In late 1942, the United States Army Corps of Engineers purchased 59,000 acres of countryside northwest of Knoxville, Tennessee, enough land to build four cities the size of Manhattan. If that wasn't enough to get the locals asking questions, next they built three massive facilities on the property. And when we say massive, we mean that one of them was the largest building in the world at that time.
"If we all whisper, the fascists won't notice us."
Soon, 75,000 people flooded into town and began working there, and a mob of construction workers began erecting a city to house them. And still, nobody knew what the hell was going on. Even the people who worked at the giant facilities didn't know what was going on. Perhaps spookiest of all, despite having enough people to have its own minor league baseball team, the town didn't appear on any maps.
Perhaps the biggest mind fuck of all was how everyone learned just what the hell was going on: in the newspaper articles the day after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan.
"Huh, how about that. Paper says the war's over and I've been building a bomb that blurs the line between God and man."
The town in Tennessee, which would eventually be named Oak Ridge, wasn't the only secret city. As Oak Ridge was being built in Tennessee for the workers who produced the materials needed to construct the bombs, construction workers (who weren't told why they were building) were erecting another secret town in Los Alamos, New Mexico, northwest of Santa Fe. This new town, known as "Site Y" to military personnel, would provide a secluded home for the scientists and engineers involved in the project to complete their work.
Oh, and being conveniently located near the deserts of New Mexico comes in handy in case you need to, you know, explode an atomic bomb.
Here's Oppenheimer and crew bathing in the afterglow of goddamn ground zero of a goddamn atomic bomb test.
All in all, the Manhattan Project employed more than 130,000 people, many of whom lived in secret towns and had no idea what they were doing. If you were a science major around the time of the war, your first couple years out of college was like being on Lost.
Los Alamos is still home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the largest employers in New Mexico. Today, Oak Ridge is a fairly typical small town, except that they can chant, "We won WWII" any time their high school football team is getting its ass kicked.
For more mindblowing secrets, check out 6 Massive Secret Operations That Are Hidden All Around You and 7 Secrets Only Two Living People Know (For Some Reason).
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