Hey, should we put another log or two on the— Actually, never mind. It's going pretty good now.
The Stokes nuclear test was part of the extensive series of blasts code-named Operation Plumbbob conducted at the Nevada Test Site, as the U.S. continued its race with the Soviet Union, seeking higher yielding, more efficient, and more specifically functional bombs. Stokes was a nineteen kiloton blast detonated with the use of an aerial balloon suspended at 1,500 feet. The result was one of the most reproduced photos of the nuclear testing age. From today in 1957.
Rule No. 1 of military service: Never volunteer.
The moment you see this photo you know something bizarre and unique to the 1950s is going on. In what was conceived by Air Force brains as a public relations event, today in 1957 these five men (and the photographer) voluntarily located themselves beneath a nuclear detonation to demonstrate that atomic weapons were suitable for use over civilian populations. Yes, we know—if they don't kill people what's the point? Like we said, bizarre and unique to the ’50s. The U.S. would later design a neutron bomb that was meant to kill only people and leave buildings and infrastructure intact, which makes sense in upside-down military world, but not killing people? We're baffled.
The explosion, which was code-named John, was part of the Operation Plumbbob series of twenty-nine tests, and took place over Yucca Flat in Nevada at an altitude of 18,000 feet or thereabouts (some sources say 15,000). It was the first and only usage of a device known as the AIR-2 Genie, an airplane launched, rocket powered, unguided nuclear missile.
We have no problem admitting they would have lost us at unguided. We wouldn't even be in the same time zone: “Okay, everyone ready? Good, we're counting down from— Hey, where'd those pulp guys go?” Did the test actually prove nuclear weapons were safe? They thought so. All five of the above guinea pigs lived for years beyond detonation day, but in a (not) shocking plot twist, all eventually died of cancer. The photographer, who was stationed a few feet higher than the other men, was incinerated. Oh, nope—actually he died of cancer too. You can watch the test at this link.
On the first day of murder, my true love gave to me...
The 42 days of Roger Torrey's 42 Days for Murder refers to the six weeks that someone needed to be resident in Nevada to qualify for a divorce, which we think is kind of clever title-wise. The story deals with a rich man's wife who runs away to Reno to dissolve her marriage but goes incommunicado after she arrives. The husband hires a detective named Shean Connell to track down his wife so that he can at least talk to her before she ditches him. Finding her is not much of a problem for Connell. Arranging for his client to talk to her is another deal entirely. As the story unfolds, it turns out there's a reason for her reluctance to chat. A very good reason, actually, which Connell figures out only at the cost of considerable mayhem, two deadly shootouts, and a veritable pile of corpses.
The book was originally published in 1938, but this Hillman edition featuring a photo cover came in 1949. Torrey was an experienced writer, having produced stories for the pulp magazine Black Mask, and here he shows a deft hand with a unique idea that we can't even hint at without spoiling the book. Flaws include dialogue that sometimes stretches past the point of usefulness or interest—Torrey could have cut the book by twenty pages easily, if not thirty—but it remains a fun ride tearing around 1930's Reno with Connell, who's not only a shamus but an ace piano player. He's the best part of the novel, though he's unusually cynical about women. Too bad 42 Days for Murder was Torrey's only book. It's not perfect, but it's one to catch if you can.
Climate change dredges up grim evidence of crimes thought long forgotten.
Earlier this week in Nevada, someone ambling along the shoreline of Lake Mead found a corroded oil drum that had a nasty surprise inside. Police determined that the contents were human remains, and that the poor individual died of a gunshot wound sometime in the mid-1970s to early 1980s. Whoever killed the person dumped the body deep into the lake—actually a huge reservoir formed by Hoover Dam—but because of an ongoing drought in the western states, the water has in recent years dropped more than a hundred feet below its maximum, revealing tracts of previously submerged land. Authorities believe that as the water level continues dropping they'll find more bodies. And why is that? Well, Las Vegas is nearby.
In a related story, somewhere in Sin City an elderly mobster awoke from an afternoon nap in a sweaty panic, put his hands to his painfully throbbing head, and said: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force. It's as if a voice I thought was silenced decades ago suddenly cried out in terror.” Silence doesn't always last. For sure that'll be the interesting part of this—seeing if modern forensics can identify the body, a good possibility considering the advances of recent decades. And of course identification might lead to suspicions about who dumped it.
The elderly mobster later phoned a slightly less elderly hitman and ranted, “You told me it'd never be found!” To which the hitman said, “Who am I? Nostra-fuckin'-damus? I'm supposed to know the goddamned lake's gonna dry up? You still getting chauffeured around in that old Cadillac? I got a hybrid, so don't blame me!” To the list of problemscaused by global warming, add grisly corpses reappearing, and former hitmen virtue signaling about their carbon footprints. Which the mobster was too old to understand anyway. “Hybrid? You know I never worked with them! I never liked them, and I never trusted them!”
Plenty of mob-connected people have disappeared from Las Vegas over the decades. As pulp aficionados we have to hope they're all in the lake. Seriously, wouldn't it be fantastic if like seventy bodies turned up? Meanwhile, we bet there's an uptick in local bottled water sales. While it's true the reservoir's output is purified before it gushes through city faucets, and the nuclear testing grounds and chemical plants scattered around Vegas have probably left worse than corpse pathogens in the lake, images of human remains tend to give people a special kind of willies. You can purify the water, but you can't purify people's natural fear of death and decay. Since nothing serious is actually being done about global warming, we at least recommend a more sustainable form of victim disposal. When trouble looms, hide the evidence better. It's time to innovate, Gen Z—older generations have failed.
Edit: As of 7 August a total of four bodies have been found. More to come?
For there were no more worlds to conquer.
Above: a crowd of spectators standing under the entrance sign of the Last Frontier Village on the Las Vegas strip watch the flash from a nuclear blast emanating from the Nevada desert. In the immediate background are Old West-style buildings that housed shops, restaurants, and the Golden Slipper Casino. The sign is a nice juxtaposition by lensman Volkmar Wentzel, placing his shot at the nexus of visual metaphor and social commentary.
The bomb, named Annie, was detonated at Yucca Flat at the Nevada Test Site as part of the test series Operation Upshot-Knothole. It was one of the most photographed of nuclear tests, which is why we've already touched on it here and here, and in fact, because the event was even documented on kinescope, it's one of the few recordings ever made of the sound of a nuclear explosion. Below you see what Annie looked like for people closer to ground zero. It happened early this morning in 1953.
It's not an arms race until there are fireworks.
Proving once again that people will buy anything, especially if it's cheap, above you see a postcard depicting the nuclear test Fox, which was conducted as part of Operation Ranger today in 1951. The operation comprised five tests, all in aerial bomb form, dropped and detonated over Frenchman Flat test site in Nevada. The postcard was manufactured by the Desert Supply Co. of Las Vegas, which makes sense because this is exactly what happens to your wallet if you go to Vegas.
Since the postcard image a a bit faded, below we have an actual shot of the test in all its insane crimson splendor. Only these devices have the ability to send civilization back to the stone age. Global warming, a pandemic, anything else you care to name, falls well short. And the nuclear arms race is ongoing, as several atomic powers are recklessly upgrading and expanding their arsenals. Want to see another interesting image of this event? Look here.
Some encounters you remember better than others.
Above, two photos of the 22-kiloton nuclear test codenamed MET, part of the series Operation Teapot, detonated at Frenchman Flat, Nevada, with military observers first shielding their eyes, then regarding the debris cloud, today in 1955.
The ratings on this one were sky high.
Above is a photo of the U.S. nuclear test Upshot–Knothole Annie, which was conducted as part of a series of explosions known as Operation Upshot–Knothole. Scientists studied the effect of a nuclear blast on wooden houses (wiping out any possible equity), a bunch of automobiles (totally ruining their resale value), and eight bomb shelters (which actually functioned properly, but with a blasted radioactive landscape crawling with ravenous zombies, what would be the point of surviving?). Interestingly, the test was broadcast on national television, which goes to show you can convince people to watch anything, even a vision of their own future destruction. The broadcast was also recorded on a kinescope, which makes it a rare recording of the actual sound of an atomic blast—the last sound you hear. That was today in 1953.
With house prices today, this is looking like a real bargain.
They just don't build them like they used to. Above you see a U.S. Energy Department photo that's been well-circulated around the internet showing the shell of a house that endured the Apple II nuclear test, a 29-kiloton shot fired today in 1955. The building was part of Survival Town, a collection of homes, fallout shelters, power systems, and communications hubs erected in the Nevada desert to gauge the effects of nuclear explosions on civilian structures. The effect, predictably, was catastrophic, but this one lived through it. With a little effort it could become a nice Airbnb.
Just the thing for a cross-country trip.
This photo shows the crater made by the Sedan nuclear test, also known as the Storax Sedan test, which happened today in 1962 as part of Operation Storax. The crater is the result of an explosion that displaced twelve million tons of earth, and at 320 feet deep and 1280 feet in diameter is the largest man-made crater in the United States. It's also—bizarrely we think—listed on the National Register of Historic Places, especially weird when you consider that it sent two radioactive plumes wafting northeast from the Nevada explosion site, cross country from state to unsuspecting state, to settle especially heavily upon Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Illinois. Of all the nuclear tests conducted in the United States, Sedan ranked highest in overall activity of radionuclides in fallout, distributing nearly 7% of the total amount of radiation which fell on the U.S. population during all of the nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site. Historic indeed. You see the explosion that caused all that below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor
The Imperial Japanese Navy sends aircraft to attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet and its defending air forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While the U.S. lost battleships and other vessels, its aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor and survived intact, robbing the Japanese of the total destruction of the Pacific Fleet they had hoped to achieve.
1989—Anti-Feminist Gunman Kills 14
In Montreal, Canada, at the École Polytechnique, a gunman shoots twenty-eight young women with a semi-automatic rifle, killing fourteen. The gunman claimed to be fighting feminism, which he believed had ruined his life. After the killings he turns the gun on himself and commits suicide.
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
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