Runny Meade Playhouse

February 4, 2018

February 4, 2018

Created with Sketch. CWP

With the Manhattan Project and the Cold War things were not always what they seemed.

In November 1943, at the height of the US involvement in World War II, the US government filed a “Declaration of Taking” to acquire a 3.88 acre plot of land in Oakwood, Ohio.  On this plot of land sat the Runnymede Playhouse, a privately owned recreational center with a glass roof encompassing an indoor tennis court, squash court, greenhouse, kitchen, ballroom, two tiers of balconies, Italian marble dressing rooms, large stone fireplace, as well as an outdoor swimming pool.  The building had been built in 1927 by the Talbott family for the use of family and friends.  The Talbotts graciously opened the building for community use as well.  One newspaper story states that it was “large enough to seat 1,200 woman for bridge.”  It was one of the largest buildings in the Dayton area.

Why did the US government decide they needed this building?  The court order which granted the acquisition of the property by eminent domain stated that the property was necessary to the war effort for use as a Training Film Production Laboratory for the Army Signal Corps and “such other uses as may be authorized by Congress or by Executive order…”  While the Army Signal Corps made many films during the war none of them were made at Runnymede Playhouse.

In actuality, the building was needed for additional space for Dayton Project work on polonium.  The training film production was just a cover story.  Neither the Talbotts nor the city of Oakwood seemed happy about the government acquiring Runnymede Playhouse. However the Talbotts were assured that the building would be restored to original condition and returned to them after the war.

The work done at Runnymede stopped in December 1948 when it was transferred to the newly constructed Mound Laboratory.  Although the Talbotts had been promised the return of their building by the time the war ended it was too contaminated to be restored and was demolished in 1950.  The Talbotts were paid $138,750 for the loss of the building and the land was returned to them after clean-up.

In the early years due to the secret nature of the work, polonium was known by the code word, “Postum”.  My mother told of a dinner party she held for two other Mound families in the mid 1950s.  After dinner she offered coffee to the couples.  One of the wives said she would prefer Postum.  Mom was amazed, and a bit appalled, as the men seemed to mock the woman’s choice of beverage.  The men quickly began questioning each other, “Would you like some postum?  I won’t drink the stuff myself.” while laughing uproariously.  It was only 50 years later, when we ran across documents discussing various code names that the wives came to understand the joke.