Ed Grothus Memorial

February 15, 2009

Do Good

He Did Good

Edward Bernard Grothus, of Los Alamos, died of cancer at home, at peace and surrounded by love on February 12, 2009. He was born June 28, 1923 in Clinton, Iowa. His family moved permanently to Davenport, Iowa in 1930. Friends may visit DeVargas Funeral Home at 623 N. Railroad Avenue in Espanola, NM from 1:00 to 5:00 on Sunday, February 15. There will be a private interment at Guaje Pines Cemetery. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 2:00 PM in the Duane W Smith Auditorium at the Los Alamos High School.

Following graduation from high school, he traveled extensively by ship and motorcycle. He attended the University of Iowa where he (most importantly) learned to play bridge and made lifelong friends. He eventually followed his father’s trade as a machinist, the trade that brought him to Los Alamos in 1949. “Working at the Lab,” he said, “gave me an education that I could get nowhere else.” He met Margaret Jane Turnquist playing bridge in Los Alamos . They were married in 1951. In 1952 he began working at the Lab’s R-Site where he was a link in the process for making “better” atomic bombs. By 1968, he had become an antiwar activist and was an alternate delegate for candidate Eugene McCarthy at the notorious Democratic Convention in Chicago . He left LASL in 1969 when his conscience could no longer tolerate his role in nuclear bomb development. Since then, because of his singularity in speaking out against the nuclear mission of the Laboratory, he became the most interviewed and photographed person inLos Alamos.

Ed was a hardworking and successful entrepreneur who invested in “things.” A child of the depression who extolled thrift and hated waste, he established the Los Alamos Sales Company in 1951 to buy and resell things–mainly surplus equipment from the Los Alamos Laboratory. For many years the company operated as a catalog business, selling to universities world-wide. He typed and mimeographed pages that were assembled into catalogs by his children who also assisted with mailing, packing, and shipping.

Ed took an active interest in the community. When the government began to plan a subdivision for individual owners to develop, Ed got involved. He helped name the streets on Barranca Mesa and purchased the lot on which he built the first adobe home in Los Alamos . He took great pride in his plans and designs for the house, seeking to make it as durable, functional and maintenance free as possible. Nearly 60 years later, the house remains a testament to his attention to detail. Ed was a founding member of the do-it-yourself home builders association known as “The Nailbenders.” Later, in a new area known as Pajarito Acres, he was the first to build a home with the intention that it would be a rental property. When government houses came onto the market, he bought and sold those too, and upon his exit from the Laboratory, he and Margaret used proceeds to purchase The Shalako Shop which they operated for thirty years.

In 1973, he purchased the Grace Lutheran Church property which he first called “The Omega Peace Institute” and later named “The First Church of High Technology.” In 1976, he acquired the adjacent “Mesa Market” property, which remained a grocery store for two years. When the grocery operation ceased, the Los Alamos Sales Company began moving things into the building. In recent years, the operation became known as “The Black Hole,” because “everything went in, and not even light could get out.” The business is well-known to set-decorators, artists, inventors and tinkerers, and tourists from around the world. He worked at the business six days a week until his illness forced him to slow down in late 2008. He never stopped thinking about the business despite his physical absence from it.

Ed refused to abandon The Black Hole during the forced evacuation of Los Alamos in 2000 when the government-set fire devastated the mountain landscape and burned more than 400 residences. The fire burned up to the foundation of the Black Hole, but Ed’s vigilance kept the fire from consuming it. He was arrested after the fire passed and was sentenced to community service for “refusing to obey a police order.” He had predicted such a disastrous immolation and had encouraged the County to build a perimeter road as a fire barrier. He strongly fought the use of salt on snowy streets because of its killing effect on trees and the subsequent erosion of soil and further environmental degradation.

Grothus was most known for his antiwar and antinuclear activism. He was a frequent writer of “Letters to the Editor” and in 1966 wrote “An Ode to a Leader, Misleading,” dedicated to President Johnson. In it he wrote “. . .search and destroy, ignoble duty . . .” His motto became “Semper Fabricate, Numquam Consumite” or “Always Build, Never Destroy.” As an early Obama supporter, Ed was pleased to note in his inaugural address that President Obama said, “. . .people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.” Despite his antiwar and antinuclear stance, he never called for the closure of the Laboratory. He said the Lab should stop making things useful only for killing, but he supported a mission for scientists to more efficiently harvest the energy of the sun, the infinite power source.

Grothus designed and commissioned two granite obelisks to mark the explosion of the first atomic bomb. The obelisks were quarried and carved in China, then shipped to Los Alamos in December 2007. The obelisks are white granite and are designed to sit on black bases, “doomsday stones,” engraved with text in 15 languages that describe the “most significant man-made event in human history.” Important to him among the messages engraved in the stone was, “No one is secure unless everyone is secure.” When erected, each monument will weigh over 39 tons and stand nearly 40 feet tall. At the time of his death, Grothus remained optimistic that the obelisks would find a home.

He was featured in numerous international magazine and newspaper articles and stories on national radio and television. He has appeared in various historical books, as a character in novels and, thanks to a variety of international artists, in theaters, galleries and music productions. He also has a significant presence on the internet. He was the subject of two documentaries including “Atomic Ed and the Black Hole,” by filmmaker, Ellen Spiro, broadcast on HBO. He was also the subject of investigations by the FBI and Secret Service on several occasions.

In 2006 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Indigenous World Uranium Summit for his work to promote a Nuclear-Free Future. In 2007, he was humbled to be the first non-Native American to receive the prestigious Alan Houser Memorial Award from the Houser family at the annual Governor’s Awards in the Arts for the State of New Mexico.

He was proud of his family with whom he enjoyed traveling, working, exchanging thoughts and opinions and sharing challenges and successes. Ed’s deafness, “my only problem,” was a cruel burden, not just for him. A voracious reader and life-long learner, his intellectual curiosity and interest in ideas, “things” and world events remained strong even as cancer consumed all his energy. “Dying,” he said, “is not very exciting.”

The eldest of eight, he was predeceased by his parents, Edward Theodore Grothus and Regina Hebinck Grothus, his son Theodore, his grandson Preston Edward Burns, and his brother Joseph Grothus. He is survived by Margaret, his wife of 57 years, his children Barbara Grothus of Albuquerque, NM; Tom Grothus (Wendy Slotboom) of Seattle, WA; Susan Burns of Albuquerque, NM; and Mike Grothus (Heidi) and their children, Casey and Michelle Grothus of Niwot, CO. He is also survived by three sisters, three brothers, and their extended families. Loved and admired by many, despised by a few, he will not soon be forgotten.

Friends may visit DeVargas Funeral Home at 623 N. Railroad Avenue in Espanola, NM from 1:00 to 5:00 on Sunday, February 15. There will be a private interment at Guaje Pines Cemetery. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 2:00 PM at the Duane W Smith Auditorium at the Los Alamos High School. Peace begins in the heart. Life is short. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you remember Ed by spending precious time with your loved ones.

Mike Grothus on behalf of the Ed Grothus family


  1. This world is much worse off without Ed.

    Comment by Fran Hogan — February 15, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

  2. Thanks for setting up this nice tribute to my dad.

    His humor was valuable in poking fun at many of the causes that he was tackling on a regular basis.

    His energy was and organization amazing. Yesterday, we were trying to keep up with the things that he would have been working upon, and it took 3 of us sumultaneously on phones, a 4th on the computer as we scurried around his house working to get ready for the memorial service. He would have known where everything was, and would have had some humor to add to the situation.

    We will try to get the word out to others to post their comments on this memorial site.

    Comment by Mike Grothus — February 15, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

  3. Uncle Edward was not only a great person but someone who cared about the world we leave behind to others. He always saw the big picture and made people understand how fragile the planet earth is today. Whether he was supoorting peace or getting people involved he aware of the fact that nothing really matters without a safe nuclear free planet. God bless him for the work he did and those who lucky enough to be touch by his message of peace. Vince and The Rest of Berry Family.

    Comment by Vincent Berry — March 4, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

  4. My life is better having had the good fortune to meet Ed and get to know him over the years I shopped at the Black Hole. My condolences to the family. He was a great man. I shall miss him dearly.

    Comment by Rob Crowley — March 25, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  5. Only met Mr. Grothus once, at his daughter Barbara’s art opening several years ago. What a delightful fellow. But most of all, I’m grateful for his heritage – Barbara keeps us on our toes, questioning issues in our community and using her fascinating art work as a vehicle to express concerns about social justice, human rights and our environment.
    Thanks, Mr. Grothus, for that!

    Comment by Karen Turner — March 25, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

  6. Ed took me on the tour of the Doomsday Stones. I hope they find a prominent home at L.A. City Hall one day. I was able to return and be a happy customer. A bold spirit for peace and justice.

    Comment by Doug Gerash — April 1, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

  7. I don’t remember when I met Ed and we became friends but I always thought he was a pretty nice guy:) He knew I liked snakes and that I championed them every chance I got (sort of like now:) He told me that he once killed a rattlesnake and since that time, he realized what he did was not a good thing and he always felt bad about killing it. A couple of years ago, someone left a Burmese Python (8 ft. long) in one of his rental units. He called me and asked if I wanted it. When I called him back, I got a chance to talk to his lovely wife. She told me that she once stopped traffic on Diamond to let a bull snake cross safely. These were my kind of people and I am going to miss seeing Ed. He did care about the world and the environment and snakes. RIP Ed. You are missed:(

    Comment by Jan Macek — April 2, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

  8. I have attached a story describing a trip taken in August 2008 with my father to see Ed. the meeting touched me deedly

    A letter to my brother and sister:

    I felt compelled to tell you of the trip Dad and took to Los Alamos back on August 30. It was like no other time I have ever spent with him and is not likely to happen again. It all started with my offer to take Dad to see his friend Ed Grothus as part of his 91st birthday package. I followed up a few time reminding him of the offer, but with his health problems and my busy summer, I forgot about it until my wife and son were traveling to Michigan. Seeing that I was free of family responsibilities for a few days, he seized the opportunity to take me up on the offer. On the Thursday night that they left he asked if we could go up to Los Alamos sometime over the Labor Day weekend. I called Mr. Grothus the next day to make sure he would be there and all was ready.

    So on a beautiful Saturday morning we set off for “The Hill”. I know he has seen the road improvements and all the development along the highway between Santa Fe and Pojoaque, but there is so much that it even surprises me, especially the new 400-room Buffalo Thunder resort. Only a handful of the buildings have been there for more than 10 years. I have only dim memories of the two-lane road through that area while. He related again his first trip up the hill in ’45 in an Army staff car when he and the driver stopped to pee over the cliff at the last big S curve before getting to the front gate.

    The first place we stopped in town had to be on Horse Mesa at the “Old Barn”. Dad could not remember where the big logs that were the substructure for the barn had come from, how many there were (six?), or how he got them upright, but he recalled the hours spent by the whole family with the drawknives stripping the bark off the corral rails that were harvested where the Ski Hill road was being widened. I remember the splinters and blisters.

    After nearly 50 years the barn is still standing with the same stalls complete with a couple of horses. Some of the original corral with the cedar posts and spruce rails were still in place. The old siding is on the barn, but it has a new sheet metal roof. There is no chimney so the wood stove is gone from the loft. He called it the “picnic area”. He is proud of having built that barn and especially proud that it is still in service as a horse barn after 50 years.

    The Black Hole that friend Ed Grothus owns is located where the church and the little super market were on Arkansas just off Diamond Drive behind where Carson’s Conoco used to be. The place covers over an acre with the large stuff outside and the small stuff inside. I won’t take the time to even try to describe all the things that are piled around, but it’s safe to say that it’s mostly useless and outdated scientific laboratory, computer, and bomb stuff in racks and in piles from floor to ceiling with barely enough room to walk around. Most of his business comes from movies that want sets with old lab equipment and from various sculpture artists.

    The meeting of the two old friends, Dad and Mr. Grothus, started off slowly, apparently neither one knowing where to start. The last time they saw each other was when Dad was working for Larry Bell when Mom & Dad were living in Taos. Dad came down to the Black Hole looking for parts for the vacuum chamber Larry used for some of his art. According to Mr. Grothus it said to have been the largest vacuum chamber in New Mexico.

    There was a little clearing in the forest of racks, shelves and bins with a couple of chairs and a TV where they sat and talked while I stood and listened. As you can imagine communication was slow, difficult and tiring for both of them since neither could hear well and a lot needed to be repeated. Soon a few stories started to come out. People they knew – most of whom are now dead and places they frequented – most of them torn down. Mr. Grothus told us that among the few older buildings still standing are those at DP Site where Dad used to work. They are said to be too contaminated to tear down.

    Dad invited Mr. Grothus to lunch, but there were several people “shopping” and the Black Hole had only one employee helping that day so the invitation was turned down.

    Before we left Mr. Grothus insisted on showing us his obelisks. He is a bonafide anti-nuclear character in Los Alamos. His motto is “one bomb is one too many”. Several years ago, he traveled to China for the purpose of having two obelisks built at a cost of around $200,000. The plinth and bases of each are made of black granite. Each side of each base is inscribed with brief story of Los Alamos with an anti-bomb theme in two languages. Plans are to have the same message in 16 languages. So far he has 15 and is looking for someone to translate the message into the final 16th. To be raised on the black granite bases are white granite four-sided tapered columns that are to be topped with black granite spheres inscribed to look like soccer balls, which actually represent bomb pits. When assembled, each will be about 50 feet high. His intent is to have them places on some prominent place where they can be seen from a long way off. Los Alamos has not warmed up to the idea yet so he is looking elsewhere.

    After we finished looking at the monuments that he keeps stored in cargo containers at the Black Hole, both men were tired and Dad was ready to go. Mr. Grothus is four or five years younger than Dad, but said that he had a tumor in his stomach that was slowing him down a lot. The two of them stood on the sidewalk next to the car not speaking, but not wanting to part. I felt that both knew this was the last time they would see each other. I imagine what was going through their heads was that they were really the last of a breed. Most, if not all their other friends are gone. There would probably be no other opportunities to sit, talk and exchange memories of Los Alamos in the “old days” in the same way again with anyone.

    When we did leave there was a lot of quiet. We drove around some of the areas in the North Community that had been burned and rebuilt from the Cerro Grande fire. We also drove by the 42nd Street house and through the Western Area. Dad commented that Los Alamos had always been such a strange place and was even stranger now.

    After lunch we drove down DP Road to the locked gate. Sure enough the buildings were still there. The pavement and grounds were overgrown with weeds and the buildings were pretty dilapidated. There is a metaphor somewhere, which includes the buildings that can’t be torn down because they are too contaminated, the people that worked there at jobs of vital importance that are now nearly forgotten, the labs that represented the strength of a nation that now are seen dangerous to much of the nation, the town where it all happened that now only looks strange and uninviting. Even the original mission of making bombs to support the doctrine of mutually assured destruction is now blessedly archaic. What once was full of wonder, pride and patriotism now appears strange with only dim memories of the way things were.

    It was a pretty quiet for most of the trip back to Santa Fe. I believe we were both quietly reflecting on what we had seen and experienced and the memories that were rushing forth. Those memories of the past did not match the reality of the present or our views of the future. I know he didn’t see it all, but in Dad’s lifetime Los Alamos went from pristine wilderness to a ranch school to secret military base to a great place to work and raise kids to something that is now quite alien. The road he took so many years ago has gone from desolate two-lane road through Indian country to a 4 to 6-lane highway with an opera, casinos, golf courses and all manner of commercial development. Now you have to enter a casino or a gas station to pee.

    We were brought back to the present as we drove through the familiar village of Tesuque. Normality at last! At least as normal as Tesuque can be.

    Comment by Dave Thomas — April 3, 2009 @ 1:03 am

  9. There is a page about recycling scientific equipment named “Advice for cheapening science” on Pure science Wiki, a wiki devoted to the pure scientific method without any academic obsession with prestige.

    Comment by Martin J Sallberg — January 8, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

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