Tri-Cities will turn the clock back 75 years. Atomic Frontier Days to return

The Tri-Cities will return to its one-of-a-kind past this summer and fall as it relives the events on the World War II home front.

Sept. 26 will mark 75 years since B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, went critical at Hanford, helping end the war and ushering in the atomic age.

Some 50,000 men and women came to Eastern Washington during the war for a project so secret only a few knew what they were building.

In less than a year they built B Reactor — and more than 1,000 other buildings during the war years — to support the Manhattan Project to create the world’s first atomic bomb.

This summer the Tri-Cities will commemorate the 1944 start-up of B Reactor and its place in world history with exhibits, tours, concerts and festivals to pay tribute to those who toiled, often far from home, in the barren, dusty shrub steppe to help win the war.

Hanford’s historic B Reactor went critical 75 years ago on Sept. 26. It is now part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Courtesy TRIDEC

Starting in 1948, Richland celebrated Atomic Frontier Days, a once-annual community celebration of Richland, “the atomic city.”

The event returns for the 75th anniversary celebration Sept. 14.

A parade is planned, as was the Atomic Frontier Days tradition, and then people can gather at Howard Amon Park to experience what it was like for workers who came from across the country to Hanford during the war.

Booths will be set up where each “new worker” will have a security badge picture snapped, learn what job they will will hold and get assignments from their government housing to their mess hall.

ATOMIC Frontier Days parade.PNG
Richland has traditionally celebrated its unique atomic and western heritage with an Atomic Frontier Days parade. Courtesy Department of Energy

A B-17 flyover is planned to pay tribute to the B-17 bomber that Hanford workers raised $300,000 to buy.

Workers were urged to donate a day’s pay and then gathered on July 23, 1944, to see the bomber they paid for christened “Day’s Pay” at the former Hanford nuclear reservation air field before it entered service in England.

Other Atomic Frontier Days activities being organized include dancing to a swing band, a 1940s fashion show, a re-creation of a worker mess hall dinner and a parade.

Fronteir Days performances are planned by top Tri-Cities arts groups, some of which trace their beginnings to the Manhattan Project when workers created their own entertainment.

The National Park Service will have a remembrance room to collect stories about life during the Manhattan Project from those who came to Hanford before, during or just after the war and their friends and families.

Some of the other highlights of the 75th anniversary celebration include:

The Richland Players, which gave its first performance in 1944, will be re-creating one of its 1940s productions, “Bertha the Beautiful Typewriter Girl,” on Aug 30-31 and Sept. 6-8 and 13-15.

It’s a traditional melodrama with dastardly villains, virtuous heroines and a mysterious benefactor.

The group is dedicating its 75th anniversary season to a series of performances from each decade from WWII through the 1990s and then the 2000s.

Mid-Columbia Mastersingers will hold its fourth concert series in historic B Reactor Sept. 27-29.

This year’s event will feature the world premier of Tri-Cities composer Reginald Unterseher’s “Nuclear Dreams: An Oral History of the Hanford Site.”

Members of Mid-Columbia Mastersingers practice at B Reactor, where the group will premier “Nuclear Dreams: An Oral History of the Hanford Site” in September. Courtesy Mid-Columbia Mastersingers

It’s a concert-length work with chamber orchestra and chorus performing the stories of the people who lived and worked at early-day Hanford.

The Richland Public Library plans a Day’s Pay lecture and Hanford exhibit from 4-6 p.m. on Sept. 13 with four of the descendents of the bomber’s crew invited to speak about their relatives’ and Hanford employees’ role in the war effort.

The library will be displaying historical maps and floor plans of the “alphabet homes,” the federally owned homes built when Richland was a government town housing Hanford workers. Each model of home was known by a letter of the alphabet.

The library also will display recently uncovered documents showing the prices of the alphabet houses, other artifacts and images of Richland that it is hoping the public can help identify.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation will be loaning films to the library.

The popular Ride the Reactor, a mountain bike ride that begins and ends at B Reactor on the Hanford Site, will be Sept. 21.

Up to 150 cyclists can ride roads at Hanford normally closed to the public and tour the reactor for a fee of $40.

bike B Reactor (1).jpg
Ride the Reactor, an organized bike ride around B Reactor at the closed Hanford nuclear reservation, will be held Sept. 21. Dan Ostergaard Courtesy Manhattan Project National Historical Park

The Mid-Columbia Symphony is celebrating its 75th season.

On Sept. 21 it plans a “From the Vault” concert with works played by the symphony in its early years.

Many more Hanford 75th anniversary events — along with information on costs, locations, dates, times and prices — are posted at www.Hanford75th.com.

Other events include a free Geo-Coin Challenge with atomic-themed coins Thursday through Saturday; a free Wings and Wheels show at the Richland Airport Aug. 17; a performance by the World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra Sept. 19; and additional lectures, artifact displays, museum exhibits and art displays themed to early-day Hanford.

IMG_B_Reactor_historic.j_5_1_1G3PU0RS_L97921177 (1).JPG
The Hanford nuclear reservation’s B Reactor near Richland is shown in this aerial photo taken 1944-45. Plutonium produced at B Reactor was used in the first atomic bomb detonated during a test in New Mexico and in one of the bombs used to end World War II. Courtesy Department of Energy
Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.