IN THE END, J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER and Leslie Groves’s time in Los Alamos flitted past quickly. Their legacy, however, lives on—not only in a pair of bronze statues downtown but also in the city’s enduring respect for their Manhattan Project achievements. Historian Nancy Bartlit led the quest to commemorate the men. One night, she met Santa Fe artist Susanne Vertel at a holiday party. Soon, Vertel had finished a statue of “Oppie,” a theoretical physicist and the main brain behind the atomic bomb. Bartlit then lucked into an opportunity to hold a dedication during a 2011 scientific conference that descendants of both men could attend. But by then, the Shidoni foundry that had cast Oppie was closed. A Colorado foundry came to the rescue for Groves, leader of the Manhattan Project. “That explains why their patinas are a little different,” Bartlit says. Crafting them as life-size figures humanized rather than glorified the men, who local fans often drape in seasonal attire. “Kids love them,” Bartlit says. “They hold hands with them. Wedding parties take pictures there. There’s a reverence for what they accomplished.”
Read more: A Santa Fe storefront was once a secret spot for Manhattan Project scientists.
See the statues at the Fuller Lodge Art Center, 2132 Central Avenue, Los Alamos.
Learn more about the Manhattan Project National Park.