She worked as a mathematician with the Manhattan Project, Oak Ridge in 1944-45. Her recollections about working and living in the Secret City brought to life the January book selection, “The Girls of the Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II,” by Denise Kiernan.
“We went to Oak Ridge because my sister’s husband, an Army pilot, was killed in the war. She was now a young widow with an 18-month-old child. There were great opportunities for work, and my sister had a scientific background. I had a background in math and my mother came with us to help with the child. So the three of us women set off to Knoxville to apply,” Bacon recalls.
“We qualified to live in a ‘flattop’ house, one of the nicest accommodations in the new city, and started to work. Each day a ‘blackout bus’ would pick us up, carry us to work, and return us home in the evenings. These were little more than cattle trucks,” she explained. “We were completely enclosed and couldn’t see where we were going.”
“My sister worked in a science lab, and I did math all day every day with engineers. Pages and pages of mathematical problems, and I never had any idea what their purpose was … I just worked my slide rule hour after hour.”
Bacon reached into her purse and gently removed a small badge.
“This was my pass from 1944. The numbers and letters showed where I was allowed to go on the ‘reservation’.”
The room fell quiet as we held a piece of history in our hands and gazed upon the beautiful young woman smiling back at us from the tiny photograph.
“I’m glad I kept it,” Bacon quietly said.
“There were people from all over the world on the reservation,” she said.
The Secret City was completely fenced in and everyone had to pass through a search and “pat-down” at the gates.
“You could always spot the scientists because they were never alone. The word about town was they were so brilliant that they couldn’t match their own clothes or remember to eat. So, they needed an assistant with them at all times.”
Bacon continued, “The city was ‘open’ 24 hours a day. You couldn’t tell a difference between two in the afternoon and 2 a.m. There was always something to do. We ate at the cafeterias a lot — they were wonderful. There were all kinds of foods, and it was all delicious.”
Bacon said she felt extremely proud to have helped with the war effort.
“All the men in my family were in the war.” When peace was declared, Bacon was in New York City.
The BCDW Book Club also welcomed a surprise guest, Carl Brackin, who lived in the Secret City at the same time as a teenage boy. He likely helped Bacon, her sister and mother bag their groceries at the A&P. Now 70 years later, their paths have crossed again.
The Bradley County Democratic Women’s Book Club meets the first Wednesday of each month.
February’s book is “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The meeting is Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. at the Cleveland Public Library Carmichael Room (upstairs).