The Hidden Island Oppenheimer Escaped To

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Daniel is a copywriter who has well and truly been bitten alive by the 'travel bug'. After ticking off several North American National Parks and exploring Europe by train, his sights are now set on South East Asia. Usually with at least one camera locked and loaded, you'll find Daniel wherever there are mountains, lakes or beaches.

Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster hit introduces J. Robert Oppenheimer to a significant portion of the world, but not many know of his life after the invention of the atomic bomb.

Despite being the mastermind behind mankind’s most dangerous weapon, after the events of Hiroshima, Oppenheimer fell into a deep depression. He later managed to find some peace when arriving at St John, an island in the Caribbean Sea.

Saint John
Image Credit: Canva.

Oppenheimer went on to campaign vigorously against nuclear weapons, and when the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb in 1949, he warned President Truman against building a more powerful weapon.

He found himself subjected to American anti-communist hysteria and was eventually interrogated and stripped of his security clearance in 1954.

So that summer, he, his wife, and two children packed their bags and set sail for St John, an island nestled in the Caribbean Sea.

The family’s new home was a far cry from anything Oppenheimer had experienced before. Raised in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the physicist had grown up surrounded by maids and chauffeurs. Although St John had been a US territory for 37 years, the tropical paradise had few modern amenities. With little to no phones or electricity, the family was able to disappear from the public eye.

Oppenheimer purchased a plot of land and built a humble cottage on the beach. He spent his time writing poetry, sailing with his wife, and stargazing at the various constellations unobstructed by light pollution.

According to David W Knight Sr, a local historian, Oppenheimer didn’t just pick St John for its natural beauty. Although getting back to nature was a big part of the move, St John offered a location far from the dangers of nuclear weapons. “My parents often repeated the story that the reason why Oppenheimer had chosen the US Virgin Islands is that he was convinced that due to the trade winds, it would be one of the last places affected by nuclear fallout.”

Image Credit: Canva.

At the age of 62, and after years of prolific smoking, J. Robert Oppenheimer passed away from throat cancer. As per his request, his ashes were scattered on Carval Rock and its Hawksnest Bay, a small island he would often gaze at from his cottage. His wife would later join him in 1972. His daughter had her own struggles and sadly passed away by suicide, but not before leaving the deeds to the property “to the people of St John” in 1977.

Since Oppenheimer’s escape to St John almost 70 years ago, the island remains the least developed and most remote of the three US Virgin Islands. Prior to his arrival Laurence Rockefeller, son of John Jr Rockefeller, purchased the island and later donated it to the US government to create the Virgin Islands National Park. Thanks to this, the island is still protected, with no airports or cruise ship docks to be seen.

Home to some of America’s finest sands and waters, travelers to St John are still able to visit the physicist’s once-home. Oppenheimer Beach is located just after the more famous Hawksnest Beach. As he would likely have preferred, the beach is very secluded, with no signs and only three parking spots next to it.

The family’s cottage was blown away into the sea, but now a community center sits in its place, where anyone can rent it out.

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