ORAL HISTORY OF CORINNE SAMFORD
with husband, Tom Samford
Interviewed by Anne Marie Hamilton-Brehm, Ph.D.
July 13, 2010
[Editor’s note: Audio cassette recording.]
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: This is Anne Marie Hamilton-Brehm. I’m the Coordinator for the Center for Oak Ridge Oral History. I’m here to conduct an interview today with Corinne Samford, who has come to join us from Atlanta, Georgia, and we’re interviewing in the Oak Ridge Public Library. Corinne, first of all, I’d like you to tell me how and why you came to Oak Ridge.
Mrs. Samford: I came with my husband to Oak Ridge, Tom Samford, and it was a job. And he was always interested in the work he was doing, so no question about it. We had only been married two or three years at that time. We were married in ’41 on Halloween, and this year, it will be our 69th wedding anniversary.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Oh, wow.
Mrs. Samford: Sixty-nine.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Congratulations.
Mrs. Samford: We had one boy while we were here at Oak Ridge, and he has since passed away with ALS, which they think he got over in Korea. Then we had five others, four boys and two girls, so we’re a big family.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Yes, you are. Well, I was wondering, when you came to Oak Ridge, did you find a job right away, or did you work?
Mrs. Samford: No, I didn’t work. I stayed at home with the baby. And my mother, we moved – well, we had a little house at Kingston, a two-room house, and shared the bath in Kingston, just before the baby was born. And then after he was born, we went into – they had a house here, a cemesto house, and there was two –
Mr. Samford: No, it was a flattop.
Mrs. Samford: Flattop.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: A flattop.
Mrs. Samford: And there was two bedrooms, so we moved in with them. It was better than him driving from Kingston to the plant.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: But you all did have a car, then, here.
Mrs. Samford: Yes. We were fortunate to get a car by – what was it, Honey, how we got a car?
Mr. Samford: Well –
Mrs. Samford: Because you were working in construction.
Mr. Samford: At Gulfport, I found a new Plymouth and got a priority to buy it.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Okay, but did you have trouble getting gas for the car because of rationing?
Mrs. Samford: Oh, yes, you had to have ration, yes. And that wasn’t as important then, you know, as it was later after he was gone in service. Rationing was how I lived, you know, after he was gone in the service. But we did enjoy, while we were here. And I remember living with my mother that we would go on weekends, drive all the way to Knoxville, which to me was a long ways, to get any kind of meat or any kind of chicken, and we’d make a day of it, you know, go in there to get the supplies and come back, and then we had enough for the next week, and then we’d go back on the next weekend and get it. There was nothing here where you could buy except just little grocery stores. There wasn’t much here to buy food in the base. But I remember those trips; we always looked forward to going to Knoxville to get food.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you ever go over to Clinton to buy food?
Mrs. Samford: No, no, never did. Didn’t venture out too much. There was a lot of people and a lot of cars, you know, coming and going. You really had to know where you were, and, you know, a woman doesn’t venture out much to find things like that. But we knew a big city in Knoxville would be okay.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you happen to join any clubs while you were here?
Mrs. Samford: No, not any. We did at Fort Bragg, when I was up at Fort Bragg, when I met him, there was clubs up there that single women joined up there. And my sister was there with me at Fort Bragg, and we joined some of those things, but mainly when you are just starting out – I was twenty when we got married, then had the baby in three years.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: So you were mostly focused on your family and taking care of your baby.
Mrs. Samford: Yes.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: How did the secrecy of Oak Ridge and living behind the fence affect you?
Mrs. Samford: Well, I just didn’t ask any questions of him. If it was secret for him, it certainly was for me, and I never questioned him, because I knew he knew what he was doing. It didn’t bother me. I knew – my grandparents came down one time from Michigan, and I know we had trouble even getting them into the base to go up to the house where we were living, you know.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: What did you have to do?
Mrs. Samford: Had to go to the gate. I don’t remember which one it was, Oliver Springs or one of them, had a gate there, and swear that they were our grandparents just coming for a visit and then they were leaving. And they had to tell them the days that they would be there and everything, and then they had to check out at that same gate.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did they issue them a pass?
Mrs. Samford: I think there was something like that, yes, that they had on their car, because they drove their car from Michigan here.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you ever hear about anybody having trouble with the security in Oak Ridge? Did anybody ever get caught?
Mrs. Samford: No, I don’t recall that.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you ever forget your pass when you left?
Mrs. Samford: No, no, that was something that was part of you, you know, you didn’t ever move any place without it.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: I’ve heard a lot of stories where people did forget their pass. That’s why I ask.
Mrs. Samford: Oh, no.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: With all the construction going on and whatnot, the streets were probably pretty muddy back then. Did you have any problems with the mud?
Mrs. Samford: Yeah, and there was a store down in the main area that we could go to that looked like it was better material in the road, you know.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Was that –
Mrs. Samford: Down at the center, there.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Jackson Square?
Mrs. Samford: I have no idea.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Was it in the middle of town?
Mrs. Samford: Yes, and we could go there. We knew we were safe to go there and get in and out, because the house was up on a real big hill where we had to drive, so you had to be careful.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: And were there boardwalks?
Mrs. Samford: Yes.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: I heard that’s how they coped with the mud a little bit was the boardwalks.
Mrs. Samford: Yes.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: And I’ve heard one story where a woman was pushing a stroller with wooden wheels on a boardwalk and it was just ‘bump-a-bump-a-bump’ the whole way.
Mrs. Samford: Yeah.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you participate in the war effort at all with, like, a victory garden?
Mrs. Samford: No, when his draft came due and he had to leave, he took me to Michigan, where I had a sister. And her husband was going into the Submarines up in Connecticut someplace, so she and I lived together there in Michigan. That was my home originally. And she had a girl and a boy and I just had the one boy. So either she would work with somebody for a while and I’d take care of the kids, or then I’d trade off and I’d work for a while. And we were there together until the war was over.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: That’s neat that you helped each other like that. Did you ever collect aluminum foil or buy war bonds or anything during that time?
Mrs. Samford: Yes, yes, we did that. We didn’t have much money, but we’d pool it together and be sure we had the war bonds and participate in anything we could to help, because both of our husbands were gone.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: What kinds of things did you participate in while your husbands were gone?
Mrs. Samford: Mainly getting the ration things and using them wisely. We’d get recipes that would fulfill a good dish, you know, and never waste anything.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Were there certain foods that you found it was easier to get than others, that you ended up eating a lot of?
Mrs. Samford: Yeah, we were from Battle Creek [Michigan], where our parents were in the Battle Creek Postum Cereal Company, and we always had cereals we could eat, and our kids could have a lunch on cereals. And they were cheaper too, and we used a lot of milk that you mixed up your own self. And then we would go to a place that we knew someone that had groceries or had meats or something, and they’d recognize us and give us what they could, extra, you know, to be sure we had used our ration tickets well. And then we had the gasoline. I had the car, and so with the three kids and Marg and I, we used the ration tickets. And then when we came one Christmas time, she and I drove at night from Michigan, and we put the kids in a mattress in the back. It was a little two-and-a-half car. I don’t know what they called it, a coupe or something like that. And they were all little, though, and so we put them in their pajamas and started out at night. And she’d drive awhile and I’d drive awhile, because we wanted to get at least in the morning to – what’s that town on the river, some town on the river – we knew when we got there, we were getting close to Oak Ridge. We were meeting – our parents were here. They were already here. And I had lived there before and I knew where to go, and I was bringing her down with me so we could spend the Christmastime with our parents, because the men were gone. And then from there, I had an opportunity to go to Pittsburgh when he was there, and got on a train, you know, and went to Pittsburgh, where he was before he got his ship to go out. And then, when I come back, then she went up to Connecticut to see her husband before he left on the submarine.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: So you kind of traded off.
Mrs. Samford: Yeah, we traded off.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: That’s neat.
Mrs. Samford: We raised our three kids together.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: That’s great. Did you have any contact with African Americans while you were in Oak Ridge?
Mrs. Samford: No, not that I ever remember seeing.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: You don’t even remember seeing them around town?
Mrs. Samford: No, I was used to them in Michigan, because I went to school with them and they were – some of them – my partner in sewing class was a Negro, and we’d – in fact, I saw her at our reunion, 25th reunion and still loved each other. Color didn’t mean anything then.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did it surprise you at all to not find African Americans in Oak Ridge?
Mrs. Samford: No, I guess I was just – it was a different world and I – there wasn’t a fact that being with black people would make any difference to me. It didn’t – never did.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you ever take the buses in town? We had a pretty good bus system back then.
Mrs. Samford: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I ventured out that much. My dad had a car, and when we drove down, we had the two cars to use in the daytime. And he and my mother worked over in some area of Oak Ridge, both of them did. And then Marg and I would try and get the food together by the time they’d get home at night, because they worked long hours, both of them.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Where were you when you first heard that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima?
Mrs. Samford: In Michigan, back with my sister up there, and then we knew what he was doing.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: How did you hear about it?
Mrs. Samford: I’m sure on the radio. And I remember us all going downtown on the steps of – the Capitol steps, and walking the main streets, and everybody with everybody when we found out the war was over.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Oh, wow.
Mrs. Samford: It was a big crowd. And we took the kids, she and I, and spent the afternoon down there with everybody.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: So you actually left Oak Ridge and then did not return to Oak Ridge.
Mrs. Samford: And then returned to Oak Ridge.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: When did you return?
Mrs. Samford: Well, when we were here, and then he went into the service, and I went up there, we come back, my sister and I, at Christmastime for that trip to be with my folks.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: To visit your parents. But you didn’t ever come back to live.
Mrs. Samford: No, never.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: So you didn’t get to see the opening of the city and that sort of thing?
Mrs. Samford: No, there wasn’t much here.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Right. Do you remember any other unique experiences about Oak Ridge from the time that you spent here? Just anything?
Mrs. Samford: No. I remember a lady that lived up above us on that road where my folks had a place, and she would come down to the little porch-like thing that we had at our house, and her little boy, and that was the only person I ever got to know here at Oak Ridge. Real sweet lady.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: You didn’t have a phone while you were here, either, did you?
Mrs. Samford: No, but there was one listed for us, so we must have had it. My folks had their name in the book, but I didn’t have one.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: How did you communicate with people most of the time back then?
Mrs. Samford: Just write to them.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: I heard that they used to have mail service twice a day in Oak Ridge.
Mrs. Samford: Oh, I didn’t realize that.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you remember that?
Mrs. Samford: No.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Somebody said that in one of the interviews. So there were a lot of people here. What are some of the things that you think made Oak Ridge a unique community in which to live during the Manhattan Project?
Mrs. Samford: Well, I think it was the idea of us doing something for our country, although we didn’t know what we were doing. It was the patriotism that we had, and we felt we were here for a purpose and we’d do what we could and not make any waves and not ask any questions, just do what we were supposed to do, and that was fulfilling to me. I mean, I was proud of the fact that we have been here and that he had done so much work here, and Oak Ridge was a good experience for me because we were proud of our U.S. of A.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Well, it certainly was an exciting time.
Mrs. Samford: Oh, it was. I don’t ever remember even going anyplace, doing anything at night. You know, there wasn’t much to do, and we just would read and handle our little boy, you know, and that was the most important thing. And think about a meal you could make tomorrow that would be nourishing.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Well, you said that you read. Did you visit the library? I think they had set up a library somewhere.
Mrs. Samford: I think they probably did, although I didn’t feel that I could go out and do anything. My dad always was a reader, so he would bring magazines home, you know, that I could read.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you attend church?
Mrs. Samford: Yes, a couple of times here.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: What church? Did you go to the Chapel on the Hill?
Mrs. Samford: I don’t remember what it was.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: So many denominations went to the Chapel on the Hill because that was the only church they had, so they had to switch off with the services.
Mrs. Samford: Right.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: But what denomination are you?
Mrs. Samford: Baptist. Southern Baptist. Still am.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: So did you have your own church here?
Mrs. Samford: No.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: I guess you would have to have either gone to Chapel on the Hill, or some of the churches, though, I know had services in, like, the high school or in the movie theater.
Mrs. Samford: No, there was a building that was pretty large that I remember going a couple of Sundays to that.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Do you remember where that was?
Mrs. Samford: It was down low in that area where the grocery store was, and I can’t remember what the building – I remember it was a large building. A lot of people came, but there was not that camaraderie of, you know, ‘join this church,’ or anything like that, you know, it was just, you were glad that you could meet other people that were there for the same reason you were. But there was nothing after that, you know.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you make friends in the church, at church?
Mrs. Samford: No, don’t remember anybody ever asking anything, just that neighbor lady that was there, that was the only one.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Did you know much about her, your neighbor?
Mrs. Samford: No, we didn’t talk about – we just were interested because our children were about the same age, you know.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Yeah, yeah. And you left before your baby was big enough to go to school here.
Mrs. Samford: Oh, yes.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: So you didn’t get any contact with the schools at all.
Mrs. Samford: No, no school.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Well, is there anything else that you’d like to tell me about your time in Oak Ridge? It sounds like you had a lot of good family support.
Mrs. Samford: Yeah, and leading right on up to now, you know. Family is the most important thing to us. We just had a grouping of forty of us together, took a picture.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Wow.
Mrs. Samford: The 3rd of July. Our city has a parade, and they made Dad the grandmaster of the parade this year.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Wow.
Mrs. Samford: So we got to ride in the car and then all of our children came, and we had pictures of them. And that was forty and two dogs. About five didn’t make it, but they all came to our house. They were glad to see Grandpa in the parade.
Dr. Hamilton-Brehm: Yeah, that sounds like fun. Well, thank you for doing this interview with us. I appreciate your time.
Mrs. Samford: Thank you for asking.
[end of recording]