warriors, Bob Vander Plaats and Donna Red Wing have hurled insults at each other for years.

Vander Plaats’s organization, The Family Leader, has derided same-sex marriages such as Red Wing’s as “unnatural.” Red Wing, leader of the LGBT rights group One Iowa, has called Vander Plaats “bigoted” and “cruel.”

But when they ran into each other on the day the Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples could marry anywhere in the country, crossing paths between dueling interviews at a local TV station studio, they locked eyes.

And then they hugged.

A Long Walk’s End

William Browning: On a Saturday morning in May, 2015, a group of law enforcement agents, the FBI among them, knocked on the front door of the Montgomery Homestead Inn in Damascus, Virginia. The proprietor, a retired kindergarten teacher who lives across East Laurel Ave. from the inn, happened to be there at the time. She does not know for sure how many agents were on the inn’s porch. She guesses three or four, though her husband told her later another man was positioned at the back door.

“There were just a lot of men out there,” Susie Montgomery said.

Damascus (pop. 800) is in a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the Appalachian Trail. Downtown consists of about five blocks “but in those blocks there are five churches,” Montgomery said. A visitor crosses one bridge coming in, another heading out. Idyllic is the word. The Montgomery Homestead Inn is only an old, two-story brick home with four bedrooms travelers can rent. On the morning those FBI agents came knocking, it was the weekend of the annual Appalachian Trail Days Festival, when something like 20,000 hikers descend on the town for fellowship and revelry, and the inn’s four rooms had been booked for weeks. Montgomery did not know what business the men crowding the porch could have there.

When she opened the front door, one of the agents held up a photograph of a man and asked if she knew him. She looked at it and said, “Yes. That’s Bismarck.”

Bismarck was the trail name of an Appalachian Trail hiker who had checked in the previous day. He had been staying at Montgomery’s inn periodically since 2010. She considered him an “easy guest.” He usually stayed for three days, paid in cash (like everyone else), and each time he left, the bed would be made and the room was clean.

The agents asked if Bismarck was inside. Montgomery said she was not sure, and what was this about, anyway? The men identified themselves as law enforcement agents and said they needed to talk with Bismarck about a case of fraud. Montgomery asked for identification, which they provided, and she took them to the room where Bismarck was staying.