Blast from the past: Richland shares its historical Hanford connection at Atomic Frontier Day

Jim Boak remembers a Richland before there was an uptown.

He was in his early 20s and had just finished a tour of duty in the Pacific as a U.S. Marine when he landed in Richland in 1946.

“It was really different,” he said. “I was single and they had barracks. That’s where I stayed.”

The former Hanford firefighter turned reactor operator said he could have spent a day telling stories about what Richland was like at the time. He spent a career at the Hanford site and a lifetime in Richland. He remembered the last time floats rolled through Richland to celebrate Atomic Frontier Days.

When it returned on Saturday afternoon, his great-grandson Soren Snell said Boak couldn’t have been more excited. He was one of thousands of people remembering the 75th anniversary of the Manhattan Project and the city’s unusual history.

Stories from the past

Stories were everywhere in the park.

Kaylee Brown left, and her mother, Erin, smile watching as Ada Wyn Parker, one of the original “Rosie the Riveters” signs her autograph on Brown’s shirt inside the Richland Community Center in Richland on Saturday. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

There was the person whose father stuck him in the trunk while driving onto the Hanford site. He still remembers his father killing a deer along the road and throwing the remains in the trunk.

Then there was the person whose parents met while they were working on the project. The daughter who remembered her parents participating in the lottery to get a spot in the alphabet homes.

Jillian Gardner-Andrews, WSU Tri-Cities’ Hanford History Project, was happy to bring the event back to Richland. It is an event that brought people from across the country to Richland to celebrate their accomplishments.

During the Atomic Frontier Day ceremony bomber planes did a flyover over the Columbia River in Richland once the family of the Day’s Pay crew gave the signal. Hanford workers donated a day’s pay during WWII to buy a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber christened Day’s Pay. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

“To be able to re-create it with the city is just fantastic,” she said. “People are so excited that we’re doing this because they got to experience the parade and the booths and the games, and now that we’re bringing it back they can show their grandkids.”

Families got a chance to peek into a model of one of the alphabet homes, see a bus that brought workers from the Pasco train station to the worksite and got to see other pieces of history from the period.

Attendees were given Hanford badges during Atomic Frontier Day’s at Howard Amon Park in Richland on Saturday and walk through the steps of getting a badge while seeing historical exhibits. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Inside the community center, Northwest Public Broadcasting was collecting 10 minute oral histories from people who remembered what Hanford and Richland was like.

“It’s such a celebration of the community, because we’re such a unique city,” Gardner-Andrews said. “Richland was a government city until 1958, and there’s not many places in the world that had that experience.”

Sharing the region’s history

It’s important to share the history of Hanford and Richland with people who know the stories, and with the people who don’t.

Jim Boak, center, worked as a Hanford firefighter for 15-years. Courtesy of Jim Boak

For Richland Mayor Bob Thompson, the celebration gave him a chance to tell his story about growing up just blocks from Howard Amon Park before he read a proclamation renaming it Riverside Park for the day.

The event gave him a chance to celebrate the city’s past and what made it special.

“Sometimes we lose sight of how important that framework is to success,” he said. “So this is yet another example of Richland having a great opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible without our forefathers, really.”

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.