An icon of the Manhattan Project, Ed Westcott, peacefully passed away at the age of 97 on Friday morning, March 29. A receiving of friends will be held at Martin’s Funeral Home in Oak Ridge from 4pm until 7pm on April 4.
By the time Ed was 20 years of age, he was already considered a seasoned photographer with the Army Corps of Engineers. He was offered the choice between an assignment in Alaska and one in Oak Ridge, TN; Ed’s choice of a more suitable climate allowed him to become a witness, participant, and documentarian of events that changed the course of history and ushered in the Atomic Age.
Ed was tasked to document and capture the secretive and social community around what was becoming Tennessee’s fifth largest city. A city that didn’t even exist on a map at the time. Working in the electromagnetic separation calutrons at Y-12, the Graphite Reactor at X-10, and the Gaseous Diffusion Plant at K-25, Westcott logged over 15,000 photographic negatives which reside in the National Archives. He also documented residents’ lives outside their workplaces, photographing dances, dinners, downtime, and many other scenes of daily life.
Beyond the scope of national defense and historic preservation, Ed’s images capture the intrinsic elegance and simple purity of a people working and overcoming nearly insurmountable odds. Everyday life could not stop even during the war effort. Ed Westcott gave the world a glimpse into what life was like in a rural and unknown community while creating a work that would change the world. With no formal artistic or photography training, Ed’s heart and passion for his subjects led to something more than just a picture. Through Ed’s lens, we can watch a city being born, a community find its place on the map, and the Atomic Age come into its own. Ed’s keen eyes found the moments in between breaths and heartbeats that connect a history to the heart of a community. Though Westcott’s work can be seen in countless books, documentaries, and galleries, for many Oak Ridgers Ed Westcott’s work is personal. For the AMSE staff and family, we are thankful to have known and shared the impact of this special and unique work. For us, Ed was and will always be the documentarian of our memories and the guide into a world we can understand better because he was able to share so much of what he saw with us.
Thank you, Ed.