Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Nevada’s sesquicentennial book is riddled with mistakes

Historical Nevada: 150 Memorable Images in Celebration of the Silver State’s Sesquicentennial is rife with mistakes in captions.

Come on Nevada, you’ve got to be better than this. The state’s proclamation gaffe in mid-April was embarrassing enough. In declaring it “Nevada State Employee Recognition Week,” the proclamation cited preserving the state’s “clitoral resources,” rather than its cultural ones.

Chalk it up to one of the old state computers, bound together with twine and duct tape, and a raunchy spell-checker. Or it is something more systemic, more ingrained? It won’t be the only time inaccuracies have made it through the state’s Byzantine bureaucracy, a place mostly shielded from the state’s majority shareholders—Las Vegans—because it is located in the hub of nowheresville, Carson City.

For instance, there’s a new book rightfully celebrating the state’s 150-year anniversary. Having lived here 17 years has engendered in me a pride for Nevada and Las Vegas. But we have big problems. Our ranking as a bottom-feeder in the educational arena is a perennial issue.

When you look at this new book and some of the bad information it propagates, you start to understand why. A product of Nevada Magazine, which is supported by the state, Historical Nevada: 150 Memorable Images in Celebration of the Silver State’s Sesquicentennial is a coffee table book for $29.95 (or $25 if you’re a state employee).

The photos are fun and contrast incredibly with how Las Vegas looks today: a gushing artesian well, a parade down a dirt road, googly-eyed teens in a Model T.

What’s problematic is the information. Richard Moreno, now a Western Illinois University journalism instructor, wrote the foreword. By one former student’s recollection, Moreno is a stellar instructor of journalism. He’s also the former publisher of Nevada Magazine and the author of 12 books, at least three of which focus on Nevada. But his foreword had an error: “If not for William Andrew Clark’s construction of the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Santa Fe Railroad ...”

Wrong. It was the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City Railroad. Moreno thanked me for pointing it out and said he knew the correct information, “but somehow my fingers typed Santa Fe.”

But the errors don’t stop there. The book is rife with mistakes in captions, like one on Page 52 with a picture of people at a “desert cookout.” It says William Ferron and Walter Bracken were “railroad employees” involved in the 1905 land purchases that made Las Vegas a town. But the July 29, 1916 Las Vegas Age newspaper says, under the headline “Buying Drug Store”: “Mr. Ferron has been in the drug business for 10 years and is a thorough pharmacist.” Pharmacist, not a railroad employee.

There’s more. The caption under a photo of a woman outside a tent says that in April 1905, the Las Vegas Land and Water Company was organized, which platted and built a 40-block downtown and sold off all the lots in a two-day auction, officially establishing Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Age, however, says that over two days some $200,000 in lots sold, but that after the auction, about half of the lots over 40 blocks were still available.

On Page 88, the book mistakenly identifies Edward Von Tobel Sr. as one of the first Clark County commissioners. On Page 156, the caption with a shot of Fremont Street says, “The landmarks in this early 1950s photograph of downtown Las Vegas now exist only in memory, the Eldorado, Boulder and Savoy Club and the Golden Nugget.” The Golden Nugget is still there. I just walked past it.

It’d be mere sport to point out that Nevada Magazine (whose current publisher couldn’t be reached before press time) is based in Carson City, the governor’s name is on the inside book sleeve, and Carson City operates mostly beyond the view of the state’s most populous city, Las Vegas.

Of course, screw-ups happen down here, too. Remember when the historical medallions were embedded in the sidewalks of the Fremont East Entertainment District? Those, too, were chock-full of errors.

This problem is north and south, emblematic of our educational shortcomings.

Nevada, Las Vegas, you can do better than this. Perhaps.

Tags: Opinion
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