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4 Atomic-Themed 1950s Beauty Queens

Conelrad.com
Conelrad.com

During the 1950s, the American people suffered from a severe case of Atomic Fever. With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the establishment of a permanent atomic test site in the Nevada desert, the U.S. had firmly positioned itself as leader in the atomic game. As a result, we simply went crazy for all things atomic. And sometimes our fervor showed up in some pretty strange places.

Ad men and designers were quick to jump on the atomic bandwagon, and incorporated the atomic motif in everything from children’s toys—the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab set, with real radioactive materials, being a prime example—to hairstyles and lamps designed to look like mushroom clouds.

Nowhere was Atomic Fever more prevalent than Las Vegas. A mere 65 miles southeast of the Nevada Test Site, where more than 1000 nuclear devices were detonated between 1951 and 1992, Las Vegas was quick to cash in on its proximity. Bars, restaurants, hotels—essentially anywhere with a roof and a view—hosted atomic blast viewing parties on their roofs, often offering complimentary sunglasses and sunshades to their blast-viewing patrons.

As far as we can tell, there were four separate showgirl-turned-beauty-queens. Despite popular belief, there was no single Miss Atomic Bomb beauty pageant, and most of the queens were simply showgirls chosen for their radiant (ha!) looks. Each of the queens came about in an only loosely related manner: atomic-themed, usually of the mushroom cloud variety, costumes.

1. Miss Atomic Bomb

Miss Atomic Bomb is the most familiar and famous of the atomic queens, and it seems the only one crowned specifically as a marketing device for atomic testing. Apparently Don English, a Las Vegas News Bureau photographer, was amusing himself during a delay in a photo-shoot and created an atomic bomb-shaped appliqué that was attached to a beautiful girl’s swimsuit, and she was photographed as Miss Atomic Bomb (above). This beautiful girl was a Copa Girl, Miss Lee Merlin, who has entered history with her iconic photograph splashed in places of all sorts (including the latest The Killers album, Miss Atomic Bomb) for nearly 60 years.

2. Miss Atomic Blast

El Rancho Vegas held one of the earliest atomic blast picnics in 1952. Their picnic had an accompanying beauty pageant, which was won by Candyce King, a showgirl at the Last Frontier Hotel. King apparently donned an atomic bomb style hairdo that required a toilet paper roll and two cans of hairspray for support.

In addition to the normal beauty queen trappings, King was presented with a ten pound bag of mushrooms (because you know, mushroom cloud) by the Pennsylvania Mushroom Growers Association. King, as Miss Atomic Blast, had the honor of lighting the Stardust’s iconic mushroom-cloud-meets-falling-atomic-stars sign for the first time.

3. Miss Cue

Operation Cue took place at the Nevada Test Site in 1955. This series of tests was designed to test how well suburbia and all its trappings survived an atomic bomb blast. This was a large, intricate series of tests, and weather was unpredictable. After a series of delays, the operation came to be known as “Operation Mis-Cue.”

During one of the delays, military personnel headed into Las Vegas to pass the time. Six soldiers apparently crowned a Copa Girl named Linda Lawson as Miss Cue using a tiara constructed in the shape of a mushroom cloud, and supposedly made by the servicemen from wire and cotton bunting. The Sands went on to use photographs from this event as atomic publicity shots.

4. Miss A-Bomb

In 1953, the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce chose “Atomic City” as the theme of the annual parade and beauty pageant. Paula Harris won the pageant and rode on the chamber of commerce’s float, which bore a sign likening the city’s modernity to that of the A-Bomb. Harris quickly became known as Miss A-Bomb.

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Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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NASA // Public Domain
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History
On This Day in 1983, Sally Ride Made History
NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

Thirty-five years ago today, on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She flew on the space shuttle Challenger on a six-day mission. She had previously helped build the shuttle's robot arm, and now she operated it in space. Not only was she the first American woman to go to space, she was the youngest astronaut in space, at age 32.

(As with many space-related firsts, that "American" qualifier is important. The Soviet space program had sent two women cosmonauts into space well in advance of Ride. Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova flew all the way back in 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. They also sent various younger people to space, including Tereshkova.)

Ride represented a change in the previously completely male astronaut program. Although NASA had unofficially tested women in the late 1950s as part of the Mercury program, the idea of sending women into space was quickly discarded. NASA policy for decades was that only men would be considered as astronauts. It took until 1978 for NASA to change the policy—that year, six women became astronauts: Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Anna Fisher, Margaret Rhea Seddon, and Shannon Lucid.

Ride and her colleagues were subject to an endless barrage of sexist media questions, curious how women might fare in space. They also encountered institutional sexism at NASA itself. Ride recalled:

"The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup—so they designed a makeup kit. A makeup kit brought to you by NASA engineers. ... You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit."

Ride held a Ph.D. in astrophysics, two bachelor's degrees (English and physics), and had served as CapCom (Capsule Communicator) for the second and third shuttle flights, STS-2 and -3. She was an accomplished pilot and athlete, as well as a Presbyterian elder. She was closely connected to Challenger, performing two missions on it and losing four fellow members of her 1978 class when it exploded.

After her astronaut career concluded, Ride served on both the Challenger and Columbia disaster review panels. During the former, she leaked vital information about the Challenger disaster (o-ring engineering reports), though this wasn't broadly known until after her death. She wrote educational books and founded Sally Ride Science. She was asked to head up NASA by the Clinton administration, but declined.

Ride died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. Her obituary made news for quietly mentioning that she was survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy. Although Ride had come out to her family and close friends, the obituary was the first public statement that she was gay. It was also the first time most people found out she'd suffered from pancreatic cancer at all; she asked that donations in her memory be made to a fund devoted to studying that form of cancer.

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