The Mystery of Michael Merriman
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The Mystery of Michael Merriman

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More than a few times I have been asked about Michael Merriman. In fact, last month (February 2001) I received a fairly strong e-mail asking: "You seem to have covered everything about the Manhattan Project, why have you not mentioned the death of Michael Merriman?"

Actually, Michael Merriman is fictitious. Michael Merriman (John Cusack)** was the name of a character appearing in the movie "Fat Man and Little Boy" starring Paul Newman as General Groves. Michael Merriman was the scientist in love with a nurse (Laura Dern) who died after being exposed to plutonium during an experiment gone awry.

Actually, the fictional character, Michael Merriman, was loosely based on Louis P. Slotin, a physicist who died in September 1946 while performing a criticality experiment termed "tickling the tail of the dragon" .

While we have your attention, the movie itself was, for the most part, accurate. Where it differed from actual events, in addition to the character Michael Merriman, was as follows:

  • There was no doctor running around with a chimpanzee.
  • The plutonium shown arriving from Oak Ridge never happened. It actually arrived from the Hanford Engineer Works in Hanford, WA.
  • The Los Alamos laboratory chief J. Robert Oppenheimer is shown entering the Los Alamos compound standing in a Jeep and waving his arms in triumph after a successful Trinity test. This never happened. Although many at Los Alamos knew or "felt" that "something" significant had been achieved, VERY FEW were aware that an atomic bomb was being developed until the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, 21 days after the Trinity test.
  • The two bombs, "Little Boy" and "Fat Man", were shown hanging in a warehouse. This never happened. The components of both bombs, including the bomb casings, were sent in "pieces" to the South Pacific island of Tinian, where they were assembled by the Project Alberta team!

** John Cusack's name was provided to us by a visitor to our site: Tammy Banks


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