Saturday, February 14, 2009

Atomic Ed Died This Week

You could say Ed Grothus was a man of many stories. Whether you agreed with him or not, the Los Alamos anti-nuclear activist and owner of the Black Hole was a likable guy who was always quick to use his sense of humor as a way of engaging those around him, community members said.

Grothus died Tuesday after a prolonged battle with colon cancer. He was 85. "I only met him in person once, but it was impossible not to like the guy," said Frank Young, who runs a popular blog about Los Alamos National Laboratory called Young stopped by Grothus' store a few years ago, and was treated to a warm welcome and in-depth tour of the Black Hole, which resells computers, lab equipment and other old junk no longer used at LANL, he said.

One of the things that struck him right away was Grothus' sense of humor, Young said. "You had to meet him to realize he wasn't serious," Young said. "He talked about holding 'critical Mass' at the church." Grothus was also a bit of a notorious prankster, a habit that got him in trouble with the authorities more than once, said his daughter Barbara Grothus.

One of the more famous stories is when Grothus sent cans of "Organic Plutonium" to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, she said. Her father replaced the label on an ordinary can with a fake label for Organic Plutonium designed by a Santa Fe artist, then sent them to the White House, Grothus said. "That got the attention of the Secret Service, who came to pay him a visit," Grothus said. "When they came they called me and asked me if I would vouch for my dad."

Grothus also kept a "Top Secret" stamp in his store, which he used on various disks that he picked up at yard sales, a habit that also got him in trouble, his daughter said. "He got a little visit from the FBI for that one," Grothus said.

Although he's probably best known for his anti-nuclear musings and for running his store, Grothus also had a lengthy history in the town of Los Alamos. Grothus was born on June 28, 1923 in Clinton, Iowa. He grew up in the state and graduated from the University of Iowa, then went to work as a machinist in Los Alamos in 1949, not long after the Manhattan Project.

He worked in the lab's R-Site, where his job was to help make "better" atomic bombs, his daughter said. But by 1968, he had changed his tune and become an anti-war activist. He left the lab in 1969 because he had become so opposed to the nuclear work done there, she said. As a man who always had several projects going at once, though, Grothus was able to settle into his business, the Los Alamos Sales Company, which he formed in 1951 to buy and resell "things" — mostly surplus equipment from the lab.

That company later became known as the Black Hole because "everything went in, and not even light could get out," an obit written by the family said. Grothus also kept himself busy writing countless letters to the editor to various newspapers, and he was featured in several stories in magazines and newspapers because of his activism.

In 2006, he got a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Indigenous World Uranium Summit for his work to promote a nuclear-free future. He also was an integral part of the Los Alamos community, and somebody it was pretty much impossible not to know if you lived there, said Susan Musgrave, former president of Community Bank's Los Alamos branch. "He was a valued member of the community, always very outspoken and he never wavered in his position," Musgrave said. "You might not have agreed with him, but you always respected him."

Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, an anti-nuclear organization, said Grothus' sense of humor and history in the town helped him get his message out in a way that was not overly offensive. "It gave him a way to speak within the context of Los Alamos that would otherwise have been too tense for anybody to handle," Mello said. "Whenever I would see Ed, he'd say 'Greg, we're not reaching them all yet. How can we reach them better?' Ed was always working to get his point across."

Grothus was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, and while he did have a few surgeries to slow the progression of the disease, he never did chemotherapy or took Western medicine for the problem, his daughter said. "He didn't like doctors and he didn't want anything to do with Western medicine at all," she said. But he also wasn't one to dwell on the illness, she added.

"When he was dying he was making jokes up to the end," Grothus said. "He didn't think dying was very interesting. He thought it was boring." Grothus is survived by his wife of 57 years, Margaret, their children, Barbara Grothus, Tom Grothus, Susan Burns and Mike Grothus, and grandchildren Casey and Michelle Grothus.

Friends can visit DeVargas Funeral Home at 623 Railroad Ave. in Española from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday for an informal memorial. Following that, there will be a private interment at Guaje Pines Cemetery. A formal memorial service will be announced at a later date, the family said. Contact Sue Vorenberg at
I posted this two years ago when I visited him with Nancy Holt:
We visited The Black Hole in Los Alamos. This amazing collection of used war material was collected by Ed, known as Atomic Ed. Ellen Spiro did a wonderful film about him and his struggle against atomic weaponry.Ed has stacks of obsolete media stock.
The Pied Piper of Atomic Mountain...

Someone posted this comment on the blog:
Once he worked for the Pied Pipers of Iron Mountain
But the dreams
The dreams
Rattled around his mind
Until he could do it no more.

God Bless Ed Grothus and his guts - guts to stand-up to the war machine in Los Alamos. The entire town should be torn down and everyone up there sent packing just as they did to the old families who really owned that area. Only The Black Hole should remain and it should be named a National Monument to the waste of a militaristic society.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a nice tribute to my dad. We have a memorial site where people can post their comments at:

Mike Grothus

12:03 PM  

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