Sunday, December 8, 2013

“Ready for Occupancy”: The Greenbrier Bunker

LBJ Letter Heading_Lo

Just a couple of weeks before the Cuban missile crisis, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson updated President John F. Kennedy on the status of Project CASPER - the top secret program to provide Congress with a five star emergency relocation facility under the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The massive facility, in short, was “ready for occupancy.”

Food Rotation_Lo

It is hard to imagine JFK being too concerned with the “rotation of food stocks” and the “stockage of office supplies,” but we were delighted to find that such minutiae were included in the Vice President’s report.

Greenbrier Rations

Though he is not named,  the “project coordinator,” mentioned in the letter is Fred C. Hicks, Jr. (1920-1971) pictured below. We will be presenting a biography of Mr. Hicks soon.        

Cigarette_Lo Res

Read the full letter below.

LBJ Casper Status Report: 10/2/62


Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library
National Security File, Files of C.V. Clifton
Box No. 2
Folder: Project Casper
Document: Vice President Johnson to President Kennedy, October 2, 1962

Thursday, December 5, 2013

UNDELIVERED: The LBJ Austin Speech, 11-22-63

Speech Header copy

Last month, as the fervor over the fiftieth anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination built and then peaked on November 22nd, there were fleeting references to a speech that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson never got to deliver.[1] The tantalizing story goes that if the campaign stop in Dallas, Texas had simply been an uneventful visit instead of a national tragedy, LBJ would have introduced the President at a banquet hall in Austin that evening. The shocking punch line to this anecdote is that Johnson supposedly included a joke at the expense of Big D in his prepared remarks. Specifically, the published accounts of this undelivered speech state that LBJ was to have said, “And thank God, Mr. President, you came out of Dallas alive.”[2] We were intrigued by this line because it sounds entirely too good to be true. So we looked into the matter and the following is what we discovered.

Austin Hall_LBJ Library

There was, indeed, a fundraising event planned for the evening of November 22nd at Austin’s Municipal Auditorium.[3] And there was a speech that the Vice President was scheduled to deliver. When we telephoned and asked an archivist at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library if she had ever heard of the supposed Dallas joke, she answered no and then consulted with a colleague. The colleague stated that the remark in question is not in the prepared Austin speech for that day.[4] We promptly requested a copy of the text.

We have now confirmed, to our deep disappointment, that the speech contains no deliciously ironic jabs at Dallas. It does, however, feature shout-outs to the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University, the Aggies of Texas A & M and, of course, a nod to the beloved University of Texas Longhorns. It is, in short, boilerplate Vice Presidential patter barely passable for what was, after all, a $100-a-plate function.

Horned Frog Mascot_1965

How did this apocryphal story become an entrenched footnote in JFK assassination lore? Apparently, it started with Stanley Marcus’s (of Neiman Marcus fame) 1974 memoir Minding the Store. On page 255 of this book, Marcus, who was a Dallas native and celebrity, offered a slightly different version of events. He stated that the dinner for the Kennedy campaign was to be held on November 23rd, not the fateful day of the 22nd. He then wrote that Johnson “reportedly ended his proposed but canceled speech with, ‘And thank God, Mr. President, that you came out of Dallas alive.”[5] It is this passage that is used as one of the sources for the recently published book Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis.[6]

Garrett M. Graff uses the “Dallas alive” quote as the dramatic opening to his November Washingtonian magazine article “Angel Is Airborne,” but adds the detail “The joke was prepared, the words typed, ready to place on the Vice President’s lectern in Austin, Texas, later that evening.”[7]


The macabre-in-retrospect Dallas gag is a lot more interesting than a hat tip to the Horned Frogs of TCU, but a fictional story presented as historical fact has to stop somewhere. Below is the complete speech for the benefit of future historians.[8]

Undelivered LBJ Austin Speech November 22 1963

[1] Two of the most recent accounts of the alleged Dallas joke contained in the LBJ Austin speech are from the following sources:

Garrett M. Graff, “Angel Is Airborne”
Washingtonian, Volume 49, Number 2
November 2013, p. 81

Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis
Dallas 1963
(Twelve, 2013), p. 262

[2] Ibid.

[3] Rebecca Onion, “In Austin, ‘The Welcome JFK!’ Banquet That Never Happened”, The Vault
November 20, 2013

[4] Telephone conversation with LBJ Library archivist Barbara Cline on November 22, 2013.

[5] Stanley Marcus
Minding the Store: A Memoir
(Little, Brown, 1974), p. 255

For Marcus’s status in Dallas see Eric Pace, “Stanley Marcus, the Retailer From Dallas, Is Dead at 96,”
New York Times, January 23, 2002

[6] Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis
Dallas 1963
(Twelve, 2013), p. 262, footnote 29

[7] Garrett M. Graff, “Angel Is Airborne”
Washingtonian, Volume 49, Number 2
November 2013, p. 81

[8] Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library
Collection: Statements of Lyndon B. Johnson
Box Number 89
11/22/63 Remarks by Vice President, Austin, Texas [Undelivered]

Saturday, November 16, 2013



As we mentioned in Part 1 of our series, the Cold War era meeting minutes from the top secret government relocation site known as Mount Weather (aka The Special Facility, aka High Point, aka the Classified Location) are mind-numbingly routine. Indeed, these notes are probably as stultifying as your last corporate conference call. In short, when we happened upon these documents at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, we were hoping for Seven Days in May but what we got was Office Space. And just as we did in Part 1, we have combed through the bureaucratic dross to find a few noteworthy highlights. In other words, we read the entire document so you wouldn’t have to. It is, however, embedded at the end of this post in case you want to read the whole thing. So without further delay, here are the gems.

The year began with the promise of more dining options.

Cafeteria News_02121965

In the minutes for the February 12, 1965 meeting, it was announced that the phrase “DEFCON 4” would not be used at the facility, but rather the less alarming advisory to “monitor news broadcasts/telecasts” would be deployed. Note: FAR stands for Federal Agency Representatives (i.e. the people attending the weekly meeting at the Special Facility) and CINCONAD stands for Commander in Chief, Continental Air Defense Command.


The February 12th minutes also featured an inside (?) joke about syndicated newspaper columnist Drew Pearson and rabbits. Hmmm.


March brought news of an exciting new training tape about brainwashing in Korea.


The April 16th notes revealed that Mount Weather has a firing range…

Firing Range_04161965

…And that food services had attained “a very high level of compliance with regulations.” Leftover business from 1964 regarding a site barbershop was also raised.

Food Service_Barber_0416165 

The June 18th minutes announced a dance at the American Legion hall in Berryville, Virginia.


The July 2nd notes previewed an upcoming briefing on “Censorship Plans.”


The July 23rd minutes announced, among other things, a farewell party for U.S. Army Interagency Communications Agency (USAICA) official Colonel Bruce Caron. The party was to be broadcast live over the facility’s closed circuit channel 2.


The August 6th minutes included mention of “emergency Chaplain replacement.”

Chaplain Replacement_08061965

The August 20th notes promised an investigation into the matter of “speeding carts” in the corridors of the Special Facility.

Cart Speeding_08201965 

The August 27th minutes announced the company picnic (?).


October brought “constructive” criticism of the cafeteria.

Cafeteria Criticism_10221965

The year ended on a high note with congratulations to the Mount Weather team for their handling of the Northeast Blackout of November 9th.

Blackout Congrats_11191965

To read the letter referenced in the minutes excerpt above click on this link.

And, finally, the Special Facility Meeting Minutes in their entirety…

Mount Weather Meeting Minutes: 1965 by Bill Geerhart

Stay tuned for Part 3.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Meeting Minutes Header_Hi Res

Since at least 1962 (when authors Fletcher Nebel and Charles W. Bailey II described a presidential refuge called Mount Thunder in their bestselling political thriller Seven Days in May), the public has speculated about the activities inside a government super bunker known as Mount Weather (aka High Point, the Special Facility, the Classified Location). Mount Weather has proven to be such an irresistible and mysterious symbol of state secrecy over the years that it has served as the location of dramatic scenes in fictional entertainments like the last episode of The X-Files, the 2002 motion picture The Sum of All Fears and the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Mulder-MountWeather-2 copy

But what is Mount Weather really like? Could it possibly live up to its paranoia-inspiring legend? The short answer is no – at least as far as its 1960s heyday is concerned (we’ll leave it to future researchers to examine the more modern history of the place). How can we answer our own question with such confidence? We recently stumbled upon hundreds of pages of declassified Cold War era Mount Weather meeting notes and other memoranda at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library. These documents, which we will be presenting as a series of posts on this blog, paint a picture of life at the “Special Facility” that is not so special. The meeting minutes, in particular, reveal the site to be less like the science fiction and action films mentioned above and more like the workplace satire Office Space. Indeed, anyone who has ever had to sit through weekly conference calls for their job will look at these documents and nod in pained recognition of the tedious bureaucracy. It is all here: the parking space notices, key card photograph reminders, retirement announcements, company picnics, flu shot reminders, and the list goes on.


This first installment in our series will focus on the weekly minutes of the “Federal Representatives Meeting, Special Facility Branch” for the year 1964. Subsequent years will be featured in future posts. If there is anyone out there reading these documents who participated in these meetings, we would love to hear from you.

The following are some excerpts from the text that struck as being notable. Of course, you can also simply skip right to the full document and be bored silly.

The January 17, 1964 minutes addressed the possibility of opening a barbershop on the site.


A couple of weeks later, in the January 31 notes, it was determined that the barbershop issue required “further study.” Spoiler alert: the barbershop conundrum is revisited in our next Mount Weather Memos post.

Barbershop_Further Study

In the January 24th minutes, the issue of reserved parking was raised – a recurring theme in 1964. In this instance the unauthorized parking was blamed on “shift workers.”

Reserved Parking Complaint

Speaking of “shift workers,” the November 13, 1964 notes include a reminder that the Mount Weather cafeteria closes at 3:00 p.m. so that the “limited staff can clean the tables.” Throughout the documents that we found, the subject of the cafeteria comes up almost as frequently as the status of various civil defense test exercises.

Cafeteria Hours

On March 27th the staff was warned about a “rabies problem.” A rabid fox had been killed on the site and, in a  line that recalls the feverish paranoia of the red scare, everyone was warned “to take due caution of animals showing aggressive, erratic or purposeless behavior.”

Another running controversy throughout these memos is the usually poor ratings scored during staff telephone tree tests - something that the world’s greatest continuity of government site should, ideally, have covered. Here is an example of the problem from the June 5th minutes:

Telephone Tree Test 

On June 19th it was announced that an in-house closed circuit (channel 2) television news broadcast called “Noon Report” would premiere on June 22nd. The response was tepid and the program was later bumped to 3:00 p.m.

Noon Report 

The minutes from October 23rd bring us a snapshot from the pre-voicemail era of office technology. These notes prove that even at one of the most technologically sophisticated offices in the world, it was once extremely expensive and cumbersome to dodge a phone call from a supervisor.

Primitive and Expensive Voicemail

We will conclude this installment of Mount Weather Memos with a warning about snake dangers…

Snake Dangers

Read the full document:

Mount Weather Meeting Minutes: 1964



Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library
Federal Records: Office of Emergency Planning
Box 10
Folder: Minutes of Special Facilities Meetings, 01/10/64-12/16/65

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Congressional Rubble

“All FBI offices, day-to-day and emergency, should be supplied in advance and on a secret basis, with the location of the Congressional relocation site and with instructions that in the event of a Presidential proclamation calling upon the Congress to convene at the Congressional relocation site, the FBI should inform members of Congress so presenting themselves and so establishing their identity, of the location of the Congressional relocation site.”

- Text from a February 10, 1961 FBI memo recommending the protocol for notifying members of the United States Congress of their emergency relocation site

1961 FBI Text

Thanks to investigative journalist Ted Gup we all know that the super bunker at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia was intended for use by the Congress in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. He revealed its unlikely existence on May 31, 1992 in a Washington Post magazine cover story. Not included in Mr. Gup’s very detailed exposé is the procedure by which rank and file members of Congress would have been made aware of the bunker. This post will fill in that small gap in the Greenbrier bunker knowledge base.

Greenbrier-False-Front Door 
Earlier in the year we published a post about government correspondence concerning the sensitive task of notifying members of Congress of their top secret relocation site in the event of a national emergency during the Cold War.[1] The author of the document that we presented in our previous story suggested several options to his addressee on how to handle this apocalyptic chore. One possibility included saddling the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the notification duty. The reasoning behind this particular choice was the concern that the security of the site might eventually be compromised if an ever increasing number of active and former Congressmen had ongoing knowledge of its location. Obviously, nothing was ruled in or ruled out in this one-sided memo, so we (and our readers) were left hanging awaiting another memo that revealed the decision. By virtue of the tireless FOIA filing efforts of we now have the additional documents that prove that the Greenbrier bunker notification responsibility was, in fact, assigned to the FBI. And, surprisingly, it was not a job that was immediately accepted with open arms by the Bureau.

Observation copy

Indeed, in assessing the White House’s request for this assistance, senior FBI agent Alan H. Belmont argued against it. In an October 21, 1957 internal memo Belmont was more concerned with the bureau’s mission of “rounding up enemy aliens” during a crisis – not helping panicky legislators learn about their shelter accommodations. Belmont also raised the possibility of “some member of Congress” coming to a FBI field office to demand the location of the bunker site prior to the approved disclosure period (i.e. after a Presidential proclamation). He concluded that this scenario would put the “Bureau in a bad light” and imply “that the White House does not sufficiently trust the rank and file of the Congress” with the information.

Hoover and Tolson - 1947

But FBI leadership quickly disregarded these concerns in the form of terse mark-ups to Belmont’s correspondence. Associate Director Clyde Tolson weighed in first by scribbling “If the President wants us to do this, I think it is OK – T.” Director J. Edgar Hoover concurred and wrote the following next to Tolson’s note: “Of course. We must do it if that is the President’s desire. H.”

Tolson-Hoover_Handwritten Note copy

That settled that. And then there was a period of silence while the Greenbrier bunker was actually built. In early 1961, as the bunker was nearing operational status, the issue of congressional notification was revisited in more concrete terms.

Following some bureaucratic revisions, a protocol for the secret notification duty was arrived at between the FBI and the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM). According to an internal FBI memo, the Attorney General was officially notified of the agency’s new responsibility via a letter dated February 14, 1961.

In a March 7, 1961 memo Director Hoover stated that FBI field offices “have been advised of the Bureau’s responsibility in informing Members of Congress, upon their request, as to the specific location of the Congressional relocation site. This information will only be made available to Congressmen in the event of an emergency, when, in the judgment of the President, Congress should convene outside Washington, D.C. The identity of the Congressional relocation site is being maintained by our field offices in sealed envelopes, to be opened only upon the issuance of the Presidential proclamation.”

Hoover 1961 Statement

Hoover’s memo to the field offices—distributed through the Albany, New York office—provided additional details regarding the procedure:

“Attached hereto, for each office, is an appropriate number of sealed envelopes, classified Secret, each containing the identity of the specific location of the Congressional relocation site. In accordance with Congressional instructions received through OCDM, these envelopes should not be opened, except in the event the condition cited previously exists. A sealed envelope should be filed in each copy of your office defense plan as Appendix 25…”

Hoover_Distribution copy

One last bit of business that needed to be addressed was where exactly to store the defense plan containing the location of the Congressional relocation site at the Records Branch of the FBI in Washington, DC. In a memo dated March 14, 1961, Mr. Belmont helpfully suggested that “Bureau File 66-17388” be retained in the Confidential File Room. In 1964 the matter was revisited in the form of a memo requesting confirmation that the file still needed to reside in what was now called the “Special File Room.” Per the initials of the responsible supervisors, the secret location of the Greenbrier bunker stayed put in its super secure haven.[2]

File Room copy

But where were the field offices maintaining their copies of the defense plans and sealed envelopes (aka Appendix 25) and were they secure? Sixteen years after the first envelope was licked, someone finally asked. According to a March 8, 1977 memo, representatives of the Defense Preparedness Agency (a successor agency to OCDM) “wanted reassurance that these sealed envelopes are kept in a safe place and had not been tampered with in any way…” This same memo contained FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley’s request to “All SACS” that each of them confirm “the safe location and integrity of sealed envelopes” and notify FBI headquarters of the results of their inspection by close of business on March 11, 1977.

Scotch Tape copy

Miraculously, most of the field offices had nothing but good news to report back to the Director. A sampling of these routine replies can be viewed here. There was one case in Chicago where one of the sealed envelopes had been “worn on one end and had been sealed with Scotch tape, dated and initialed.” There were a few other anomalies with regard to the envelopes in other offices, but these issues were reported and did not set off any alarm bells. And then there was the case of the Butte, Montana field office.

Butte Postcard_Lo

The Butte office, reputedly a dumping ground for the worst FBI agents in the Bureau,[3] responded to headquarters in a memo that stated that the “envelope must have been inadvertently destroyed when all secret material [was] ground up” when they updated their plans the previous year. They then meekly requested a replacement envelope. The Director was having none of it. He fired back a memo rebutting their shredder excuse and demanded that an “exhaustive search” be conducted with a subsequent report of their efforts. Unfortunately, there is no follow-up memo included in the declassified documents.

Butte_Reprimand copy

Presumably the Butte office received their replacement envelope (and a reprimand) and maintained its integrity until the office was permanently closed in 1989.

There is no evidence contained in the declassified documents released thus far that the FBI was relieved of its notification responsibilities prior to Ted Gup’s published revelation of the existence of the Greenbrier bunker in 1992. It is therefore assumed that the procedure remained in place for the life of the bunker.

Have the field offices been assigned a similar notification task in the years since the decommissioning of the Greenbrier bunker? If there is a new Congressional relocation site, the answer to this question may be yes. After all, the level of trust between the White House and Congress has only declined since 1961.

J Edgar Hoover


Unless otherwise noted, all of the documents referenced in this post have been excerpted from the following FOIA release:

"Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) war/emergency plans and Bureau assistance for members of Congress in the event of war/emergency, 1955-1977"

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation
Attn: FOI/PA Request
Record/Information Dissemination Section
170 Marcel Drive
Winchester, VA 22602-4843

To read all of the memos referenced in this post, please see our FBI Congressional Relocation Site Correspondence collection on Scribd.

[1] The redacted government documents referenced in this post do not mention the Greenbrier resort bunker in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia as the relocation site for the U.S. Congress, but another declassified FBI document we have posted does. See:

[2] CONELRAD has filed a Freedom of Information request with the FBI for Bureau File 66-17388 including Appendix 25 with a special note that we would like the contents of the sealed envelope photocopied. We will update this post if and when we receive this documentation.

[3] For a mention of the Butte field office’s bad reputation see page 28 of “From Appalachia to the White House: My Life in the Secret Service” by Joe Dye [Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks, 2011]. See also pages 67, 216 and 396 of “The FBI” by Ronald Kessler [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994] in which he references the history of the notorious field office.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Gilda Headline copy


Several years ago CONELRAD posted an article detailing our exhaustive investigation into the claims that movie star Rita Hayworth’s image adorned the fourth atomic bomb ever detonated: The Able device exploded at Bikini Atoll on July 1, 1946. The article was the result of many months of research that included correspondence with archivists from the National Archives and the Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as interviews with some of the men who participated in the Operation Crossroads Able test. We concluded that Ms. Hayworth’s likeness was not on the Able bomb, but that a stencil of her then current hit film, Gilda, was. We based this finding on the majority of the interviews that we conducted and, more significantly, on the archival government film footage of the bomb itself.

Of the six Crossroads participants that we interviewed only Leon D. Smith, the weaponeer onboard Dave’s Dream, the plane that dropped the Able bomb, insisted that he saw Rita Hayworth’s image on the weapon. Smith was quite specific in his recollection. He told us the following about the image during our interview with him:

“I thought it was something very revealing. I remember it being more of an evening gown… if I look at the nose from the rear of the bomb, I thought it was in the upper left-hand quadrant – up in the front of the bomb.”

The then 88-year-old retired electrical engineer added that one of the reasons he remembered the image so clearly was because “[Hayworth] was very popular with us [servicemen and scientific support personnel] because we had been overseas and sort of starved for sex. And we had pictures of Rita overseas, so I was just delighted to see her picture on the bomb.”

But in evaluating all of the evidence that we had uncovered and taking into account the reliability of human memory after so many decades, we decided to side with the majority recollection of our interviewees as supported by the only released footage of the bomb. In the end, despite our best efforts, we could not find the hard proof needed to validate Leon D. Smith’s colorful and vivid memories.

As it turns out, though, Mr. Smith was right all along and we could not be happier.

Indeed, we are delighted to be able to announce that the evidence that we failed to locate in 2008-2009 magically appeared in our e-mail inbox earlier this month. The following images—published for the first time by CONELRAD—are stills captured from a film roll that came from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and they are presented here with permission.



Atomic documentarian Peter Kuran, the guardian angel who thought of CONELRAD when he discovered the historic film, told us that the footage “came out of a can without classification.” Kuran later added that the quick shots of Hayworth’s image on the Able bomb appear at the beginning of a roll of film that, for whatever reason, was not released to filmmaker Robert Stone when he attempted to get all Crossroads bomb footage declassified for his 1988 documentary Radio Bikini.[1]

Los Alamos’s historian, Alan B. Carr, told CONELRAD that he had never seen the Hayworth images before Peter Kuran showed them to him and that the film roll in question is considered “unclassified.” Carr is not sure when the film was declassified or if it ever was considered classified. Kuran hopes to use the footage for an upcoming video project. CONELRAD will notify its readers when it is released. In the meantime, readers can view Kuran’s impressive archival handiwork on his YouTube channel.


The final mystery then is where did this particular Rita Hayworth image come from?

When CONELRAD was researching its original “Atomic Goddess” article we found varying press accounts as to how Hayworth’s image was presented on the Able device. One article improbably claimed that it was a carefully rendered portrait painted by three artists. Operation Crossroads official Thomas Lanahan told United Press in 1946 that the image was an advertisement for Gilda that was cut out of an Esquire magazine. However, sixty-three years later he was certain that only a stencil of the name “GILDA” was marked on the weapon. Leon D. Smith told us that he remembered it being a painting.

Now that we were able to actually see the Hayworth image as it appeared on the bomb, we decided to revisit Lanahan’s original version of events as told to the wire service.[2] His comments, via UP, were published in the June 30, 1946 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“We stenciled the name in two-inch black letters. Then somebody suggested we needed a picture, so we found an old copy of Esquire and cut out a movie advertisement for Gilda.”


CONELRAD had already examined Esquire on microfilm for the period in question for our earlier article, so we instead tried to find the image on the Internet. No luck. We also checked with a few prominent commercial photograph archives.[3] These companies had dozens of Gilda-era Hayworth shots, but not the one that appears on the bomb.

We then consulted with Adrienne L. McLean, the author of Being Rita Hayworth: Labor, Identity, and Hollywood Stardom, and she was able to produce from her personal collection a very similar image to what is on the bomb. Specifically, McLean provided us with a photo of a sheet music book for a Mel Tormé song from 1946 that featured Hayworth on the cover.

Hayworth sheet music_Lo

But it wasn’t quite the same art that graced the bomb. It may have been a shot taken seconds before or seconds after the image that is on the bomb. So we decided to take one last careful look at Esquire on microfilm at the Library of Congress. We requested microfilm of the magazine from June 1945 through October of 1946 to cover all bases.

As we were nearing the end of our meticulous scrolling, the elusive photograph appeared on page 78 of the June 1946 edition! The pin-up, credited to legendary Hollywood photographer Bob Coburn (1900-1990), was a dead ringer for the image on the bomb, but we still wanted to see the original shot as it appeared in the actual magazine. It was immediately obvious that the dark microfilm scan that we took did not do justice to Mr. Coburn’s camera magic. So we ordered a copy of the original issue on eBay.

Esquire Pgs 78-79

The 10” x 13” magazine (Esquire has shrunk considerably since the 1940s) arrived in the mail a few days later. The full color Hayworth portrait, titled “American Beauty,” pops off the page. The dress that she is wearing is an earlier version of the Jean Louis-designed Put the Blame on Mame evening gown seen in Gilda. The text at the bottom of the page gives a brief biography of the actress, plugs for her current films and her measurements.

Esquire_pg 78 copy

We consulted with artist David K. Landis of Shake It Loose Graphics for his professional analysis of whether the Esquire shot is the same image that was cut out and affixed to the bomb. Landis told us that he believes that it is. Some readers may be wondering why the white necklace from the Esquire photo is not visible in the bomb images. As Mr. Landis pointed out to us, it is visible, but just barely. It is possible that the lights used with the motion picture camera that filmed the bomb were responsible for washing out the finer definition of the necklace. One also has to consider how far away from the weapon the camera may have been.


From examining earlier images of the bomb (when the “GILDA” stenciling was still being touched up and before the Hayworth photo was added), Landis was also able to explain the hard-edged white surface that appears in the later shots of the bomb with the Hayworth image. He told us that this was the result of someone covering that area of the bomb with a sheet of paper to protect it from the black sealant spray that was applied at some point after the shot of the man working on the stencil painting of “GILDA.”

Gilda Bomb Collage


When we called Thomas Lanahan, the man who still has the original “GILDA” stencil, to tell him the good news about finally finding the evidence to support the complete Rita Hayworth atomic bomb story, he told us that he still remembers the Esquire shot. It is a testament to the beauty and star power of Rita Hayworth that a 92-year-old man remembers a pin-up photo from 1946. Of course, the unusual backdrop Lanahan and his buddies chose for the picture is pretty memorable, too.


We’ll close this post by revisiting the June 30, 1946 Orson Welles ABC radio broadcast in which the famous film auteur commented on his wife’s imminent role in the Operation Crossroads atomic test. The recording is made all the more extraordinary now that we know for a fact that the image was on the bomb.


This post is dedicated to Dave’s Dream weaponeer Leon D. Smith whose memory served him so well when we asked him about Rita Hayworth’s image being on the atomic bomb four years ago. Unfortunately, he passed away at the age of 92 on October 14, 2012 and was denied the right to tell us he “told us so.” For the record: he told us so.

Thanks again to Peter Kuran for thinking of us when he made his amazing discovery. And thanks to Los Alamos National Laboratory historian Alan B. Carr for granting CONELRAD permission to publish the Rita Hayworth atomic bomb images.

Thanks to Adrienne L. McLean for her Hayworth-centric photographic memory and her general guidance on the movie icon.

Finally, thanks to Wellesnet for their online preservation of the remarkable 1946 Orson Welles Bikini radio commentary.

Esquire Cover

[1] Historian Alan B. Carr, who was not yet working for the Los Alamos National Laboratory when Robert Stone submitted his Freedom of Information Act requests for Operation Crossroads footage, suggested in an August 14, 2013 email to CONELRAD that there are a couple of theories for the why the filmmaker never received the footage with the Rita Hayworth image. One theory is that some of the films Stone requested may not have been under the purview of the Los Alamos archives in the mid-1980s. These films may have been under the control of the testing division and it is possible that Stone’s request did not filter down to this department. Another theory is that the film itself was overlooked. The field testing motion picture collection, according to Carr, contains thousands of films and that there is no “user-friendly database.” For the last couple of years Carr has been leading an effort to organize and preserve these historic films.

[2] It is important to note that in all of the voluminous press clippings we examined on this topic, Thomas Lanahan is the only person quoted by name about the Gilda stencil and the Hayworth image on the Able atomic bomb. For a complete list of newspaper and magazine citations, see our original article.

[3] CONELRAD also checked with the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills for the Rita Hayworth image. Their initial search did not locate the photo we were seeking.