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Black Day For Black Hole

SANTA FE, N.M. — Los Alamos gadfly Ed Grothus’ salvage yard was a town institution for well over half a century. It was a place full of specialized and often one-off scientific pieces and parts and equipment. Depending on who you were, these were either useful in ways for which they originally had been intended, or were a cheap source of otherwise rare and elsewhere expensive materials — large scraps of stainless steel or copper, for example, or aluminum fashioned into all kinds of shapes.

Consequently, in the beginning, the salvage yard drew mostly scientists and garage tinkerers — legion in Los Alamos. Later, after the salvage yard moved into a former grocery story and adjacent church and renamed itself the Black Hole, the business became, to quote Grothus’ obituary, well-known “to set-decorators, artists, inventors, tinkerers and tourists from around the world.”

To Los Alamos County officials, it was an eyesore. They tried to get Grothus to clean up at least the outside of the place. He didn’t, and today his children are trying to cope with what they estimate is 500,000 pounds of, well, stuff. What that stuff is nobody knows in the aftermath of Grothus’ death in 2009 — he kept the inventory in his head.

One thing is certain: some of the stuff might be valuable. Grothus was always an astute businessman, dabbling in real estate and commerce even before he left Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1969 for, he said, reasons of conscience. In 2006, for example, he sold a copy of the first public account of the Manhattan Project, the Smyth Report, signed by 47 project scientists and associates, for $23,000. He had bought it for $25.

The demise of the Black Hole — in the form of a closeout sale — takes place Sept. 21-23. That weekend, his children hope to clear out seven or eight semi-truckloads of stuff from the property. “We want people to take away truckloads, as much as they can carry, for cheap,” said his daughter.

What will become of the place then is uncertain — a museum might have been fitting, but may be too expensive for the family to maintain. Ultimately, no doubt, the site will be sold. And another piece of Los Alamos history will be gone.

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