Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Dorothy McKibbin

Dorothy McKibbin


Honored September, 1984

Dorothy McKibbin

Dorothy McKibbin appears on the cover of the Living Treasures book. Her wonderful smile gives us a warm greeting to this marvelous visual and literary collection.

As scientists from all over the free world poured into New Mexico in 1943 to work on the Manhattan Project, each and every one of them passed through the office, at 109 Palace Avenue, of Dorothy McKibbin. Traveling under assumed names, weary, bewildered, often with no idea where they were headed, they were grateful for her welcome and the yellow map, and the reassuring words, "Only thirty-five miles to go." With an exquisite combination of tact, intelligence, loyalty, hospitality, humor and motherly warmth, she served as "gatekeeper to Los Alamos." Throughout her life she maintained many close friendships with those she helped orient "to the Hill." More than twenty Los Alamos couples were married in her house on Old Santa Fe Trail.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1897, Dorothy graduated from Smith College in 1919 and later married Joseph C. McKibbin. Following his death in 1931 she moved to Santa Fe, where she worked for the Laboratory of Anthropology from 1943 until her retirement in 1963.

During wartime, security was so tight that Santa Feans referred to Los Alamos as a submarine base or the place where submarine windshield wipers were made. According to another cover, it was a camp for pregnant WACs. When a Santa Fean encountered a Hill resident and asked where he was from, the answer was inevitably a terse "Box 1663." Dorothy recalled how the word physicist was taboo.

"If there was no stranger around and I was feeling very wicked, I would glance in all directions, examine the empty air, raise an eyebrow, and whisper tensely, blowing through my teeth like a suppressed wind instrument, 'Are you a phhh ht?'"

As a combination reception desk, information center, and travel bureau, Dorothy's office was a hub of life and emotion. She recalled: "109 East Palace was an information center, not too accurate, but always willing, for inquiries on how and where to get items ranging from horses to hair ribbons. Babies were parked here. Dogs were tied outside. Our trucks delivered baggage, express, and freight to the Hill and even special orders of flowers, hot rolls, baby cribs, and pumpernickel."

Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes