NSLS-II Digs Up History

Five years before becoming fully operational, Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) already is leading to discoveries — of the historical kind.

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Pieces of newspaper dug up at the NSLS-II construction site, which include a story about a boxing match scheduled for October 2, 1917 – Tommy Tuohey versus Ed Wallace

As earthwork takes place on the NSLS-II construction site, which housed part of the U.S. Army’s Camp Upton in the World War I and II era, artifacts ranging from rusted horseshoes to nearly 100-year-old pieces of newspaper are being dug up.

One of the most recent finds is a large piece of painted concrete rock thought to have been part of a floor in a warehouse used in the army base in the 1940s. The rock, which has a hand-drawn emblem of a bugle, the notation “Company G,” and the words “Baptized by Fire,” was linked with the 14th regiment, known as the “Fighting Fourteenth” and the “Red-legged Devils” from Brooklyn. The second wave of American troops sent to France in WWI, including soldiers from Camp Upton, received their last bit of training just behind allied lines and were subject to enemy fire. This may be why the regiment adopted “Baptized by Fire” as their motto.

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A slab of concrete found in the NSLS-II excavation site

Construction workers also recently discovered a WWII dog tag that belonged to a soldier who likely passed through Camp Upton on his way to England after his basic training concluded at Fort Oglethorpe, GA, in 1943. By 1945, WWII had ended and Camp Upton was officially declared surplus. Two years later, Brookhaven National Laboratory was born.

These artifacts are a few of many. In fact, a makeshift museum of Sheffield milk bottles, railroad spikes, Coca-Cola glasses — even a delicately etched Ed. Pinaud hair tonic bottle — has been made out of a table in the NSLS-II Project construction trailer, where passersby can imagine what life was like in Upton nearly a century ago.

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The dig find “museum” in the NSLS-II Project construction trailer