Over the holidays I finally got to see the model Westinghouse atom smasher in the Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad and Village display. Kudos to the Science Center for creating such a unique and popular way to keep its history alive. There is always a long line of people snaking around the miniature railroad exhibit—that’s probably thousands of people who have now seen the atom smasher for the first time!
Close attention to detail is given to recreating all the individual elements, buildings, etc., in the miniature village. The exhibit’s brochure tells us that the atom smasher model’s creator drew “inspiration from photographs, archival records, and memories of community members” to prepare the design files “for a 3-D printer to produce a liquid resin replica of the generator’s signature pear shape.” So while it obviously isn’t preserving the actual atom smasher, the model is going a long way to helping a new generation see it, and ask “what is that thing?!” Imaginations captured, and the story of an artifact or place carried forward— that ultimately is the whole point.
Meanwhile, I checked in on the real thing on December 29, 2016. As of January 20, it has been TWO years since the “developer” knocked over the atom smasher while promising to “save” it, but it still languishes exactly where it was left. We saw that two utility poles had been knocked down at the west end of the property, and their wires downed with them, along with several large branches from a few of the trees near the old back gate, and yellow caution tape around the area. It all gave the sad impression that the place has become more shabby and unkempt in the last few months than it had over many years before that.
We’ll continue to hope for a better future for the atom smasher, while enjoying all the new attention it’s gotten from its debut in the Miniature Railroad!
The Westinghouse atom smasher is getting lots of new attention since its addition to the Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad and Village!
Two great magazine articles were just published, the first in Carnegie Magazine (winter 2016): Reconstructing Pittsburgh’s Atomic Past.
And some national coverage on the Smithsonian’s website: The Strange Story of the Westinghouse Atom Smasher.
In the weeks after the April 2 community meeting (in the previous post), I kept waiting and hoping to have some news to post in an update. I went to that meeting, where Pfaffmann + Associates talked about the idea of moving the atom smasher to the site of the new municipal building and the need for fundraising, etc. There were maybe 10 of us there who happily signed up for a committee to help with it.
After a week or two, I emailed the company asking about follow-up and contact info for the others. I got one very brief reply that they were very busy but hoped to turn attention to the atom smasher the next week. But over the following weeks and months, I and a few others got no replies at all to our queries.
Yesterday was the groundbreaking ceremony for the new municipal building, and zero mention was made of the atom smasher, which had been featured prominently in earlier versions of this project.
Yet it seems like there’s still lots of interest in the atom smasher. Along with the many people from Forest Hills and surrounding areas, and Westinghouse employees, there are whole networks of potentially interested people in organizations like the Society for Industrial Archeology and the Atomic Heritage Foundation. When I did a presentation on the atom smasher at an SIA meeting, many people there commented with support and sympathy.
Newly added to the Carnegie Science Center miniature railroad display
Meanwhile, in the good news, there is new excitement as the model Westinghouse atom smasher just debuted in the miniature railroad at the Carnegie Science Center! Whatever happens to the real one, at least it’s preserved in this wonderful display. From the photos it looks like a really detailed and accurate model. I can’t wait to see it in person!
The Saturday after a Post-Gazette article about the model was published, it was in the top 5 most read and most emailed articles on the Post-Gazette website—and that is just for the MINI atom smasher!!
So, we don’t know why the recent preservation ideas seem to be discarded, but I’m really sure the atom smasher doesn’t suffer from a lack of interest!