Last week, I finished reading a book called Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins (fun fact: Wiggins was married to Salman Rushdie for about five years, including the time when the Ayatollah declared a fatwa on him. I told Josh this, and we proceeded to make newlywed jokes about hiding from assassins). The book was beautiful, though the prose was a bit florid for my tastes.
Part of the book was set in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where one of the main characters was a photographer at the government facility built there to work on the Manhattan Project. In 1942, the government started buying up land in this remote part of Eastern Tennessee. Some people were forced off their land; they were compensated, but not really given the option to decline. The project was of the utmost secrecy. While there were physicists and whatnot who presumably had the security clearance to know what was going on, a lot of the people doing support work had no idea what they were working on. They found out when the rest of us did: when we dropped the bomb on the Japanese.
I'd heard of Oak Ridge a while back when I saw a series of pictures taken there. But when reading the book, I was struck by the fact that such a place existed so close to where I live. In fact, it's about an hour and a half away from my sister's house, so I'm thinking that the next time we visit her, we may have to visit Oak Ridge, too.
I was already thinking that, and then in the book, it mentioned in passing that the facility was powered by Norris Dam, which was built on the Tennessee River by the TVA. And I thought, man, that's spooky. Because just last month, when I was visiting that same sister, I went to a yard sale in the basement of a Catholic church and bought a t-shirt for a quarter that said "Norris Dam Marina." I often buy souvenirs from places that I have never been to or heard of. They become souvenirs of the place and time where I bought them, for example the basement of the Catholic church in Morristown, Tennessee. This was a nice vintage shirt, faded teal and soft from many washings, and that's why I bought it. I thought about looking up Norris Dam, but then never did until I came across it in a book. I took it as a sign - we have got to get over to Oak Ridge.
After finishing the book, I did a little more research: on the book itself, the author, the settings. After the war, Oak Ridge gradually transitioned from being a manufactured government town to a regular ole little town. Of course, there is a museum there, to bring in the dollars from the tourists who might like to learn about Tennessee's role in the A-bomb. The museum is called the American Museum of Science and Energy. When I read that, I gasped again. Because not two weeks ago, we went to a yard sale in the parking lot of a Baptist church in Wallburg, North Carolina, where I picked up four goofy tourist magnets. One of them was from the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, TN.
We have got to get to Oak Ridge. Then I can buy some souvenirs!