Elizabeth Martineau And Stephanie Yeamans Address Rotary Club On Los Alamos Historical Society’s Outreach To Japanese Museums

Elizabeth Martineau, Executive Director of the Los Alamos Historical Society at the Aug. 17 meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. Photo by Linda Hull

Stephanie Yeamans, Registrar for Los Alamos Historical Society speaks August 17 to local Rotarians. Photo by Linda Hull

Vice President
Rotary Club of Los Alamos

“It was a cultural exchange more than a political one,” remarked Stephanie Yeamans, Registrar for the Los Alamos Historical Society (LAHS), as she addressed the Rotary Club of Los Alamos on August 17th with LAHS Executive Director Elizabeth Martineau. To acknowledge the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, Martineau and Yeamans were invited to Rotary to speak about the LAHS Museum’s outreach to Japanese museums and the Green Legacy Hiroshima project.

In the spring of 2016, Yeamans traveled with Judith Stauber, LAHS Museum Director at the time, and intern Kallie Funk to museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to establish museum-to-museum relationships between Los Alamos and Japan.  With cherry trees in full bloom as a backdrop for the visit, the trio toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.  Yeamans found the museum staff in these cities very receptive to open conversation; the dialogue was directed toward building understanding around shared global histories.  She observed that the museum in Hiroshima tells its stories of the atomic bombing from “the perspective of the Hibakusha, the atomic bomb survivors” and depicts the bomb’s side effects in four categories:  “the heat, the blast, the fire, and the radiation.”  

Yeamans also noted that the museums in general portray the experiences of the bombings through exhibits of victims’ photos, burned clothing, and household remnants which help illustrate the personal effects of their stories.  Among the most poignant artifacts is a child’s tricycle found in the aftermath.  

For background, a few exhibits also display the vibrant histories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before the bombings.  Hiroshima, founded as a castle town in 1598, had become an industrial hub and major urban center by the 1940s.  It lies on the southwestern end of Honshu Island, the largest of Japan’s five main islands.  Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Nagasaki, on the other hand, was established by fishermen in 607, almost 1000 years before Hiroshima.  Beginning in the 16th century, it was the main port of entrance for international traders and was renowned in the 20th century for its shipbuilding.  It lies southwest of Hiroshima on the northwest coast of Kyushu Island, another of Japan’s five main islands which also include Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Okinawa. 

In their meetings, the LAHS museum staff and the staff members of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki museums shared their “respective museum goals” and have stayed in touch since their visit together.

Elizabeth Martineau then spoke about the Green Legacy Hiroshima project, founded in 2011 to “collect seeds from the 160 trees that survived within a two kilometer radius of the bomb’s main impact.”  These survivor trees, or Hibaku-Jumoku, are “officially registered with the city of Hiroshima,” and “carry a message of resilience, hope, survival, and recovery.”  One of the surviving trees in particular, a gingko tree more than 300 years old, has become “a symbol of hope.”

Seeds and saplings from the 30 species of survivor trees have been sent to authorized parks, gardens, schools, and institutions in 32 countries and travel as “ambassadors of peace.”  In 2017, LAHS received gingko tree seeds from Green Legacy Hiroshima in recognition of its Los Alamos-Japan museum project.  Planted in pots and currently at home in the Hans Bethe House, the seeds have grown into two slender saplings which are expected to be part of the Oppenheimer House landscape upon its renovation.  They will serve as gentle reminders of friendship and good will.

Stephanie Yeamans, Registrar for the Los Alamos Historical Society, holds a BA in history from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.  She is the third-generation of her family living in Los Alamos and says she has “a passion for preserving and telling the stories” of her hometown through her work in the Historical Society’s archives.

Elizabeth Martineau “grew up as an army ‘brat’ exploring the world.”  She arrived in Los Alamos in 1986 and was “enchanted by its the natural landscape and the deep history of the region.”  Martineau has a Master’s degree in Instructional Leadership and spent the first part of her career teaching.  She moved into the museum world in 2005.  After many years collaborating and volunteering with the Los Alamos Historical Society, Martineau became its Executive Director in June 2019.

The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person Tuesdays, noon to 1 p.m., in the Community Room, Cottonwood on the Greens, at the golf course.  A Zoom option is available by contacting Linda Hull, Rotary Club vice-president, 505-662-7950.  Hull is also happy to provide information about the Club and its humanitarian service.