Sep 14, 2007


Ace in the black hole

By Robert Nott | The New Mexican
September 13, 2007

The Apocalypse. That’s what it says on one of the signs outside the entrance to The Black Hole Surplus Store & Museum in Los Alamos. It’s a disturbing welcome, but the man who created and runs the Black Hole wants to do what he can to save us all — from ourselves.

Edward Grothus, who turned 84 in June, worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1949 to 1969 and has put in nearly twice as much time advocating an end to nuclear weaponry. The Black Hole is a maze of aisles featuring gadgetry, recycled hardware, and assorted knickknacks — mostly culled from the lab. “If the lab ever had it, I got some of it. I have most of the artifacts of the Atomic Age,” Grothus said.

The FBI stopped by at least twice to investigate Grothus, but someone in the government must appreciate him. New Mexico is honoring the artist, activist, and satirist with the Allan Houser Memorial Award, presented alongside the 2007 Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts. Grothus receives his award in a public ceremony from 5:15 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, at St. Francis Auditorium in the New Mexico Museum of Art (107 W. Palace Ave.) Earlier that day, there is a reception and exhibit of the artists’ works from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in the Governor’s Gallery, fourth floor of the state Capitol (Paseo de Peralta and Old Santa Fe Trail). The exhibit runs through Dec. 1. There is no charge for the awards-presentation ceremony or the reception; call 827-4378 for information.

During a recent interview and tour of the Black Hole, Grothus said that he is busy these days trying to find a public space in Los Alamos for two granite obelisks — “doomsday stones,” he calls them. He says the stones, which were quarried in China, weigh 22 tons each and are about 44 feet tall.

“Welcome to Los Alamos, New Mexico, the United States of America, the City of Fire. Our fires are brighter than a thousand suns. It was once believed that only God could destroy the world, but scientists working in Los Alamos first harnessed the power of the atom.” So reads part of Grothus’ intended inscription.

He offered the work to Los Alamos County’s Art in Public Places Advisory Board in June, but the board declined the offer for a number of reasons, including the fact that it couldn’t figure out where to put the pieces. “They said they don’t fit in with the rest of the Art in Public Places pieces,” Grothus explained.

A sense of sadness comes over Grothus when he talks about our government, people, and weapons manufacturers. “No one is secure unless everyone is secure,” he said. “With Homeland Security do we have to live in fear? No. We have to change the way the powerful are thinking.”

Grothus is a self-ordained minister of the First Church of High Technology, which sits on the grounds of his Black Hole complex. In the mid-1960s, he bought the old A-frame church and a former Piggly Wiggly grocery store, which now houses the museum and store. Not long ago he elevated himself to the status of cardinal in his church. That, he said, makes him eligible to be nominated for pope. He mentioned that he recently garnered 154 votes for that position, but “they didn’t recognize me in Rome.”

Grothus is happy to take anyone on a tour of the Black Hole and its grounds. He refers to most of his stock as nuclear waste. “Not radioactive, but waste from the nuclear industry. They’re always doing experiments, and when they complete these experiments they have to get rid of his stuff. Last year’s technology is already out.”

Outside the Black Hole, there are old stoves, microwaves, computer consoles, desks, and errant torpedoes. Grothus is putting together a large, sunflower-shaped sculpture from old bombs — it will make a nice addition to the yard, he noted.

Inside, Grothus’ sculpture Nuclear World Screwed is on display. He hopes it will be shown in the Governor’s Gallery, but don’t count on seeing the sculpture there — it’s big and hard to move. A 1944 Marley high-speed camera sits next to the shelf where wood screws and Sharpie permanent markers are for sale. Grothus has a 1940s-era mechanical calculator — “but it doesn’t do square roots!” You can find radiation detectors rattling away, and there are Geiger counters that don’t count.

There are vacuum tubes, pipes, clamps, valves, meters, a stainless-steel carrier lined with tin (“maybe they used that to carry acid bottles in”), and, inexplicably, Christmas stockings shaped like cowboy boots.

A can of “organic plutonium” sits on a shelf. It’s a joke piece, but the FBI didn’t think so. Some investigators came by to ask Grothus why he sent a similar can to President Clinton in 1996. “I sent it with a note saying, ‘If you eat this stuff you’ll walk with a halo,’” he recalled with a chuckle. “They came and checked me out to see if any insanity ran through my family.” The feds showed up again a few years ago to confiscate a computer hard drive marked “secret.” It has since been returned.

In one of the Black Hole’s back rooms, there is a fermentor. You can mix anthrax in it, Grothus said. “They’ve been looking all over Iraq for these things, but they can’t find them,” he explained. “Bush wants to buy it from me and smuggle it into Iraq. Then they’ll find it there. I’m asking $2 million. People tell me that’s cheap.”

During the tour, Grothus spoke of his career at the lab. “My job was to make ‘better’ atomic bombs.” First he was a machinist, and later he helped measure implosions. He doesn’t say that he regretted that experience. When asked if it helped make him the anti-nuclear force that he is, he said, “Not really.”

Does the lab do any good? “Aside from some medical breakthroughs — it’s been a bad business. They should leave the uranium in the ground.”

He pointed to a collection of comments written by visitors in a sign-in book at the front desk. “My favorite collection of bombs!” a Florida resident wrote. Grothus may smile at these things, but underneath, he grieves for the reality of the situation. “Something that can kill a million people — what would be the advantage of that?”

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Man, what a lunatic...

Pinky and The Brain said...

I am not! Oh wait, did you mean Ed?

Anonymous said...

Let Ed Speak for Himself!

Anonymous said...

Actually Ed may have the last laugh.

Anonymous said...

If you know Ed, not just from reading his "writings" in the local rag, you will have to admit that your life is more interesting.

Anonymous said...

Ed's a nice guy. I don't agree with most of his views, but if Ed's a lunatic, then we could sure use more crazy people like him in this world.

It will be a sad day in Los Alamos when Ed Grothus passes away.

Anonymous said...

"He offered the work to Los Alamos County’s Art in Public Places Advisory Board in June, but the board declined the offer for a number of reasons, including the fact that it couldn’t figure out where to put the pieces. “They said they don’t fit in with the rest of the Art in Public Places pieces,” Grothus explained."

Typical Los Alamos County response to anything controversial. I wonder what the other reasons were.

Anonymous said...

He lines his pockets by degrading the work of the laboratory and the people that do it after he lined them working there. His place is a big sty. He is one of the morons that thinks the nuclear gene can be put back into the bottle.

Yeah. He is an effing hero.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like there is not enough chlorine in your (nuclear?) gene pool.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah. He is an effing hero." (9/14/07 6:25 PM)

No, he's not a "effing hero." He's just a very decent man who has strong beliefs and backs them up. At least Ed's no coward, like a great many of the people who live in Los Alamos and work at LANL.

Poster 6:25 PM, I have strong doubts you have ever taken the time to visit the Black Hole and talk with Ed. If you had, you wouldn't be making comments like the one above. My views are probably 180 degrees different from Ed's, but I can still admire his strong character and since of purpose in life.

Anonymous said...

Many of the awards mention Ed's bio wherein he has 'quit' from the Lab in order to become an anti-nuclear activist but what they fail to note is that he retired from the Lab, not just quit on principle. I guess having the financial stability like a solid retirement takes a good bit of the 'suffering for the cause' a whole lot more tolerable.

He's entitled to the retirement pay and he's entitled to speak against nuclear threats but I would think that people who are showering him with accolades must not know 'the rest of the story' because it borders on duplicity.

Anonymous said...

So, Poster 2:00 AM. If you don't agree with how LANS is now running LANL, are you still going to take your TCP1 pension? Or, if you didn't agree about how UC ran LANL with Nanos, et al, are you still taking your UCRP pension? Or, how about if you are still at LANL and getting the LANS TCP2 401 K match. Are you going to continue taking that LANS TCP2 match to the 401 K? Yeah, I thought so.

Anonymous said...

Disagreeing with how the M&O contractor performs and disagreeing with the Lab's core mission are two very different things. In fact, I can't help but wonder how much shorter the RIF list would end up if the anti-nuke types, hanging around LANL and pulling a paycheck and pension, were confronted with their hypocrasy and forced to leave prior to a RIF.

Anonymous said...

I can never understand why people think Ed is a principled guy who acts a bit funny. I always found him to be venal, self-important, and mean spirited. He used to employ people to make sure his business got everything of value from LANL salvage (I don't know what goes on now that the Lab went to a new system). Then local people had to buy from him. This really limited what creative people could do because they had to buy "junk" from him at greatly inflated prices. When I was teaching I tried to fit out some labs with some inexpensive but usable stuff from him (because I couldn't get it from LANL salvage) and he wanted half the price of new when he paid fractions of a percent. That was his contribution to education in Northern NM--smell money and demand a huge markup. I bought everything new for less. His self-righteousness is well beyond amusing. He damns the creative people who supply his living--both retirement and in the Black Hole. The Black Hole has been a real problem for neighbors but he complains about having to clean it up because he is a "nuclear activist" and his mess and the rats it shelters are some sort of free-speech, apparently. It is really mean to expect people to put up with his mess and self-righteousness. He claims that LANL does almost nothing good but he apparently isn't smart enough to read the papers about all the exciting research on space, astrophysics, HIV, the human genome etc., etc., that LANL does or he is just to mean-spirited to acknowledge that no matter what you think of weapons, LANL does a lot of wonderful research. He helps to give the blind LANL-haters air. Why do people thing this guy is benign?

Anonymous said...

I concur he is not benign.

He is of a class of self-righteous hypocrite who happily worked for LANL long enough to get the pension to fund their newly-discovered morality and then turned and denigrate that which they gladly served.

CM is another of this class who gets his trash in the papers all too often all the while happily cashing their retirement checks.

Some morality.

Anonymous said...

What makes Ed such an anomoly is that he has lived in Los Alamos all these years and still has a conscience. That is truly amazing.

Anonymous said...

How convenient to suggest those working at the Lab that don't embrace the nuclear insanity of so many working there, that they then are hypocrites and should leave. How would 12:57PM feel if all those who disagree with what he and the Lab has a whole does…if they just decided to pull their tax dollar out of there? Better yet, why doesn’t 12:57PM and his ilk simply refuse their money? What are the chances of that happening? So who’s being the hypocrite now?

Anonymous said...

Morality? 3:25PM has the audacity to suggest morality exists in Los Alamos? Bwaaaahaaahaa....! Yes, of course Reverend Falwell.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I understand the brilliant logic that appears to be unfolding here. Accepting employment at the Lab is like selling your soul to the devil. You can't have a concience from that point on, and you can't disagree with Lab officials, even if the money you're being paid belongs to the taxpayer, not them? And so once you accept a pay check from the Lab, you can't have an independent thought, nor challege inequities or abuses in the workplace from that point on, just because you work there...right? Is this the idiotic logic I see unfolding before me in this thread? Shut the damn place down, I say! It's time. Because the more crap I read here about that place, the more convince I am that mental illness exists there at a much, much higher rate than anywhere else on the planet. What a lunatic asylum!

Anonymous said...

2:00AM here -

I'm not of the age to retire yet and probably won't last long enough to hope for my pension so this might well be a moot point.

What I would do, is be honest. If I retired, even if it were based on a newly-adopted principle, I'd say the word 'retired' so there'd be no mistaking that I was receiving a pension. As I mentioned, Ed worked the years prior to retiring and he is entitled to the pension.

Why make people dig and doubt your story if stating the whole truth up front would make as much or more sense or retain your credibility? Heaven knows there are many here and throughout the Lab that would quit in a heartbeat if we could, take the pension and call it 'quitting' as a way of denoting our resignation was laced with frustration or aggravation at the employer or work environment. However, I still believe that when a person becomes a quote-worthy, they ought to provide a more accurate picture of the real history rather than revise it, gain a following on the false pretense and then defend or perpetuate the myth regardless of being outed.

I also believe Ed stays here because:
- his house is probably paid for,
- I know he has friends here - they respect, admire & defend him (which is exactly what friends are for, btw)
- he has an audience for his spews,
- he still gets great prices at salvage,
- he can still turn a profit on the items that do resell
- he has successfully repelled the code enforcement efforts to have his space cleaned up
- moving a household at any age is a pain in the butt but when you've got to move an entire black hole, that's got to be cosmically more difficult
- and his son, Ted, is buried here which admittedly is a reason that people often don't relocate

Anonymous said...

I was told that Ed was "retired" because in 1969 he headed up an anti Vietnam War march across the bridge at 0745am or so and tied up traffic! I think Norris Bradbury, who was director at that time, did not like this type of activity. If Harold Agnew had been director, he would have probably just shot Ed behind the Ad Building. If indeed, it's a true story.

It is true that his son Ted is buried here, his death caused by a high speed chase after he took someone's motorcycle out for a spin without permission. Yes, all you Fox News watchers, he certainly deserved to die because of it.

Anonymous said...

9/15/07 10:31 PM "Yes, all you Fox News watchers, he certainly deserved to die because of it."

This is a nasty, ugly statement even in a sarcastic approach and even if you're attempting to make a statement about a cohort you're stereotyping.

I remember the night Ted died and even after the information came out that he'd been on a stolen motorcycle, it didn't occur to me, an attendee at the high school dance that evening, that he would 'deserve' his untimely death.

Though I consider myself somewhat of a conservative, I check CNN and FOX to see which direction the spin seems to be going on a given story and then I try to figure out what the real story is rather than buying the marketing and editorializing from either camp.

It's a delicate balance to apply your lashes to the party you intend without dragging a family's tragedy and their wounds through the mud with you. Shame on you.

Anonymous said...

My experiences with listening to Fox News is that some broadcasters, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly to name two of them, always believe that if someone commits a crime, no matter the person's age or circumstances, there can never be an explanation or forgiveness, just maximum punishment.

And what many folks have written about Ed on this blog is similar to what I would expect from Fox News. For example

"He lines his pockets by degrading the work of the laboratory and the people that do it after he lined them working there. His place is a big sty. He is one of the morons that thinks the nuclear gene can be put back into the bottle.

Yeah. He is an effing hero."

Or

"I concur he is not benign.

He is of a class of self-righteous hypocrite who happily worked for LANL long enough to get the pension to fund their newly-discovered morality and then turned and denigrate that which they gladly served.

CM is another of this class who gets his trash in the papers all too often all the while happily cashing their retirement checks.

Some morality."