North Thru Nevada
Atomic Testing Museum
by Everett Chase
The Atomic Testing Museum hasn't taken long to become a reality compared to museums where critics consider age alone as the measure for induction of the subject they are built to contain.
It has been little more than 50 years since we saw the first atomic tests in the skies outside Las Vegas. Not long in archeological time, but like Hoover Dam in Boulder City's back yard, history is not only a matter of time but a matter of significance.
Viewing flashing lights and mushroom clouds from the house tops and hotel rooms of Las Vegas was a big show during testing in the atmosphere, and certainly a matter of significance. While filled with curiosity and enthusiasm during those first several years, it would be only a matter of time when the experience of testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere and underground would deteriorate to fear and skepticism. The fear of testing in the atmosphere and underground is still with us, but now there is an organization to help explain it all - The Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation with its Atomic Testing Museum.
Although he wasn't looking for his currrent position, Bill Johnson, Archeolgist by profession, assumed the responsibilities of interim director of the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation's Atomic Testing Museum -- a museum which is involved with artifacts little more than 50 years old. He wasn't looking, but Johnson is passionate about his job.
It was in the 1980's when Bill's interest in the modern time period of Archeology came about. While he was learning how to nominate properties to the national register, there was a news article about the president of Kent State University working to nominate the site where four students were shot. He realized it wasn't very old, "but it certainly was an important site."
Three weeks later a news article about Mary Leakey's footprints in the Laetoli Desert brought to Johnson's mind "footprints on the moon."
"Incredibly important in the long stretch of history in human kind," Johnson says, "footprints on the moon were very important too. It synchronized in me that Archeology, regardless in what time you're living, has imprints on the earth. Certain parts of it jump out, as significant."
Once Johnson began working at the Nevada Test Site he realized "among those (significant) things were nuclear weapons testing."
"It was a huge jump in the Archeology record," he says. "The beginnings of this project for Archeologist was looking at remains of nuclear weapons test." (Some which appear in the Museum , for example,are shown on this page.
Johnson didn't waste time. Upon his arrival in 1992, he began pushing to do more. He began writing and publishing articles related to activities and events on the test site.
Bill's interest in the time period was evident.
"When the Historical Foundation was being formed (April 15, 1998), I was one of the people who joined in advocating a museum."
About a year and a half ago Bill was asked to serve on the Board of the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation and recently, when the muesum director moved on, he was asked to act as the interim director of the Atomic Testing Museum.
Although Johnson definitely sees the Nevada Test Site and items he collect for the Atomic Testing Museum as significant in it's time period, he realizes "significance varies from one person to another. One man's trash is another man's treasure," he quotes.
"We in the cultural resource management field are trained to argue for and against significance," he says. "Because of this issue you cannot say this is historically significant and not expect someone else to say, "no it's not."
"You have to prepare to argue your point...the whole thing is set up for the National Register - an agency responsible for historic places."
Johnson said he had an occasion to talk with the final authority when the Sedan Crater was put on the National Register.
"I told her I was from Nevada."
"Nevada" she said, "those crazy people want to put this big ole' whole in the register." I said, "that's us!"
"The reason Sedan, out of anything else out there went on the National Register, was because it's huge! It's impressive!
Johnson says, no matter what test site tour you take, it will always stop by Sedan, which is another reason for putting it on the Register.
"Sedan is such a significant WOW factor," Johnson says.