Louise Speaks: We have been to Las Vegas many times and have been to both Hoover Dam and the Pat Tilman Memorial Bridge / By Pass many times, but I never knew of the Quirky things until recently. Since we are heading to Las Vegas once again, we decided to complete the list of Quirky sites and see them all today.
When going to Las Vegas from Arizona you must now go over the By Pass bridge and back track back to the dam. It’s not like in the old days when you actually drove over the dam to get from Arizona to Las Vegas. So we drove over the dam, found a place to park and then walked back to find all these quirky stops we just had to see.
Our first stop was the “Memorial to the Hoover Dam Dead”. Lots of men died during the building of Hoover Dam. They fell from sheer rock faces, drowned in water, succumbed to dynamite explosions and many equipment accidents. According to official accounts, no worker was ever lost to a concrete pour. The pouring was only done 2 inches at a time, and there were lots of workers watching over each other for trouble. While no one is buried at the dam, a memorial was constructed to remember the 96 men tallied as industrial fatalities. A low-relief panel by sculptor Oskar J. W. Hansen, dedicated in 1935, shows a naked male emerging from waves in front of the dam. A thunder cloud spits lightning bolts, stalks of grain sprout, and fruits and vegetables flourish. The monument states: “They died to make the desert bloom.”
Only a few feet away from the Memorial to the Dead are the “Winged Figures of the Republic”. These are a pair of angular, giant figures of humanoids with wings that stand 30 feet tall. They guard the 142 foot American flag pole. Sculptor Oskar Hansen, responsible for most of the dam’s various heroic and mythical artwork, made the figures from more than four tons of bronze. They sit on bases of black diorite. This stylish monument to the dam was dedicated in 1935. In an odd astrological touch, the monument is surrounded by a terrazzo floor with a celestial chart which shows the exact position of key stars on the day the Hoover Dam was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt. The star map would assist a future civilization of giant flying humans to pinpoint the date as September 30, 1935. The diagram shows the night sky the night the wings were dedicated.
The figures have been weathered to a green patina, but the toes are burnished to a soft gold by countless tourist hands. You see rumor has it that on your way to Las Vegas, for luck you are to rub the angels toes…all 10 of them, with all 10 of your fingers. So of course we did the rubbing….more than once.
Continuing walking along the Nevada side of the dam, and just a few feet from the Wings
is the resting place of, “Dog of the Dam”
. The story of this dog is quite interesting. In 1932 a part-Labrador puppy with a jet black coat and a white blaze on his chest was said to have been born in the crawlspace beneath the first police building in Boulder City. A laborer for Six Companies, the joint venture of construction companies building Hoover dam, began bringing him to the worksite while he was still a puppy, and he became a welcome addition to the workforce. Political correctness did not occur to the men of the time, and they called the dog ”Nig.”
The dog was as sure-footed as any mountain goat and made his way around the canyon and on the construction catwalks that the men used to navigate the dam. Nig could climb up ladders and he followed the men into tunnels without fear. Just as the men did, Nig arrived on the transport that brought workers from Boulder City where they stayed. When the end-of-day whistle blew, Nig, too, lined up at the elevators to leave with the men. But Nig was happy with just about any type of conveyance and sometimes hopped aboard the train servicing the area and was also once seen in the front seat of a black Cadillac belonging to an executive touring the site. According to Building Hoover Dam
, an oral history of the project, the man’s wife was riding in the back seat, and the men were sure Nig was grinning. The commissary even prepared meals for Nig, and just as they did for the men, they prepared a bag lunch for Nig. Each day Nig picked up his lunch with his mouth when the men did, and Nig left his lunch in the line where the men left theirs. At noontime, he waited for one of the men to unwrap his meal for him, and he and the men all enjoyed their noon break together.
On February 21, 1941, it was unseasonably hot and Nig looked for shade under an idling truck. Sadly the driver was unaware that Nig had crawled under the rig, and as the driver moved away from the site, Nig was crushed beneath the truck’s wheels. “Rough, tough rock-hard men wept openly and unashamed,” a newspaper wrote. Nig was buried in a concrete crypt near the Nevada abutment and memorialized with a plague identifying him as a dog that adopted a dam. But in the late 1970s the plaque became controversial. A Wisconsin tourist complained to a Reclamation Bureau supervisor. The on-site supervisor ignored the complaint but the fellow, a professor, went home to Madison, Wisconsin and complained to his Congressional representatives.
On March 21 1979, the plaque was removed; many Boulder City residents were very upset by this treatment of the “construction crew mascot,” and the local people petitioned Bureau of Reclamation to reinstate the plaque. Eventually the locals prevailed, but a new plaque was put up that told the story of the dog who adopted a dam but it left off the dog’s name. When the men poured the concrete in which to place the plaque, they took matters into their own hands. They scratched the word “Nig” in the concrete itself so that everyone would know the name of the loyal dog who was beloved by all black and white workers alike. As I had mentioned in the write up about the Memorial to the Dead, it says no one is buried at the dam, but Nig is and it is quite an impressive crypt, with plaque, picture and story.
Continuing along the sidewalk and just before you reach the Hoover Dam gift shop and the High Scaler Cafe is the “Hoover Dam High Scaler Monument”. The monument includes the names of workers who perished during the building of the dam. This larger-than life sculpture of a man scaling a rock wall represents a “high scaler.” In the 1930s, fearless, dam workers would dangle hundreds of feet in the air, armed with jackhammers to jar loose rocks and dynamite to blast away at the canyon walls. Lots of men died in this occupation and others in creating the immense structure that turns Lake Mead into electricity.
The bronze figure was created in the 1990s by sculptor Steven Liguori, in conjunction with a group of concessionaires who operate the businesses on government property around the landmark. The statue was based on a photo, of Joe Kine, one of the last of the high scalers who worked on the Hoover Dam project. Upon completion the statue was presented to Joe on September 30, 1995, Hoover Dam’s sixtieth anniversary. The statue was installed in 1998, and hangs against a dramatic cliff face.
All 4 stops can be viewed by just walking across the dam from the Arizona side to the Nevada side. There is also a visitors center, a parking garage and tours below than dam can also be taken from this location. Between these 4 Quirky stops, the dam itself and the By Pass Bridge, one could easily spend a good portion of a day here, especially if you have never been to the dam before. Very interesting stop and a bit of history along the way. Definitely worth a stop.