Interview with Shirley Carlisle

Dublin Core


Interview with Shirley Carlisle


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)


Shirley Carlisle was born at Kadlec Hospital in Richland in 1947. In this interview she talks about her parent's work at Hanford and growing up in Richland

An interview conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by Mission Support Alliance on behalf of the United States Department of Energy.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.








The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to the US Department of Energy collection.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Robert Franklin


Shirley Carlisle


Washington State University Tri-Cities


Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Shirley Carlisle on November 7, 2017. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Shirley about her experiences growing up in Richland. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?

Shirley Carlisle: Shirley Ann Carlisle. S-H-I-R-L-E-Y. Ann, A-N-N. Carlisle. C-A-R-L-I-S-L-E.

Franklin: Great, thank you, Shirley. And it’s okay if I call you Shirley, right?

Carlisle: Sure.

Franklin: Okay. So, you were born in Richland? That’s correct?

Carlisle: I was born in Kadlec.

Franklin: Okay. And Richland was still a—until—and you were born what year?

Carlisle: 1947.

Franklin: Okay. And that’s when—

Carlisle: It was still under government control. My mother had an Army doctor.

Franklin: Okay. And so, to have lived here at that time, your family must have worked—

Carlisle: My dad was a Hanford patrolman.

Franklin: Okay. And when did your dad come to the area?

Carlisle: My grandfather died in Pasco in 1937. My dad came out after that.

Franklin: Oh, so your family was here before the Manhattan Project.

Carlisle: Before, yes. Before the Manhattan Project. Probably ’34 or something like that.

Franklin: Okay, and do you know what your grandfather did in Pasco?

Carlisle: My granddad homesteaded down along the Columbia River.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Carlisle: So, he had a small little homestead down along the Columbia.

Franklin: And so your father came out before your grandfather died, or after?

Carlisle: You know, I’m not really sure. It was sometime around the time that my granddad died.

Franklin: Okay. And what did—did he come to take over the farm?

Carlisle: He—yes, he came out to help his mother and he had five brothers and sisters, so he came to help with family.

Franklin: Was he one of the older?

Carlisle: He was the oldest.

Franklin: He was the oldest, okay. So his brothers and sisters still lived with his father and mother on this homestead.

Carlisle: Right. I had two aunts—or, an aunt and an uncle that graduated from Pasco High School about 1947, ’48.

Franklin: Okay. So what led to your father starting to work at Hanford? He must’ve worked for DuPont eventually, right?

Carlisle: He did. That was his first job, was DuPont. He had worked, you know, around Pasco, the farms, that kind of thing.

Franklin: Okay. Do you—mention why he got a job at the Manhattan Project?

Carlisle: Well, because it was the going thing. And it was much better pay. And he didn’t think there was security there—longevity, I should say. Yeah. He actually worked there maybe ten years and still didn’t think he was going to be there very long, so he bought farm in Colville and when Hanford went down, he was going to go back to farming. Well, we never went back to farming.

Franklin: So he must’ve moved—did he move to Richland, then, when he started the job?

Carlisle: Yes.

Franklin: Okay.

Carlisle: My folks, they were married in ’45 in Hood Park, and then his—their first house they had was 90 Craighill, a little one-bedroom prefab because it was just the two of them. And he went to work for Hanford as a patrolman. My dad wasn’t a very big man; he didn’t particularly care to like being a patrolman because it was kind of rowdy in those days. And so my dad quit. So my mom said, one day about two weeks after he quit, a knock on the door and this Hanford patrolman, and they wanted to know where my dad’s at. Well, he’s out in the backyard. So they go out and talk to him, and patrol leaves and my dad comes back into the house. My mom says, well, what did they want? He said, I can’t quit. So my dad went back to work. Because it was a war effort. So my dad couldn’t quit. So they put him, then—he was working maintenance, then, after that. And eventually ended up in power.

Franklin: Oh, okay, in power, where?

Carlisle: He was the junior power operator out in the Area.

Franklin: Okay. Do you know where specifically he was stationed?

Carlisle: The last place he worked at that I remember was the D Area. But he was in several of the different areas.

Franklin: And was he running the power plants that supplied the reactors?

Carlisle: You know, I really—they didn’t tell you a whole lot, and I really don’t quite know exactly. I just know his title was like a junior power operator.

Franklin: So instead of quitting, he was kind of forcibly transferred because they needed—

Carlisle: They agreed that they would put him in a different job other than the patrol.

Franklin: Well, because also if he quit, they would have to leave the house, right?

Carlisle: Right, yes, and they were prepared to do that, because Dad didn’t particularly like all the rowdiness and stuff that was going on at Hanford. He wasn’t a big man, so he just wasn’t able to handle some of the fights and stuff that happened out there.

Franklin: Oh, okay. How did he get in—did he do any security or law enforcement previously to--?

Carlisle: No, no.

Franklin: No?

Carlisle: They hired everybody on the spot. My dad was like 5’7” but he was very stout, and so I guess, maybe, because of his stoutness, they figured he could handle that. But he said he was a little too short for that.

Franklin: So he was placed into that job, then.

Carlisle: Yes, yes.

Franklin: He didn’t pick being a patrolman, okay.

Carlisle: His mother also worked out there. She worked in the kitchen in one of the barracks-type places.

Franklin: Oh, in the mess hall?

Carlisle: In the mess hall, yes.

Franklin: Oh, wow, so a long—like, several generations or two generations—

Carlisle: Right. His brothers and sisters—his sister was a telephone operator for two years out there.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Carlisle: And then one of his brothers was a truck driver out there.

Franklin: Oh, wow, so a big kind of family—you know.

Carlisle: Yeah, it was a whole-family thing.

Franklin: Wow, that’s really interesting. Did any of them continue to work after the war, at Hanford, or was it just your dad?

Carlisle: Well, Dad was out there about 27, 28 years.

Franklin: Right. Any of his other family?

Carlisle: No, no. Ella Mae was only there about two years.

Franklin: She’s the mother?

Carlisle: The sister.

Franklin: The sister, oh, okay.

Carlisle: And Grandma, which was Mary, she was only there maybe a year.

Franklin: Oh, okay. And did they have to ride all the way out from Pasco up there, or did they get—

Carlisle: Of course, Dad lived up here in Richland, so he got on the bus and went out. And Grandma, I think lived in a barracks. Grandma and Ella Mae, her daughter, lived in a barracks out there.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Carlisle: Because Ella Mae, I think she walked to wherever she was going.

Franklin: Oh, wow. Did your family know any of the settlers that had been in the area before 1943?

Carlisle: Not that I’m aware of. Because they were basically from Pasco.

Franklin: Sure, but they had known that those people had been evacuated.

Carlisle: Yes, oh, yes.

Franklin: Did they ever talk about that? The evacuations?

Carlisle: No, uh-unh.

Franklin: Okay. So your family lived in a one-bedroom prefab before you were born, right?

Carlisle: Before I was born.

Franklin: And then moved to a two-bedroom.

Carlisle: Right, because my mom was pregnant and so we moved up above the hill to a two-bedroom prefab.

Franklin: Okay. What do you remember about growing up in a prefab?

Carlisle: You know, the things I remember, I think, are so normal that—for other people that didn’t live in a government town would not be—it would be different. I can remember us having FBI agents walk down the street, which I thought was very normal for everybody. You know, asking about your neighbors and interviewing you about what was—what your neighbors was. That was very typical. I can remember that. Usually two guys walking down the street.

The little house that we lived in, it was supposed to be temporary so it didn’t have any skirting or anything on it. My dad had to put skirting on it so I wouldn’t crawl underneath the house. And it didn’t have a—it just had flat roof. My mom said, one time when I was little, we had a sandstorm because I lived on the edge of town. She had gone to Burbank where her sister was living. And when she came back—she had left the windows open. She had to put me in the little utility room to clean up all the sand that had blown in, because it was so sandy. And we had a hot water—hot water—a water tank not too far from—just across the street from us. And down the street was an air raid siren that they tested, I remember once a month; it might have been more than that.

Franklin: So, there was no hot water heater in the house?

Carlisle: No, what I meant to say was it was a water tank—a big water tank for the city.

Franklin: Oh, that supplied the water.

Carlisle: The supply, yes, yeah.

Franklin: So like one of those classic ones on the stilts?

Carlisle: Yes, with stripes on it. Black and stripes and—

Franklin: Oh, wow. There’s one of those in the town I grew up in. It’s like the tallest thing in our town.

Carlisle: Right.

Franklin: Yeah, we call it the water tower.

Carlisle: Yeah. They eventually took that down and it laid on the ground for a long time and we—they took the top off of it. So us kids got to play inside of it. It was really fun to run up and down the walls of that thing.

Franklin: Oh, I bet. And by that time, I guess, the city had put in sewer.

Carlisle: Right.

Franklin: Right. So, if your water came from a tank, what—do you remember what the bathroom—were there bathroom facilities?

Carlisle: Yeah, yeah.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Carlisle: Yeah, we had the sewer line and the bathroom and—yeah. We had an irrigation ditch that ran right behind Carmichael and down towards what’s now the freeway.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Carlisle: Right above Fred Meyer’s was an irrigation ditch. So we had irrigation water.

Franklin: Oh, wow. And that had been there from the people before, right? That irrigation ditch had been laid before, for the old farming residents of Richland?

Carlisle: In the area that I lived in, as far as I know, there was not a lot of old—well, there was no farm houses that I remember. Where Carmichael was, I vaguely remember that was like an orchard in that area and some of the houses that—the first house that we lived in had like a peach tree or an apricot tree or whatever it was in the yard. So there was still fruit trees left from when it was an orchard. So there really wasn’t a whole lot of farmhouses.

Franklin: Oh, wow. Your mother’s family, were they from the area as well?

Carlisle: She came out from North Dakota in probably, oh, ’43, something like that.

Franklin: Did she come out to work at Hanford?

Carlisle: No. Her sister was the one that lived—her sister’s husband worked for Hood on the dairy, which is now Hood Park. So she came out to stay with her sister.

Franklin: Okay. And how did—so her and your father met—

Carlisle: Yeah. My Uncle Wayne, my aunt’s husband, his dad had a truck farm, and they all lived in the Pasco area, and they just knew my dad, and so—

Franklin: Kind of set them up.

Carlisle: Yeah, he did. My uncle actually asked him to come out to the house and he needed an excuse, so he was going to buy some car parts that my uncle had. The only thing is, my dad didn’t have a car. He had to borrow a car to out to buy these car parts to see my mom. And then the dog bit him, so. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow, what an eventful day!

Carlisle: Yeah!

Franklin: That’s a really cute story. So, what we know about the prefabs is that they were not really built to last—

Carlisle: Correct.

Franklin: They were houses from the Tennessee Valley Authority. They were from the New Deal. So it’s kind of amazing that most of them are still standing. I’m kind of wondering what—your parents kind of grew up in older houses, maybe craftsmans or farmhouses. Did they ever talk to you about their impressions of the prefabs, or did they have anything they liked about them or anything they really didn’t like about them?

Carlisle: Well, you know, they both came off farms, so I’m sure that having an indoor toilet was, you know, quite nice for them, because they were used to having the outdoor toilets. My mom was very happy with the little house that she had. It came furnished. I still have some of the prefab furniture that we had when I was a little kid.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Carlisle: They did everything for you. If the lightbulb went out, you called, and they came up and changed the lightbulb. They had people that came and emptied the garbage. We had three crews that came around. We had a little cubby hole in that prefab and there was a little tiny garbage can; they would take it out of the cubbyhole, set it on the street. The next crew would come along and pick it up, and the third crew would come along and put it back. My mom locked herself out, she’d call and they’d just come up and unlock the doors and let her in.

Franklin: Oh, wow. Were your parents pretty happy with that level of kind of control, right, by the government over the domestic situation?

Carlisle: You know, I don’t think they really thought it was control. I think they just thought that it was benefits of the job.

Franklin: Sure. It’s always kind of—strikes me that a lot of that service that’s done for these people kind of similar in a lot of ways to descriptions of a socialist utopia, you know, where—full employment, provided housing, and all services provided to people. So your parents were happy with that benefit of the job.

Carlisle: Yeah. Because they came from—my dad came through the Depression, where he didn’t have anything. He and his brother roamed the fields of Wyoming picking up animal bones to take to the bonemeal factory to make money.

Franklin: Really?

Carlisle: And so this was really nice.

Franklin: Yeah, I bet. So your—you mentioned earlier that your father always kind of had this anxiety about the security or kind of permanency of the job, but he ended up staying there for 20—

Carlisle: About 27 years, yeah.

Franklin: Yeah, so, wait, why did he choose to stay? Did he ever talk to you about why he kept on the job?

Carlisle: Well, because it was a good job. I mean, he had health benefits and, you know, all kinds of things that he wouldn’t have had if he had gone to farming. So that would’ve been his second choice, and that’s what he bought, was a farm, up in Colville. And never did go there, because he didn’t know whether Hanford was going to be here that long or not. He didn’t know what they were making out there. Hadn’t a clue. So.

Franklin: Sure, sure. What did your family do with the farm out in Colville?

Carlisle: Well, they had until like the ‘50s and then ’57, ’58 and then sold it. He rented it out and from when he bought it to when he sold it, he rented it out. And then he decided that maybe Hanford wasn’t going anyplace and that he would continue on out there.

Franklin: Did your mother ever work out there?

Carlisle: No, she didn’t. She worked for Newberry’s in Richland.

Franklin: Oh, okay, and that was a department store.

Carlisle: Yeah, it was a department store.

Franklin: And that was in the Uptown?

Carlisle: Yeah, in the Uptown.

Franklin: In that corner now where the antiques—

Carlisle: Where the antiques store is.

Franklin: And how long did she work for Newberry’s?

Carlisle: Oh, she worked there until it closed and from the time I was little, so probably about 20 years.

Franklin: And do you remember when it closed?

Carlisle: You know, I don’t.

Franklin: Okay.

Carlisle: It was—I don’t know.

Franklin: It’s okay.

Carlisle: Yeah, I just—

Franklin: Newberry’s was a chain, correct?

Carlisle: It was, uh-huh.

Franklin: Kind of like a Woolworth’s?

Carlisle: Right.

Franklin: Yeah, that’s kind of a forgotten era of retail today.

Carlisle: Yes, yeah.

Franklin: What did Newberry’s provide? Like, what kind of things did they sell?

Carlisle: Oh, at Christmastime, they had Toyland upstairs. Wow, that was pretty good.

Franklin: Ooh.

Carlisle: Stores closed about 5 or 6:00 at night. And the only night they were open late was Friday night. And then at Christmastime they might be open on Saturday late. And never were they open on Sunday.

Franklin: So the Uptown was kind of the locus of shopping.

Carlisle: Yeah.

Franklin: In the area. Do you have any other memories about that area?

Carlisle: Well, of course, I could walk from my house to Newberry’s. And my mom—of course, I didn’t drive, so then I would ride home with her sometimes. Of course Uptown Richland, we had Macy’s, The Bon, that was up there.

Franklin: The Bon Marché, right?

Carlisle: Bon Marché was on the corner of Jadwin and—in the Parkway, up there.

Franklin: Oh, right. And what was a Bon Marché?

Carlisle: It—what was it?

Franklin: Yeah.

Carlisle: It was a clothing store.

Franklin: Like a Macy’s, or--?

Carlisle: Yeah.

Franklin: Some of the others—

Carlisle: Well, Bon Marché went from Bon to Macy’s, so.

Franklin: Oh, okay, gotcha. Gotcha. Interesting. And then do you remember the Parkway being an actual park before they paved it through?

Carlisle: No.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Carlisle: I remember the theater down at the end, that we could go to the theater down there, and then Uptown Theater. And there was a drugstore in where there’s a bunch of offices now, where the Players is. But, no, I don’t remember that it was ever anything but the Parkway.

Franklin: Okay. Did you go down to Howard Amon much at all? Did you go down to swim in the river and did you have many interactions with the--?

Carlisle: I actually didn’t swim in the river very much. My dad actually preferred the ditch. We’d go across the street, and my dad was a good swimmer, so he would swim in the ditch. But we didn’t—he didn’t—he might’ve when he was—before I remember, he might have done a lot of swimming in the river.

Franklin: Okay, interesting. So you went to school in—all your schooling was in Richland, or K through 12, right, was in—

Carlisle: Marcus Whitman, Carmichael, and at that time, Columbia High School.

Franklin: Okay. Do you remember doing civil defense drills?

Carlisle: Oh, yes.

Franklin: Okay! Can you—it’s so foreign to so many people today, especially anyone of my generation or younger. Can you talk us through one of those?

Carlisle: And it was so normal for us. I don’t remember whether we did it—at least once a month, maybe every two weeks; I can’t remember. And when I was a kid, the air raid siren would go off. Because we had air raid sirens, and it would go off, and we’d have to go out in the hallway and get down on our hands and knees and duck our heads, and then we’d have to wait for the all-clear signal. And then as soon as we could hear the all-clear signal, then we could go back to class. But that was normal for us.

Franklin: Was it, really?

Carlisle: It was normal. It wasn’t anything scary; it was just something we did! I don’t know that at age that we really truly understood what that was all about, but—

Franklin: Sure. How long did you do those for?

Carlisle: I think we did them probably up until I was in—Carmichael is now middle school, but it was junior high then. And we would do, a couple of times, they loaded us all on buses and took us on an evacuation route in case we needed to be evacuated. So probably until I was in junior high school.

Franklin: Do you remember where the evacuation route went?

Carlisle: You know, I don’t think it was very far. I know we went down Wellsian Way and around and I really don’t know that it was very far, but.

Franklin: What was the atmosphere of that like, for the children? Was that kind of like a field trip-type thing?

Carlisle: Yeah, it was more of a fun-type thing. Because I—you know, most of us, a lot of us had lived here all our lives, so we were familiar with that kind of thing. That was not un-normal for us. So it was a day to get out of a few classes.

Franklin:  How old were you when you first knew what was being produced at Hanford?

Carlisle: Oh. You know, I don’t know that I ever really—until I grew up and maybe got into high school, really, understood what was going on out there. Because, like I said, what was normal for us was, you know. We didn’t know anything. If I asked my dad what he did out in the Area, oh, he read dials or that kind of thing. And he would tell me more of the animals that he saw out in the Area. My mother would make him two sandwiches: one cat food sandwich and one sandwich for himself. He would feed the cat food sandwich to the raccoons and he’d tell me all about that. When he worked in town, he would bring me birds and all kinds of things that he would find.

Franklin: Huh. But I assume, at some point, you did start to kind of piece together, you know, understand that—when did you first really understand Hanford’s kind of connection to the Cold War and all of that?

Carlisle: Probably—you know, when you’re a kid, you don’t—those things don’t mean a whole lot to you, especially when you’ve grown up with that. So probably when I was in high school, and when my dad—I knew that when my dad couldn’t quit, because it was a war effort, then I kind of understood then that, you know, it was a war effort.

Franklin: Sure. Sorry. I just lost my train of thought. And so, then, you went to Columbia High as well, and the mascot at that time was the Bombers, right? There’s been—it seems like there’s always kind of a simmering controversy surrounding that mascot, and I’d like to ask you your thoughts about that.

Carlisle: Well, you know, the bomb does terrible things, but it also stopped the war and put the end to the war. So, there’s two sides to that. So, it—to me, it’s, the mascot being the bomb, that’s what we were all about, that’s what we made here, and, so that’s fine. I didn’t—

Franklin: Okay. Were you ever concerned—when you started to realize that there was—your dad was working next to a nuclear plant, were you ever concerned or was your mother ever concerned about his safety, or, you know, any kind of effects from being so close to radiation?

Carlisle: Not when I was growing up, but as I got older, I was very much aware of that, and was actually involved in a lawsuit.

Franklin: Oh, really?

Carlisle: Concerning that.

Franklin: Okay.

Carlisle: Not because I—I was a downwinder, a Hanford Downwinder. So for 20 years, we kind of fought with the government.

Franklin: Can I ask you more about that? What made you join—or, what made you initiate that?

Carlisle: Well, I had and still have a disease that the emissions that was going on, it increases that disease. So I decided—my aunt was also involved in Hanford Downwinders. She also signed off on that, but she was able to get the—she was exposed to stuff out in the Area, so she was able to get the, whatever it is, the money that they give out for that.

Franklin: The EEOICPA?

Carlisle: Yes, yeah.

Franklin: Yeah. How did your litigation attempts turn out?

Carlisle: Well, it—I think it went on for 20 years. It was very interesting. We eventually lost. I think there was two cases that won, and we eventually—we settled. I shouldn’t say we lost. We settled.

Franklin: Okay. Are there terms—can you discuss that settlement, or is there—

Carlisle: Yeah, I’d rather not.

Franklin: Sure, I totally understand. I guess, I’d like to ask you about the—so growing up in Richland, your father worked for the Site, then eventually you have a disease that is linked to emissions at Hanford. Joining that lawsuit, was that hard for you, kind of having grown up in this very patriotic, pro-Hanford atmosphere? Did you feel like you were turning on the community or on yourself, or—how did you feel about—was there a conflict, I guess, is my question.

Carlisle: Yes and no, because we were very proud to be working for Hanford. But it was sometimes really hard to realize that we weren’t told everything that was detrimental to our health. So that becomes kind of a conflict, like you don’t want that to happen to somebody else, so you want to bring that out. It maybe wouldn’t ever benefit me, but it certainly might benefit someone else.

Franklin: Right, okay, thank you. So you would’ve graduated—when did you graduate high school?

Carlisle: ’65.

Franklin: ’65, okay. So I guess I’ll get to that in a minute. So Richland was privatized in 1958.

Carlisle: Correct.

Franklin: I wanted to hear your thoughts on what you remember about that.

Carlisle: Well, that was when we were able to buy our houses. So my dad bought the little prefab on the corner, the two-bedroom prefab. I think he paid about $2500 for it. Because it was a corner lot, it was a little bit more expensive than the other ones that were like $2300. And then eventually the lady that lived next-door moved out, a couple years later, and we bought the precut, and my dad paid $8000 for that. He paid more for his car than he paid for his house.

Franklin: Is there a difference between precut and prefab?

Carlisle: Yes.

Franklin: Okay, can you describe that for me?

Carlisle: The prefab, those were ones, twos, and three-bedrooms. They were pretty small. They had the flat roofs that were saltbox-type things. They were some of the first temporary ones. The precut is about 1,150 square feet, and it was built more to stay than the prefabs.

Franklin: Did the precuts come in after World War II?

Carlisle: The one I’m living in now, I think it was built in 1948.

Franklin: Okay, okay. Are those considered Alphabet Homes, or are they—

Carlisle: Yes, yeah. I think it’s a Q or something like that.

Franklin: Oh, okay, okay. So it is a—and they kind of placed those in that prefab neighborhood.

Carlisle: Right.

Franklin: Right, because there is a distinct, kind of, zones of mostly what we call Alphabets and then others where it’s mostly prefabs.

Carlisle: We had a precut on the corner, a prefab, and a precut. And they took the prefab out of the middle of that and then separated the place. The place that I live in, I think there was a prefab there before it, because the plumbing all runs to the front of the lot; whereas now it’s in the back of the lot. So they took out a lot of the prefabs and put in the precuts.

Franklin: Okay, and do you remember when they switched the roofs over on the prefabs?

Carlisle: 1950—I think I have it on those pictures there.

Franklin: Yeah. 1951?

Carlisle: Yeah.

Franklin: Okay. You probably don’t remember much about that.

Carlisle: No.

Franklin: I imagine Richland, when you were a small child, would’ve been pretty devoid of trees or kind of still starting to grow?

Carlisle: Yeah, a lot of the people went down to the river and got cottonwoods and the trees to bring up to the houses to plant. So, yeah, there was—we had a few small trees in our yard, but they were—because it was orchard. The neighbor across the street had two peach trees in their front yard. And eventually, of course, they got taken down and different trees put in there.

Franklin: Was it the government that took those down?

Carlisle: No, well, probably the homeowners.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Carlisle: Or, not homeowners, but the people who lived there.

Franklin: Sure. Were your parents excited, nervous about the transfer of Richland to its citizens? I’m wondering if you remember anything about like kind of the general mood at the time?

Carlisle: No, my dad had the choice of staying with the City of Richland and working with the City of Richland if he wanted, or actually going out to the Area. Because my dad actually worked at the sewer plant. The Rose Bowl, when I was a kid. And when the city switched, then he actually went out in the Area and worked in the D Area and I think he worked in B and several different areas. Because he worked for DuPont, he worked for Douglas United Nuclear, he worked for GE. I think he retired from Douglas.

Franklin: Yeah, that would make—you said he worked out there 27 years?

Carlisle: Yeah.

Franklin: Yeah, okay, that would make sense with the timeline. Yup, okay. As I was trying to like do my mental math. But pretty happy about that transfer of ownership, then?

Carlisle: Yeah, yeah.

Franklin: Yeah. Okay. So you graduated in ’65.

Carlisle: ’65.

Franklin: We’ve been piecing together a bit of history and just started a new oral history project on civil rights in the Tri-Cities, and we know that there were a few African American families that lived in Richland. Do you recall going to school with any of the African American families there?

Carlisle: When we were in high school, we had some football players and some basketball players that were African American. But we didn’t have a great population of that. We didn’t have any issues. I mean, civil rights didn’t exist to me.

Franklin: Okay. Now we know that Kennewick had sundown laws which barred blacks from owning homes in Kennewick and being there after dark, and most lived in Pasco. Did you ever—and there were some NAACP demonstrations around the time that you would’ve graduated, and a little bit of strife. Did you hear anything about that? Did that impact you in any way?

Carlisle: No. I remember, we’d go to Burbank and the African Americans usually lived in east Pasco.

Franklin: Yeah.

Carlisle: But that’s all I remember. I mean, it didn’t seem to be any—no problems. That I remember, anyway.

Franklin: Sure. Did your family go much to the other cities in the Tri-Cities, or did you mostly stay—do most of your shopping and socializing in Richland, or did you get out in the wider area?

Carlisle: Well, when I was little, there wasn’t a whole lot in Richland, and my dad was from Pasco. So we would go to Penney’s in Pasco. My uncle lived in Kennewick for, you know, 50 years. So we didn’t do a lot of shopping in Kennewick, but usually my dad gravitated towards Pasco.

Franklin: Oh, okay. Do you still have family in that area?

Carlisle: No. Mm-mm.

Franklin: Oh, okay. So after you graduated, then what did you do?

Carlisle: I went to CBC for a couple years, and then I went to Eastern Washington State. And then I came back, and I went to work for Payless / Rite Aid on the 29th of October. I’ve been there 48 years.

Franklin: Wow. Is that the one on George—?

Carlisle: No, it’s on Lee.

Franklin: Oh, right, sorry, I always get the Walgreen’s and Rite Aid confused. I shouldn’t, because that’s my pharmacy.

Carlisle: Within two miles of that, lived, worked, and was born within two miles of that area, all my life.

Franklin: Wow, so you’re really rooted-in-place.

Carlisle: Absolutely.

Franklin: When you—how long were you at Eastern?

Carlisle: I think I was there—I didn’t graduate. I think I was there about a year.

Franklin: Oh, okay. Did you—is there any memorable—when people found out you were from Richland, were there any kind of memorable conversations, or did you find it—how was it, living in a community outside of Richland, I guess is kind of my question. Anything you noticed? Anything that was odd to you, or--?

Carlisle: No.

Franklin: People kind of treat you—

Carlisle: I have a friend that lives just three blocks from me, that actually, we went to Eastern together. But she didn’t come to the Tri-Cities until she was in sixth grade. So when I talk about things that went on when I was a little kid, she can’t relate to some of that stuff; she doesn’t quite get it. Because her dad came out later and worked in the Area.

Franklin: Oh, right, so she wouldn’t remember the government ownership.

Carlisle: Right, the agents walking up and down the streets. That kind of thing.

Franklin: I wondered, was your father working out on Site when President Kennedy came to visit?

Carlisle: Yes, he was.

Franklin: Did you go out to see him?

Carlisle: I did.

Franklin: I’m wondering if you could—what your memories are of that day. You would’ve been like a sophomore? You were a teenager, right?

Carlisle: Yeah.

Franklin: What are your memories of that day?

Carlisle: Well, it was hot, and it was dusty, and it was dirty, and we were back in the crowd, and we just about saw him, and that was about it. About six helicopters came in, and you didn’t know which one he was in. That was it. I can remember Father Sweeney giving an invocation and Volpentest being up there talking. And then Kennedy talked, but how much I saw from the distance I was at? I don’t know.

Franklin: How many people do you think were there?

Carlisle: I don’t know. It seemed like maybe there was thousands. But I would guess, I don’t know, 5,000-6,000, maybe? 3,000? I don’t know.

Franklin: Was that your first time ever being out on Site?

Carlisle: Pretty much, so, yes. It was just out in the middle of the desert, so didn’t see anything.

Franklin: Right. Have you been out on Site since then?

Carlisle: I have, yeah.

Franklin: Okay, and for--?

Carlisle: I’ve done the B Reactor tour and some of the other tours. It’s very interesting.

Franklin: Oh, great, okay. Let’s see here. What are some of your memories of some major events in the Tri-Cities like plants shutting down in the late ‘80s when Hanford—when things started to shut down.

Carlisle: My dad—well, I remember the guy across the street took an early retirement and then had to go back to work. Voluntary retirement, and then had to go back to work because they needed him back there, I remember that. My dad, I think retired about the same time. But he didn’t have to go back; they didn’t call him back. You know. It didn’t seem to be any—my folks didn’t seem to be worried about it, because my dad was getting up there into the retirement age, so it was no big deal.

Franklin: What do you remember about the end of the Cold War and the stopping of production at Hanford? I imagine that must’ve made the community pretty nervous about what was going—the economic future of the Tri-Cities.

Carlisle: It did, and I think there was a sign on George Washington Way that said, last one out of Richland, turn out the lights, type of thing. So, yeah, people who were not long-term people like my folks were, they moved, they went back to where they were from. But they were still building up and things were still going along.  It took a little time, but, yeah, we’re getting there.

Franklin: Do you remember the Hanford Family at all?

Carlisle: No.

Franklin: Okay. Do you remember—what impact did Chernobyl have on the community that you can remember?

Carlisle: Well, you know, everybody was concerned, of course. But as far as—I’m sure that sent people out in Hanford scrambling to make sure that everything was okay out there. But I don’t remember anything, other than the terrible thing that happened at Chernobyl, I don’t remember related to us.

Franklin: Do you have any memories of social scene or local politics or other insights into life in the Tri-Cities since you were a child?

Carlisle: Mm-mm. No, it was all—you know, just—it was very normal for me. All the things that went on. I have a hard time relating to the fact that other towns don’t have the cookie cutter houses that the government built. Because that’s the way I was grown up. Now I realize you don’t—you watch your kids. But when I was growing up, everybody had a Q clearance; everybody knew their neighbors. My mom had no problems with us girls sleeping out in the front yard and running around half the night.

Franklin: Sure. And also everybody had a job, right?

Carlisle: Everybody had a job.

Franklin: It was literally a town of full employment.

Carlisle: Yeah.

Franklin: And people had strong background checks.

Carlisle: Right, right.

Franklin: Probably make it one of the safest communities you could—

Carlisle: Right.

Franklin: You know, because so much crime is caused by low economic status, and so, yeah, yeah, it’s—

Carlisle: So you know, those were times that we had no problems. My mother was never afraid that if I was outside playing that something was going to happen. Even if the neighborhood guys were walking across the street—we had the bus stop where the buses stopped to pick up the guys—she knew all the neighbors and she knew they had gone all through security clearances, and she had no issues with that.

Franklin: Sure. Did you have a bus stop on your street?

Carlisle: Right across the street from the house.

Franklin: Wow, and your father would get on and get off.

Carlisle: Yup.

Franklin: Did you have a private telephone, or did you have like a party line system?

Carlisle: Oh, we had a party line. Well, we actually didn’t have a phone until my mom got pregnant with me, and then we had a phone for a short length of time. And then after that, the phone got taken out, and we had phone booths on a couple of corners. One lady across the street from us, the Stanleys, had a phone, and she said, anytime you need the phone, just come on over. My door’s always unlocked. So we would use her phone. But for the most part we would use the phone booth. And then when we first got a phone, it was a four-party line. And then got down to two-party line.

Franklin: And then eventually—

Carlisle: I’ve had two phone numbers in my whole life.

Franklin: Oh, wow. Wow. One—I assume, one would’ve been for—

Carlisle: A Whitehall number, and then when they changed it from Whitehall, then, to this one.

Franklin: Oh, wow, that’s really interesting. I don’t think many people can say that. I know I’ve had so many phone numbers, I can’t even keep track of them. Okay, I think I’ve reached most of my—at the end of my questions. I just have kind of one large reflective question, and that is, what would you like future generations to know about living in Richland during the Cold War?

Carlisle: Well, I think we were very unique and very blessed in many ways to be able to—my dad had a sixth grade education. So to be able to work at Hanford and end up with a good retirement and a pension and medical care, that was very, you know, wonderful for him and my family. So Hanford did well by us.

Franklin: What about for yourself? Did you ever feel any fear or excitement or anything, being so close to the producer of two-thirds of the US nuclear weapons stockpile?

Carlisle: No, because we didn’t realize all that. You grow up with that, and it just kind of sneaks up on you quietly. We never had any problems from it. No, I never—it never bothered me.

Franklin: Okay.

Carlisle: Always joked about it, you know. The water—turn off the lights and I’ll glow in the dark, type thing, but—heh. And I remember my dad would call home and say he was hot and he had to take a bath. And he said you never got scrubbed down until you scrubbed down by a Hanford nurse. And he would get something maybe on his shoes or just a minor thing, and, boy, they were scrubbing him down.

Franklin: Wow.

Carlisle: But that was normal for us. It was a different frame of mind, because if I lived in a different town, and I came to this town, this would not be normal. But for me, it was normal.

Franklin: But on the flipside, though, you have a—you and others have a disease that’s likely caused by what happened out at Hanford, so it also, though, impacted you in a very personal way—you and your family probably in a negative way, you know?

Carlisle: It did, to some extent. And it’s hard to say that, yeah, my aunt passed away from causes related to Hanford, and that was terrible. But on the other hand, she got a lot of benefits, too. So, you know, it’s hard to really—things happen and she could’ve been someplace else, you know, and things could’ve happened. She could’ve been in a church and got shot.

Franklin: Sure. I guess what you’re saying is it’s complicated.

Carlisle: It’s complicated, yes.

Franklin: What would you like—you know, there’s always, Hanford’s critics are often really focused on that latter part I was just talking about, on the effects of Hanford, you know, people in Spokane or on the west side or elsewhere. What would you like them to know about growing up near it and also being affected by it? What’s your perspective that you could give to them?

Carlisle: Again, like I said, you know, it’s hard for me to judge outside of where I’ve lived all my life, and so, you know, I would hope that everybody takes into consideration what has happened in emissions and stuff like that that maybe could’ve been controlled. But you look at that B Reactor out there, and you think, oh my god, how did we live through all of that? Because it looks so antiquated compared to what we have nowadays. So, I don’t—you know.

Franklin: Okay, well, Shirley, thank you so much for coming and sharing your insights with us. I really appreciate it. It’s good to hear from people that grew up in such a—it helps to understand what a unique environment Richland really was, when you were a child. Because it really—there’s very few—you can almost count on one hand the number of cities that were like that in the United States.

Carlisle: Right, right, and when you say unique, it was unique, but we didn’t realize that. I didn’t realize—I mean, having been born here, I didn’t realize we were unique. I thought everybody lived like we did. So that was not unique to me.

Franklin: Yeah. Well, thank you so much.

Carlisle: You’re welcome.

Franklin: Yeah, I—when I first found out about it, you know, it was just like—

Carlisle: You’re not from here?

Franklin: No, I’m not. I’m from Alaska.

Carlisle: Oh!

Franklin: And I’ve lived in Alaska and Hawai’i.

Carlisle: Well, they had--



Bit Rate/Frequency



Carlisle, Shirley.JPG
Childhood Photos.pdf


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Shirley Carlisle ,” Hanford History Project, accessed September 23, 2021,

Document Viewer