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Article updated: 3/28/2013 9:54 PM

Martyl Langsdorf, artist who designed Doomsday Clock, dies at 96

Resident of historic Schaumburg home designed the Doomsday Clock

By Eric Peterson

Martyl Langsdorf, longtime resident of Schaumburg's historic Schweikher House and the professional artist who first depicted the nuclear Doomsday Clock, died Tuesday at the age of 96.

Her late husband, Alexander Langsdorf Jr., was a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb, but he later came to regret its use, their daughters said. He worked to ensure it would never be used again and died in May 1996.

Martyl Langsdorf created the image of the Doomsday Clock -- an indicator of how far humanity is from its destruction from nuclear weapons and other technologies -- for the cover of the June 1947 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In its first depiction, the Doomsday Clock was at 11:53 p.m.

Kennette Benedict, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin, said it was Martyl Langsdorf who came up with the idea of the clock as well as deciding on its look.

When asked to design the first cover as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists changed from a newsletter to a magazine, Martyl Langsdorf considered a number of ideas, including the symbol for uranium, Benedict said.

"Then she really felt the urgency these scientists were addressing," Benedict said. "There was lots and lots of anxiety about it. She thought a clock would convey the urgency of the matter."

Martyl had remained very much a part of the magazine community, she said.

"I count her as a good friend and she has been a tremendous, tremendous supporter of the Bulletin," Benedict said. "She was a wonderful person and will be greatly missed."

Martyl Langsdorf's daughters, Alexandra Shoemaker and Suzanne Langsdorf, said their mother made a huge impression on everyone she met.

"She was a wonderful mother, a wonderful artist and a great friend," Shoemaker said.

"She was never depressed a day in her life," Suzanne Langsdorf added.

They both had great memories of growing up in the Schweikher House, which was then among much more rural surroundings than it is today.

In recent years, the iconic home continued to be a place where Martyl Langsdorf hosted parties, Benedict said.

In 1953, Martyl and Alexander Langsdorf moved into the 4,800-square-foot home designed in 1938 by architect Robert Paul Schweikher for his own use after Schweikher had moved to Yale University.

Featuring details in redwood, brick and glass, Schweikher's design of the house along Meacham Road was influenced by both Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie style and Japanese architecture.

When the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago threatened to condemn the landmark house for an expansion of the John E. Egan Water Reclamation Plant, the village of Schaumburg bought it because of its architectural significance.

Under an agreement with Martyl Langsdorf, which was updated just this month, she was allowed to continue living in the house for the rest of her life with occasional tours permitted by mutual consent.

But since the agreement was first drawn up, it was always understood that the "museum house" fully owned by the village would take on a greater public role after Martyl Langsdorf no longer lived there.

Her death on Tuesday, weeks after surgery from a lung infection, officially begins a gradual transitional period. But Langsdorf's family is expected to be strongly involved in the oversight of her personal effects at the house for at least the next few weeks, according to village officials.

Information on services for Martyl Langsdorf was still pending Thursday, his daughters said.

She is also survived by four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Remembrances sent to the Schweikher House Preservation Trust -- 101 Schaumburg Court, Schaumburg, IL 60193 -- would be appreciated, the family said.

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