Personalities: "Hell No, We Don't Glow!"

Jan 31, 2017

Edgemont, S.D. welcome sign
Credit Edgemont Area Chamber of Commerce

In the southern shadow of the Black Hills sits a small town with a small population...and a big past.

Chuck Anderson was welcomed into Edgemont, S.D., a town of 900 people whose land produced unique and coveted resources.

Edgemont's location in South Dakota
Credit Kota Territory News

Ordnance depots were distributed throughout the U.S. during World War II. They were used to store and test munitions for the U.S. military. Maurice Neville, a city councilman, said in 1942 the Defense Dept. established the Black Hills Ordnance Depot in Igloo, a town eight miles south of Edgemont. It was far enough inland to make Japanese and German air strikes less possible.

Workers stationed there lived on-site in federal housing and built a self-sufficient community with public works, hospitals, railroads and schools. For a community centered around a temporary effort, it was extensive.

The weapons that were stored and tested there included chemical weapons sarin (a nerve agent) and mustard gas (a cellular toxin). They were stored in facilities called "igloos," which bore the likeness of actual igloos. Hundreds of them lined the town.

Igloo used for munitions storage
Credit SDPB

Caroline Curl, a lifelong resident of Edgemont, said that igloos were supplied with hot water via deep wells. Maurice expands on the nature of these wells.

Maurice said the disbanding of the Black Hills Ordnance Depot after World War II was swift and noticeable. Trudy Dibble, an Edgemont Tribune journalist, noted that the Defense Dept. declared the depot obsolete. Depot jobs disappeared and so did around 40,000 people.

Edgemont adjusted to the change with no federal aid, instead relying on its agriculture and railroad system. Much weaponry was left underground by the Defense Dept., but most of it was suspected to be already used. The consensus among Chuck's group was that the Army Corps of Engineers, a Defense Dept. unit in charge of maintaining environmental stability, was not revealing the whole truth about Edgemont's  grounds. 

A young Tom Brokaw at Black Hills Ordnance Depot
Credit Tom Brokaw, Source: Jim Anderson

At the start of the Cold War, Edgemont became useful for another type of industry: uranium mining.

Uranium mining warning sign in Edgemont, S.D.
Credit Chris Huber, Rapid City Journal

And as of this interview, the people of Edgemont didn't suffer from radiation poisoning.

After the uranium cleanup, Edgemont was seen by many companies as a disposal site for all kinds of waste. Cam Nuclear wanted to bury nuclear waste, South Dakota Disposal Systems wanted to create a landfill, and Consolidated Management Corporation saw potential for sewage ash. All of these proposals were denied by the state of South Dakota.

Edgemont, S.D. was a dumping ground for many public and private projects, but its residents like Maurice, Caroline, and Trudy merely see these projects as part of Edgemont's unique history.

Listen to the full interview here:

For more on the igloo storage facilities, read SDPB's article "Igloo, South Dakota: The Utopia that War Built"

For more on Edgemont's nuclear history, the Rapid City Journal has a collection of articles:

Edgemont Ranchers Clash Over Uranium Mine

Radioactive Legacy series

For a nuclear history of South Dakota, visit:

No Nukes South Dakota