Tag Archives: Manhattan Project

Connected in time and space…part 5


Beatrice Olney Watson…

…first wife of George W Downs, born in Rock, Trelawny, Jamaica in 1888, the youngest of five children, to a British mariner, Captain John Watson and his wife.  At age four, she appears on a ship’s manifest in transit between Scotland and Jamaica with her parents and two older sisters.

The year 1915 finds her with sister Mabel Margaret on the ship Zacapa, sailing from Kingston, Jamaica, through the port of New York,


to their final destination, Halifax, Nova Scotia.



In 1922 she immigrated to the US, coming to California in 1923.  Pasadena became home, she worked as a nurse, met my uncle, they married in 1940…she was 52, he was 29.


– attending my parent’s wedding in 1946 –




Aunt Bea was tall, stern, formidable…from my perspective as a child.  The adage ‘children are to be seen and not heard’ was the law of her land.  I spent many hours sitting near the hearth in her home, cutting out paper dolls  –  listening to adult conversation.  She played the piano and painted in oils – giving this piece to my father as a remembrance of our days in Monterey.


Even now I find it hard to reconcile her persona, her age, with that of the man to whom she was married for 23 years, until her death in 1963.  Described by his colleagues as a ‘charming personality whose famous parties and bon vivant tastes drew to him a varied circle of fascinating friends’…always wearing a bow tie, always with a twinkle in his eye………


Some years ago an article appeared in our local newspaper featuring a man who had worked at Caltech at the time of the Manhattan Project.  I wrote to him, asking if he had known my uncle…an excerpt from his response:  “if it hadn’t been for George, Enrico (Fermi), and other’s sense of humor, we would have suffered greatly.  We knew that the atomic bomb would be used indiscriminately on the civil population.  George had the right suggestion…if I well remember, that the bomb be used as a torpedo and delivered by plane on the wharfs and other military targets…but it was not to be.  I will never forget the chubby charmer and his fabulous stories.  I’m sure that he is still telling his stories and making the angels laugh.”


Filed under Art, Family history, Travel

Connected in time and space…part 3

Rosalyn Tureck

Unless you are a Bach enthusiast of a certain age, or she was married to your uncle (as she was to mine), you probably won’t be familiar with the name.


(picture above from the Oberlin College Yearbook where she performed in 1939)

Not falling into the first category, and being quite young at the time of their marriage, I was interested in, but not impressed by her persona.  Unfolding gradually over the following years, the story of their connection, beginning at Caltech in the late 1930’s, became an exotic thread woven into the fabric of my family history.

You have met ‘Uncle George’ – George Wallingford Downs, Jr*

(*posts:  Connected in time and space….parts 1 and 2)

The first encounter between musician and physicist was to be at the Stammtisch** – a casual monthly gathering of faculty at Caltech.   To each meeting a notable person from outside their ranks was invited to share in the meal during which he or she was asked one question, the answer to which would be delivered after dinner in the form of a lecture.  Rosalyn had debuted at Carnegie Hall and was – in her own words –  “fabulous and an overnight success”.  Invited, she traveled from New York to Pasadena in 1938, and was asked the question: ‘is piano music qualitative or quantitative’.

(**German:   regular’s table; an informal group meeting or gathering held on a regular basis; the Stammtisch at Caltech met sometimes at a private home and often at the Athenaeum.)


Recognized as ‘The High Priestess if Bach”,  Rosalyn performed worldwide, recorded, wrote, and dedicated her life to perfecting a specific style of playing his music, reflecting the vision of the composer.

Meanwhile, George continued his affiliation with Caltech, worked on the development of ‘sonar’ at UCSD, the Caltech Torpedo Project, and, working with the Manhattan Project, had a hand in developing the trigger for the atomic bomb.  He also worked for, participated in the formation of, and served on the Board of Directors of several companies in related fields.


Twenty-five years would pass before they married in England in September of 1964.


Rosalyn and I would not meet until 31 years after my uncle’s death.


Of course, I find the story line fascinating…..perhaps, as it unfolds, you will too………

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Filed under Family history