Thanksgiving at the Ranch School
By SHARON SNYDER
Los Alamos Historical Society
The observance of Thanksgiving at Los Alamos Ranch School (LARS) in 1941 was the last one of a traditional nature. Ten days later, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and within the next few months Headmaster Lawrence Hitchcock and other masters would be in the military on active duty, but in 1941 the holiday was carefree.
A fine turkey dinner with all the trimmings was served in Fuller Lodge and enjoyed by staff and visitors as well as all but five of the LARS boys. William “Bee” Barr went home to Chama to be with his family. Jim Thorpe invited Wilson Hurley to spend the weekend with his family in Santa Fe, and Charley Butler and Stirling Colgate traveled to Albuquerque to be with relatives.
The long weekend was filled with activities for the boys who stayed at the school. Outings were arranged for those wanting to get away for the weekend and experience other New Mexico sites. Eleven boys went to Acoma, chaperoned by Master Oscar Steege. Senior Patrol Leader Ben Raskob went along and assisted with the driving. That group took a short side trip to the Albuquerque airport and were given a tour of one of the army’s large bombers.
Other students chose to spend three days at Camp Hamilton with Headmaster Hitchcock and Master Harry Walen. They explored nearby pueblos and cliff dwellings as well as doing their part in caring for the cabin and preparing meals.
Boys who chose to remain at the school stayed busy as they worked to clear the ski area on Sawyer Mesa. In the three days, they removed brush and trees to prepare for the upcoming ski season. Master Cecil Wirth was in charge of skiing at LARS and supervised the workers. A weekend snow fell as the young men removed logs from their ski run and looked forward to the outings they made possible.
Masters Harry Walen and Fermor Church used some of their time off to drive to Santa Fe to listen to the annual Harvard-Yale football game with other area graduates of those universities, but there was also another reason for their trip. They brought back to Los Alamos a very important passenger. As they drove home that evening they were accompanied by Mrs. Walen and her new son, born Nov. 8 at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Welcoming the new little resident to the ranch school wrapped up a fine holiday.
A year later, the Thanksgiving observance of 1942 had a very different tone as the turkey dinner was served at Fuller Lodge. The boys contemplated an unknown future, and LARS Director A.J. Connell and the remaining masters awaited a letter from the War Department that would reveal the fate of the school. The Los Alamos Thanksgiving of 1943 was observed by young men and women living behind a fence and working on a secret effort that would become known as the Manhattan Project.
Manhattan Project Secrecy
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These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the