Barbara Bohr connects with thoughts of her great-grandfather Niels Bohr as she stands on
Sawyer’s Hill where he once skied during the Manhattan Project. (Photo by Liz Martineau)
By Sharon Snyder
Los Alamos Historical Society
In mid August, the historical society was contacted by a young woman who wanted to
visit Los Alamos to see where her ancestors had been during the Manhattan Project. She
would be flying from Denmark and wanted to learn what might still be here from that era.
While there aren’t many buildings in existence on the community side of the fence, there
is still an aura of that time, those years in the mid-1940s when scientists came together
from many parts of the world to focus on a singular goal.
Flash forward to this past Thursday. The woman stood inside the Hans Bethe House,
looking at the panels that show the names of Nobel Prize winners connected with Los
Alamos. It must have been a moment of pride for her because Barbara Bohr has two
family members shown on those panels—her great grandfather Niels Bohr and her
grandfather Aage Bohr.
To cover as much ground as possible in a two-day visit, the historical society arranged for
Barbara and her boyfriend, Mikkel Thykier, to take a driving tour with Georgia
Strickfaden of Atomic City Tours. They saw the buildings of Bathtub Row, structures
that were used during the Manhattan Project, and it seems certain that the Bohrs were in
Fuller Lodge at times and most likely the Oppenheimer House. Other stops included the
current home of the Little Theatre, which was a mess hall during the war years, and the
Christian Science Church that was once a Women’s Army Corps dormitory. However,
those structures hold only mere resemblances to wartime Los Alamos.
A stop at Sawyer’s Hill offered perhaps the closest connection for Barbara to her great
grandfather, as it is certain that Niels Bohr skied there at least once during his time at Los
Alamos. He is pictured in Just Crazy to Ski, A Fifty-Year History of Skiing at Los Alamos.
The caption reads: “This photograph of Nicholas Baker, the code name for Niels Bohr,
was a conspiracy by three different people who happened to have a camera on Sawyer’s
Hill that day. They wish to remain anonymous because photographs of this great scientist
were strictly forbidden at that time.” Barbara took the time to walk the length of the main
slope, quiet and lost in thought.
One of the high points of the tour is a stop along the road to the Pajarito Mountain ski
area where visitors can look down on the Los Alamos National Laboratory and see the
modern expanse of buildings, but that scene is nothing like the laboratory of the
Manhattan Project days. The laboratory where Niels Bohr and his son Aage spent their
days consisted of hurriedly built wooden buildings crowded around Ashley Pond.
Through an old photograph of the main Tech Area from that earlier time, Barbara and
Mikkel could come closer to seeing the place her ancestors had known.
On their second day in Los Alamos, Barbara and Mikkel were given the historical
society’s walking tour of the Historic District. Afterward, they met with four
representatives from the society in the Hans Bethe House—Liz Martineau, Director;
Gordon McDonough, retired science educator from the Bradbury Science Museum; Steve
Greene, retired LANL scientist; and myself—to share thoughts and ask questions. It was
immediately obvious that our visitors were well read concerning our history, but they
needed to be here to establish a personal connection. Family stories were shared and
scientific questions were discussed.
Barbara reflected on the time that Niels Bohr and son Aage spent here during the war,
and she “imagined them wondering what was happening at home, how their family was
faring,” but she added that at least “they had each other.” She also told of traveling years
later with her grandfather Aage to the United States and standing outside the White
House, listening to his stories of being there with his father after the war when Niels “had
gone to meet with President Truman to discuss possibilities resonating from the
Manhattan Project.” She even mentioned a story that her father had passed down from his
grandfather. Niels had told him of the dinners he had enjoyed at the home of Edith
Warner and the mutual respect they had for one another.
We asked how life was for Niels Bohr when he returned home to Denmark after the war
and learned that he had been given a palatial home by the government. He was treated
like royalty and even the Queen visited. Barbara explained that “he became somewhat of
a mythological figure!” He had helped Jewish scientists escape Europe by way of
Denmark and Sweden, and “he understood his role, his duty to help other scientists
escape and find placement,” she said.
We parted on Thursday with a promise from her and Mikkel to return, and for our part, a
huge thank you for their coming all this way to experience the place where the Bohrs,
father and son, had made a difference, not only in the advancement of physics but in a
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the