The Atomic Heritage Foundation was privileged to know Evelyne and Lawrence Litz. Evelyne passed away at the age of 93 on March 11, 2015, and Larry passed away at the age of 92 on October 4, 2014.
Evelyne and Larry worked on the Manhattan Project at Chicago and Los Alamos. AHF Program Director Alexandra Levy interviewed Evelyne and Larry In December 2012 for the “Voices of the Manhattan Project” website. They continued to invite Alexandra over for lunch whenever Alex was visiting family nearby in Florida, and enjoyed hearing about the latest Manhattan Project history and park news.
The couple met in college. After World War II broke out, they were hired to work on the Manhattan Project. Larry worked on the Chicago Pile-1 and plutonium at Chicago, while Evelyne worked in health physics. Later they were transferred to Los Alamos, where Larry continued to work in plutonium. The two of them were the first people to ever see metallic plutonium.
Larry cast a third plutonium core in 24 hours to be used in case Japan still refused to surrender after the bombing of Nagasaki. He remembered, “The particular day that remains in my memory was the day that we cast the plutonium for the third bomb, because we weren’t sure that the Japanese would surrender even after the second bomb was dropped. We had to cast the atmospheres for the third, and because time was short we had to cast the two hemispheres at the same time. But it was dangerous to cast them in the same laboratory at the same time, so we set up two adjacent laboratories with the high vacuum apparatus, so we could cast one hemisphere in each one of the two labs.” This core was not used in World War II but later became known as the “demon core.” Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin received lethal amounts of radiation while conducting separate experiments on it.
Evelyne worked in the library, and had her first daughter while at Los Alamos. She did not know what the purpose of Los Alamos was until the night before the bombing of Hiroshima, when Larry said, “‘Listen to Winchell tomorrow.’ He was very serious; he had been working all night. He came home in the morning and he said, “Listen to Walter Winchell.” And that was the first time I knew that he had been working on an atomic bomb.”
Evelyne grew to love Los Alamos and its close-knit community. She recalled, “When we left Los Alamos it was towards sunset, and I cried. I cried because it had been a wonderful experience. When I first went up there I thought, 'This is so barren.' When I left I felt entirely different. And I cried—not because we were going somewhere else, but it was just tearful to leave.”
Evelyne was very proud of Larry’s career. “My husband is so creative and so imaginative that he has at least forty-two patents and I don’t know how many awards and so forth.” She went on, “Our life has always been very full; Larry has always done something wonderful. We’ve lived in interesting places, we’ve met interesting people.” She concluded, “It was nice to feel like pioneers. I guess I would say that afterwards, when I thought of that, it was a nice feeling to be pioneers.”