ABLE BAKER BREWING
Here at Able Baker Brewing, we’re dedicated to helping preserve the Atomic history of Las Vegas by keeping representations and images of the Atomic Angels alive. We’re also contributors to the community and have an unwavering enthusiasm for charitable work. We’ve found a way to combine all of those elements and, much like we’ve done with the Legend of the Atomic Duck, draw attention to a little-known bit of Las Vegas mythology.
Lee Merlin was the most famous and iconic of the Atomic Angels and Don English’s photo of her smiling, arms raised, wearing a mushroom cloud bikini has become the defining image of that era. However, less than six months after that photo was taken, the coincidentally named, Miss Merlin disappeared from Las Vegas and vanished from the public consciousness. Despite being a well known Copa Girl and working model prior to her exit from Las Vegas, after that, there are no photos or information about her available.
Many, including someone attempting to make a movie about her life, have tried to trace her whereabouts but to no avail. The mystery has inspired a YouTube channel, several blogs, and gained the attention of the atomic newswire site, Conelrad.com. These photos of Merlin in Las Vegas can attest to her stunning beauty but, sadly, offer no clues to what became of her after her departure. This has led to speculation that Lee Merlin was not her real name (untrue) or that she became disillusioned with being linked to the Atomic testing and attempted to separate herself from her showgirl persona by moving and changing her name (possibly).
The odd evolution of the Atomic Angels is tied to the unique history associated with Nevada during the early years of the Atomic tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site. During those early years, it was commonplace for casinos to hold “Atomic Blast” viewing parties and the El Rancho Vegas even held “Atomic picnics” so guests could view the mushroom clouds while enjoying the outdoors. Casinos and other groups would hold viewing parties and trot out Vegas showgirls to dance and entertain in and around the appearance of the mushroom clouds. Angel’s Peak was a popular place to photograph the Atomic tests from and conjecture has it that the marrying of the words “Atomic” and “Angel’s” was first used to reference this relationship.
In 1953, a local photographer (Don English) used ballet dancer Sally McCloskey to shoot a series of photos from Angel’s Peak, these photos featured McCloskey doing an interpretive ballet as the mushroom cloud from the “Dixie” Atomic test appeared in the background. These atomic ballet photos were labeled the “Angel’s Dance” and in retrospect make for some bizarre imagery.
As the Atomic Age began to take hold in Las Vegas and the viewing parties became more popular and elaborate, the city began to market itself as Atomic City, USA. This led to the crowning of four “Miss Atomic Bomb” beauty queens and they became the most famous and iconic of the Atomic Angels.