Oak Ridge remembers the life of Ed Westcott

Oak Ridgers have heavy hearts today, as the news of the passing of Ed Westcott made the headlines.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Westcott passed peacefully around 7 a.m. on Friday, March 29, 2019.

Westcott turned 97 years old on January 20, and he had an incredible life being the only photographer in Oak Ridge during the height of the Manhattan Project.

Officially hired as the 29th employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at a young age, it was Westcott’s job to capture the construction of the iconic buildings Y-12, K-25, and S-50 that separated uranium-235 from the abundant uranium-238 to create an atomic bomb. He also photographed the X-10 Graphite Reactor, the world’s first continuously operating nuclear reactor.

In fact, every square foot of the 59,000 acre site was documented through Westcott’s camera, while also taking photos of the thousands of employees who sacrificed so much for maintaining the Manhattan Project’s secrecy.

He did all of these things because that was his job, but his hobby was ensuring daily life in Oak Ridge would be remembered, too. Without Ed, Oak Ridge’s history may be lost to the ages, and we would have less of an understanding of our Secret City’s role in winning the greatest war ever known and the people who made our town as special as it is today.

It’s impossible to come to Oak Ridge without seeing his astounding work everywhere you turn. His photos can be found at the American Museum of Science and Energy, the Oak Ridge History Museum, and the Y-12 History Center in the New Hope Center at the Y-12 National Security Complex, as well as several offices and buildings dedicated to him.

There’s no doubt about it, that without Ed Westcott the Secret City would have stayed secret. Oak Ridge’s owes its identity and incredible history of innovation and world-changing science to him.

Through his photographs, he gave the outside world and Oak Ridgers alike moments of awe and wonder that can never be replicated by anyone else.

More than 15,000 of his negatives are housed in the National Archives as THE official record of the Manhattan Project construction. He’s up for consideration for a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2005 he published his first book of Oak Ridge photographs in the “Images of America” series.

Ed Westcott will be deeply missed, and there’s no one else quite like him. But his legacy, and Oak Ridge’s, will live on because of his hard work and dedication to our town.

Thank you Ed Westcott for everything.

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