Hey, lets face it, vacations are boring today. Where is the challenge in being pampered in a 5 star resort with golden beaches, calm blue seas, free booze and as much lobster as you keep down?

Back in the day there were much finer ways so shorten your lifespan than high cholesterol Lobster.

 How about a trip to Las Vegas?

 Vegas in the 50’s was hardly a family vacation spot, but for adults it offered the opportunity of seeing some ‘stars’ in the restaurant, ‘Organized Crime Stars’ that is, rather than the ones found in Hollywood.

If Gangsters and Gambling did not wind your crank, how about looking out of your hotel window one morning and seeing this glorious scene?

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 NO. that is not some puffy cloud that has strayed into the desert. It is one of these…

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Yup, the classic mushroom cloud from an atomic blast. These pictures were taken in 1953 by  Don English of the Las Vegas News Bureau. These blasts occurred at what was then known as the Nevada Test Site, now known as the Nellis Air Force Range. What is interesting is that the Nevada Test Site was only 100 miles from Las Vegas. How close do you want to be to an A-bomb detonation?

The great news (hmm) was that it was hardly a one off event, between 1951 and 1992 the vacationer had the opportunity to pick from 100 atmospheric (above ground) and 828 underground explosions to enjoy!

Las Vegas had initially worried that exploding A-bombs in the area might have a detrimental effect on the economics of the blossoming gambling economy. Their worries were unfounded. One quote that I received explained:

To the contrary, however, thanks to the work of Don English and others, plus the general ignorance at the time about the dangers of radiation, the bomb became a major draw, as well as generating hundreds of jobs.

In 2005 photographer Don English talked in an interview with radio station KNPR about his famous mushroom cloud over Vegas picture, and how it happened.

I’d always thought about … if there was a possibility of seeing the mushroom from Las Vegas. If you did that, you would have to be elevated and be on top of a building. Well, I overslept one morning and missed the bomb, or at least in time to get out to Angel’s Peak to photograph it. So I rushed downtown and got on top of a building –- I think it was a drug store at that time … I waited for a little bit, and by gosh, the mushroom came floating up. It was the first time an atomic mushroom was ever seen over an American city, and it got ‘picture of the week’ in Life.

When I was on the building shooting it, there were some workmen repairing a transom on the building below, and they were curious and said, ‘What are you shooting?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m shooting the atomic bomb. The shock wave is going to be here any minute.’ And they said, ‘Oh, come on.’

Anyway, they walked out to the edge of the building to see what I was shooting, and right about that time the shock wave came, and it shattered the transom. The glass flew everywhere. So, luckily, they missed that.’

Ah, good times in Las Vegas! In fact so popular were the atomic tests that Las Vegas in 1957 created Miss Atom Bomb.

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The young lady was a local showgirl Lee Merlin, and graced the front of many a postcard mailed by visitors. Who took this picture? Why, Don English of course!

It was an age of innocence, I think… We certainly were guilty of frivolity, but we just didn’t realize the seriousness of what was going on

Oh how times have changed.

Simon Barrett

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