“Pika-don (Flash-boom), as uncomprehending witnesses called the bombs’ explosions, signaled an end and a beginning — the end of World War II and the beginning of the atomic age. While mushroom clouds were rising into the sky, the cities below were being transformed into monuments of devastation. In those brief hours of August 6 and 9, 1945, Hiroshima and Nagasaki became unique — the world’s first and only targets of atomic attack. More than 200,000 died within minutes, hours, or days, and thousands later succumbed to wounds or the effects of radiation. Still others survived but often bore life-long emotional or physical scars. The two cities are now rebuilt, more beautiful, more prosperous, and larger than before, showing little evidence of the bombings. Iconic images, however, of the mushroom clouds, of the devastated urban landscapes, and of affected individual survivors (hibakusha) persist as indelible testaments to and constant reminders of the two cities’ shared nuclear experience and as warnings of what nuclear weapons can do.”
— Opening paragraph of Hiroshima/Nagasaki: Compelling Images of the Atomic Experience, by Ludwig Lauerhass, Jr. and Kanae Omura, 2010 [unpublished manuscript].
The Ludwig Lauerhass Research Collection is a collection of materials acquired by Professor Lauerhass during the research and writing of his Compelling Images manuscript. The manuscript analyzes how visual imagery of the mushroom cloud and the devastation of the two cities has evolved over time since the 1940s. Images of the atomic bomb mushroom cloud and the devastation were rare in the years immediately following the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II. There was an official policy of censorship during the Allied occupation of Japan (1945-1952), which severely restricted what people saw and read regarding the United States’ atomic bombings of Japan.
In the process of writing this manuscript, Professor Lauerhass has collected a wide variety of materials including books, periodical and newspaper articles, photographs, art reviews, film poster prints, and personal albums and notebooks. The collection also contains ephemera from contemporary Japan including maps, guidebooks, pamphlets, and literature from museums and peace memorials. The collection includes some very fascinating items and some of the notable pieces include:
1. The first known images of the atomic blast. One, shown above, was taken from one of the B-29 bombers that accompanied the Enola Gay on the Hiroshima bombing mission to take photos and record data. The photograph from the B-29 bomber is a scanned copy of the original image, which is held with the National Archives. Another, left, was taken by a Japanese photographer on the ground moments after the first bomb was dropped. This image is from one of the books in the Professor Lauerhass’s research collection. These images remained unknown to the public for several years due to the Allied censorship policy.
2. A booklet/journal from a man named Kiyoshi Kikkawa who was one of the survivors of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. In the devastating years following the end of WWII, Kikkawa became fairly well known throughout Japan as he marketed himself as “Bomb victim no. 1.” He sold signed booklets and photographs in a small shop to tourists who came to see Japan’s ground zero. Professor Lauerhass acquired one of these booklets and it contains an original black and white photograph of Kikkawa. This particular booklet is dated April 1953–the photograph is undated but believed to be from the same time period.
3. An autographed first edition of John Hersey’s book Hiroshima. Hersey was on of the first journalists to introduce the devastation and horror of the Hiroshima bombing to American audiences. His 1946 Hiroshima piece was originally written as an article for The New Yorker and he recounted the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing by telling the stories of six survivors of the atomic blast. Hersey’s article took up the entire August 1946 issue of The New Yorker and it is considered one of the most acclaimed pieces of journalism of the 20th century. The article was published as a book by Alfred A. Knopf later that same year. This is an interesting edition of Hersey’s book as it contains an inscription by Hersey as well as a note written by Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
I began collaborating with Professor Lauerhass in October 2010 — picking up the work begun by colleague Daniel Mateo Schoorl — to process this collection and manage the project to completion. While the collection was largely completed in January 2011, we have continued adding some unique materials to the collection, which is currently housed within 16 archival document boxes measuring 4.5 linear feet. I’ve also created a basic finding aid to accompany this collection that I hope will eventually be turned into an online finding aid.