Oak Ridge re-creation of 1945 photo flatters Ed Westcott

(WBIR - Oak Ridge) With newspapers in-hand, a crowd in Oak Ridge celebrated the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park by re-creating an iconic photograph taken in 1945.

The original image was captured by Manhattan Project photographer Ed Westcott and shows an exuberant celebration in Jackson Square with people holding newspapers featuring the headline "War Ends." The 2015 version of the newspaper replaced the headline with "Park Opens."

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Westcott, 92, was in the crowd holding a newspaper to help re-create the photo he took more than 70 years ago. This time around, the government photographer used a step-ladder to get the elevated shot. Westcott's photo in August 1945 was done with some automotive assistance.

"He stood up on the flatbed of a truck to take these photographs, capturing the people as they were that evening," said Westcott's son-in-law Don Hunnicutt. "This [war ends] photograph was one of his favorites that he took."

Westcott suffered a stroke that has affected his speech. His son-in-law helped him communicate throughout the day.

Every day, the thousands of photographs Westcott took during the birth of Oak Ridge communicate the most focused messages about the history of the Manhattan Project. The government chose the young photographer to document the construction of a secret city that would develop the first atomic bombs. Westcott was one of the few people who could have a camera at the top secret site.

"He was stopped many times by the military police. He had an identification badge that said he was allowed to take photographs," said Hunnicutt as Westcott nodded in agreement.

Westcott's images stand as the visual record of the nuclear science during the Manhattan Project, but also daily-life for the people and families who lived inside the gated city.

"His photography was about the community. I would guess 65 to 70 percent of it was about the community. Not about construction of the bomb, the separation of uranium, and all of that. I think it was more the spirit of the community," said son Jim Westcott. "The community has embraced him and embraced the historical value of his photography."

Westcott was able to capture remarkable photographs by virtue of his outgoing personality, his ability to blend in, and also his willingness to bargain.

"There's the picture he took of [physicist Robert] Oppenheimer in the guest house. Oppenheimer was sitting in the chair with a cigarette in his hand in the picture. He asked Mr. Westcott to get him a pack of cigarettes, but he didn't have correct change. Mr. Westcott did get the cigarettes without correct change, and in turn he took [Oppenheimer's] photograph," said Hunnicutt.

Westcott continued working for the Department of Energy as a photographer in Oak Ridge throughout the Cold War until he retired in the late 1970s. During the decades of photographic service, Westcott learned the shuttering power of a camera in directing some of the world's top leaders.

"When you have a camera in the hand you can get the President of the United States to do whatever you want him to do," said Hunnicutt as Westcott laughed aloud. "He photographed five United States presidents in his career."

Today you cannot go anywhere in Oak Ridge without seeing Westcott's work. The images are in museums, on the covers of books, and even plastered on utility boxes around the city.

Now Westcott's photography will help visually tell the story for the new Manhattan Project National HIstorical Park.

"This park is long-overdue. With Mr. Westcott being here since December of 1942, it is very fortunate to have him see all of this happening. If he lives until January, he'll be 93 years old," said Hunnicutt, again causing a chuckle from Westcott. "He is probably one of the longest-living original Oak Ridge residents."

As for the photographic imitation during Thursday's celebration, Westcott considered it the a sincere form of flattery.

"If you ask Ed what he thought about all of that, he'd say he was just doing his job. So he's a pretty modest man. But he certainly enjoys the publication of his photographs and some of them are world-renowned. He is excited to be a part of this."

Westcott served as the lens that exposed Oak Ridge to the world. His life's work will continue to help future generations develop understanding of life behind the gates of a secret city during a terrible war.

In addition to several exhibits in museums throughout Oak Ridge, the American Museum of Science and Energy has built an online Tumblr gallery that contains some of the highlights Ed Westcott's photography during the Manhattan Project.

LINK: Tumblr - The Photography of Ed Westcott

The Department of Energy in Oak Ridge also has an incredibly extensive online collection of Ed Westcott's photographs at its Flickr account. There are decades of photos by Ed Westcott, with the Manhattan Project photos in its album for the 1940s.

LINK: Flickr - Department of Energy Oak Ridge Photo Albums


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