Many who have searched the Web for aspects of Reno history have encountered an entertaining essay by journalist Robert Wernick entitled “Reno: Sin City Revisited,” a light-hearted “outsider” remembrance of Reno during the Divorce Era, which begins:
“In those days there were no Interstates, and you could stop by the side of the road almost anywhere to get a refreshing milk-shake. I was paying for such a milk-shake at the cash register of a clean well-lighted place in Nebraska and chatting pleasantly with the owner.
‘Where you headin’?’ she asked me.
I replied: ‘Reno.’
Her blue eyes turned a slightly more steely blue. ‘Young man,’ she said, ‘the American people proved once and for all last November that we will never tolerate a divorced man in the White House.'”
The author obtained at least one divorce in Reno — from Rolande Wernick, during 1954, when he collected most of the material for his well-known piece. Smithsonian Magazine published a version of the essay as “Where You Went if You Really Had to Get Unhitched” in June, 1996.
On June 17, 1965 the Saturday Evening Post published another of Wernick’s articles, “Last of the Divorce Ranches,” with a focus on the Donner Trail Ranch in Verdi, operated by Joan and Harry Drackert. That article caused a local stir among several other slighted divorce ranch owners who declared in a Nevada State Journal article on July 8, 1965 that their business, hosting divorce seekers, was still alive and well. However, Wernick had correctly observed a significant decline in the industry.
Wernick wrote for popular magazines such as Life (where he was the Movie Editor for several years), the Saturday Evening Post, Vanity Fair, Reader’s Digest … and was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian Magazine. He also wrote several books, including some in Time-Life series: Blitzkrieg, The Vikings, The Family, Monument Builders, and a novel, The Freebooters. He led an interesting life until his death in August, 2014, at age 96. His website, Robert Wernick: Notes of a Sciolist on Things Past and Passing and to Come, continues to provide a view of his fascinating life and his lively mind.
The Web has taken little notice of Robert Wernick’s passing, but there is one exception — a tribute in Richmond Magazine, Appreciation, Robert Wernick by one of his friends, Harry Kollatz, Jr. Rest in Peace, Robert Wernick, a talented writer who outlived so many of his admirers. His observations of Reno divorce seekers have enriched our cultural heritage.