The Manzanar National Historic Site gives a glimpse into the lives of the Japanese Americans that were incarcerated there, during World War II. It is located in California’s Owens Valley, on US-395, about 250 miles east of Los Angeles. The Japanese Americans were first brought to Manzanar in March of 1942, until the last incarcerates were released in 1945.
Manzanar is one of 10 relocation camps used by the government during the 1940s. Manzanar’s visitor center is the largest at 8000 square feet, with Heart Mount, WY Relocation Center coming in second. The Manzanar visitor center encompasses a theatre, gift shop, and hundreds of exhibits. The theatre shows a 22 minute film, documenting some of the activities at the camp, as well as testimony from some of the prisoners.
The driving tour of the camp is a 3.2 mile round about, self-guided tour. It takes you past the administrative buildings, the High School, as well as the Sentry Posts were the guards would watch over the camp. Other points of interest are the rock gardens, the pond, and the camp cemetery. The driving tour is open from sunrise to sunset.
In 1943, Ansel Adams (1902-1984), America’s most well-known photographer, documented the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California and the Japanese-Americans interned there during World War II. Adams’s Manzanar work is a departure from his signature style landscape photography. Although a majority of the more than 200 photographs are portraits, the images also include views of daily life, agricultural scenes, and sports and leisure activities. When offering the collection to the Library in 1965, Adams said in a letter, “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment….All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.”
Whether you’re a history buff, or just want to take advantage of what I would consider an educational opportunity, Manzanar should be put on your list of places to visit.2