“Hurrah for the New State of Nevada”

newstatecolorAfter trying his luck at mining and ranching, Alfred Doten moved to Virginia City in October 1864 to take a job as a local reporter for the Virginia Daily Union newspaper. He was 35 years old, single, and full of life. Every evening, from the day he left Plymouth Massachusetts in 1849 on a ship bound for California until the day before he died in Carson City in 1903, he wrote about the day’s events in his diary. As we can see, October 31, 1864 was a busy news day for Alf — the telegram from Washington proclaiming Nevada’s statehood was only one of the big events he noted.

For those who prefer not to decipher Alf’s handwriting, a transcription follows. We empathize with the scribe who, on this momentous day, after waking at sunrise and writing steadily all evening for his paper until midnight, was faithful to his diary, perhaps while having a habitual drink or two, by candle or lantern or oil lamp light, in temporary quarters that were perhaps not heated. These circumstances interfere with perfect penmanship.

dotenportraits—————–
New State of Nevada.
Monday, Oct. 31st —
Clear & pleasant — at sunrise this
morning I was awakened by the
bells and steam whistles telling
us there was a fire — I out &
ran to it — near the Divide —
Golden Eagle Hotel & other
buildings — fine day for items —
gave me all I could do — got
through at 12 oclock at night —
wrote steadily all evening —
We got the telegram this
morning, announcing that the
President has issued proclamation
making us a State. Hurrah
for the new State of Nevada —
At the fire I met Dan De Quille,
who introduced me to Farrington,
the Local of the Gold Hill News, so
there were the three Locals of the 3
leading papers of the Territory together.
——————-

Alf Doten’s diaries are full of the details of daily Comstock life, with brief accounts of the many stories he covered as a local reporter along with intimate, sometimes surprising glimpses into his social life and personal affairs. Through a string of fortunate events, the original and complete 79 volumes are held in Special Collections. The diaries, along with 16 boxes of related manuscript materials and 297 photographs, were purchased in 1961 with funds from the Max C. Fleischman Foundation and the Nevada State Legislature. Over a ten-year period, Walter Van Tilburg Clark edited the diaries, resulting in a 3-volume abridged publication by the University of Nevada Press in 1973, after Clark’s death. Special Collections aspires to embark on an ambitious project to offer page images and transcriptions of the unabridged diaries online, beginning in Phase 1 with book #30, documenting Doten’s heady days on the Comstock.

UNRA-P3239-1Dignitaries at the purchasing ceremony for the Doten collection, April 5, 1961: Warren Howell of the John Howell Bookstore in San Francisco, Nevada Governor Grant Sawyer, University of Nevada President Charles Armstrong, Julius Bergen of the University Foundation, Dr. Effie Mona Mack, who was instrumental in acquiring the collection, and Ken Robbins, Director of Publications at the University of Nevada Press

clark2
Walter Van Tilburg Clark editing The Journals of Alfred Doten, 1849-1903 in Getchell Library, 1962

Nevada Writers Hall of Fame

2014 Writer's Hall of Fame and Silver Pen Award Reciptients

Shaun T. Griffin, Ronald M. James and Alicia M. Barber

The 27th Annual Nevada Writers Hall of Fame program will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 13, 2014, in the Milt Glick Ballroom in the Joe Crowley Student Union. Shaun T. Griffin and Ronald M. James are being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Alicia M. Barber is receiving the Silver Pen award.

While Special Collections and the Knowledge Center’s circulating collection have copies of many of the publications of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame and Silver Pen authors, University Archives provides access to other relevant resources. The Archives’ Sound Recordings Collection (AC 0062) includes sound disks of Dr. James Hulse’s 1973 interview with University President Minard Stout. Other disks in the collection are of KUNR’s Western Writers Series, with readings by Bill Douglass, Shaun Griffin, Teresa Jordan, Steven Nightingale, nila northSun, Gailmarie Pahmeier, Kirk Robertson, Bernie Schopen, Emma Sepulveda, Gary Short, and Sally Zanjani. The manuscript collection NUB 16 provides a transcript of a 1960 campus lecture by Robert Laxalt.

The Friends of the University Libraries manuscript collection, AC 0446, includes DVDs of the “Voices: Great Moments in Literature” program from February 1993, with readings by Emma Sepulveda, Shaun Griffin, Rollan Melton, Robert Laxalt, and Clay Jenkinson. A DVD from October 2001 records Rollan Melton’s acceptance speech on the occasion of his induction into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. Another DVD set makes available the 2002 award ceremony, with readings by Carolyn Duferrena, Gregory Martin, and Tom Meschery. That year Neal Ferguson was master of ceremonies, and Bob Blesse presented the awards.

For detailed information about all of the award recipients, visit the new online guide:

http://nevadawritershalloffame.unr.edu

For more information or to make reservations, contact Breanne Standingwater at bstandingwater@unr.edu or (775) 682-6022.

27th Annual Writer's Hall of Fame

“East Lynne” Melodrama Production October 23

East Lynne, A Story of Modern Life (an Old Fashioned Mellow-Drammer)Our final contribution to the 150th anniversary for Nevada’s statehood is a readers’ theater production of “East Lynne: A Story of Modern Life.” The play was taken from an English magazine serial, published as a novel by Mrs. Henry Wood in 1861. After it was dismissed by the British literary establishment as immoral, sensationalist, and “repulsive” sales took off! With its popularity soaring, it was in turn adapted for the stage.

For such a sensational melodrama, it has had continued appeal to audiences. Performances of “East Lynne” were held on stages in London and New York. Stage troupes who came West to Nevada’s Comstock Lode adapted and performed it first in Virginia City in 1863. The production is documented to have also appeared in Reno in 1870, 1871, twice in 1878, 1887, 1888, 1889, 1897, 1900, 1905 to 1907, and regularly after that until 1964. It ran somewhere in either England or North America every week for over forty years!

Thanks to David Fenimore from our Department of English for once again creating an exquisite adaptation which he has “brutally abridged” for our intrepid actors made up of members from the UNR faculty, staff and friends, myself included. How we all got roped into this melodrama we are still asking ourselves! Our fantastic director, Rob Gander from the Department of Theater and Dance, has advised us that this will soon be over, to relax and just think of England!

The one and (perhaps thankfully, but you be the judge!) only performance of “East Lynne” will be held Thursday, October 23, at 7:00 p.m. in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center Wells Fargo Auditorium. It is presented in conjunction with our Special Collections exhibit “When the Lights Dim: Arts and Entertainment in Nevada.” We will be pleased to see you, but please leave the rotten fruit at home!

Culture on the Comstock

Piper's Opera House

Exterior 1950s view of Piper’s Opera House

From the 1860s to the beginning of the 1880s, Virginia City was more than just a mining camp. Located in the area known as the Comstock, named for Henry T. Comstock one of the original stake owners, Virginia City quickly rose to prominence as the center of culture between Denver and San Francisco after its founding in 1859. As the largest city in Nevada, it boasted a population of over 2,000 in 1860 and grew exponentially to over 10,000 by 1880. As one would expect from a cosmopolitan city, it contained a number of opera houses and theaters among other establishments of ill repute typically associated with mining towns. Actors, actresses, and other performers provided a necessary escape from the difficulties and dangers that surrounded mining.

Some of the most famous actresses of the time toured the United State and graced the stages of Virginia City during its height as a roaring mining town. These actresses, such as Adah Isaacs Menken, the original pin-up girl and inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Irene Adler in his book A Study Scarlet, and Addie Florence, famous for her portrayal of Mazeppa in Mazeppa, or the Tartar Horse based on the then popular poem by Lord Byron, were rivals in the eyes of critics and fans and would delight theater goers with their interpretations of well-known characters. Alice Kingsbury and Amy Stone, known for their performances in the Pearl of Savoy across the country in the mid-1860s, came to the Comstock because of its prominence and plethora of adoring admirers. Matilda Heron stunned audiences with her gritty and lifelike portrayal of Camille, which she adapted from a performance she attended in Paris. “Irish” sweethearts Lotta Crabtree, Kathleen O’Neil, and Fanny Hanks came with their perfectly ringleted hair and jig costumes to win the hearts of fans. All of them were already well-known outside of the Comstock, and would have both wowed and astounded citizens.

Additionally, performers such as Dan Martin “The Wizard,” the Pioneer Blind Troupe, and James Speaight, child violinist prodigy who died at 4 ½ soon after preforming in Virginia City, entertained citizens by bringing a unique perspective on entertainment and performing with them on tour. Members of the Museum of Living Wonder, such as giants Miss Anna Swan and Monsieur Joseph along with the Circassian Beauty, Zobedie Luti,came as novelties to fascinate miners and members of the community. Sisters Jennie, Irene and Sophie Worrell thrilled audiences with their rowdy burlesque act.

This sample of performers represents just a fraction of the number of individuals who came to the Comstock to entertain and delight residents. They came because of its prominence as one of the largest cultural centers on the west coast outside of San Francisco. All of the images exhibited here were collected by Alfred Doten, Nevada newspaperman, who was captivated by the talent these individuals brought to the Comstock. The images represent a unique cross section of what culture meant to Comstock residents during the mining boom of the 1860s to 1880s.

[Reprinted from the Special Collections exhibit When the Lights Dim: Arts and Culture in Nevada]

Jake Lawlor’s Scrapbook

Front Cover of Jake Lawlor's ScrapbookErma Lawlor was her husband’s biggest fan. When the University honored him on May 26, 1972, she presented him with a scrapbook she’d compiled to capture both personal and career memories. Items continued to be added to the scrapbook until 1993. After a sojourn with the University of Nevada Athletics Department, the Jake Lawlor Scrapbook has arrived in University Archives, where it will be preserved as a treasure trove of the University’s sports history for future generations.

Glenn Joseph “Jake” Lawlor was born in Victor, Iowa, on July 27, 1907. He came to the University of Nevada in 1926, earning a B.A. degree in 1930. While a Nevada student, he lettered in basketball and football. He played baseball for McGill while still in college and later for the Fallon Town Club. Upon graduation, he signed with San Francisco and then Sacramento as a professional baseball player in the Pacific Coast League.

1960 Olympics PatchHe was a teacher and basketball coach at Virginia City High School from 1932-1937 and then at the Delano Joint Union High School in Delano, California, from 1938-1942. In 1942, he returned to the University of Nevada as head basketball coach and football line coach. Through the years, he also coached baseball, golf, tennis, and varsity track. In April 1959, he became Director of Athletics while continuing to coach baseball. Lawlor holds the record as the University’s winningest basketball coach, with 204 victories during his career. During the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, he served as an official timer.

Letter from Pressident LoveThe scrapbook contains family and career photographs, including many photos of Wolf Pack athletes and coaches, along with game programs, telegrams sent to Lawlor about games, newspaper clippings, and various certificates. There are several letters to Lawlor from various University Presidents offering either congratulations or commiseration over the outcomes of key athletic competitions. Governor Mike O’Callaghan’s proclamation for May 26, 1972, to be Jake Lawlor Day in Nevada is also in the scrapbook.

Lawlor Events CenterIn the spring of 1980, he received the Distinguished Nevadan Award and participated in the Golden Reunion of the Class of 1930. He died in Reno on July 11, 1980. In 1983, the Lawlor Events Center was named in his honor.

In 1971, Mary Ellen Glass interviewed Lawlor under the auspices of the University’s Oral History Project. The transcription of “Oral Autobiography of an Iowa Native: With a Close-up View of Nevada Athletics, 1926-1971,” is available in Special Collections: GV 691 .N3 L3 and online.

Jake Lawlor’s Scrapbook is a priceless accompaniment to his oral history.

Poetry in Reno: The Brautigan Days

Richard Brautigan, 1959

Photograph by Virginia Aste, 1959; courtesy of the Richard Brautigan estate

by guest blogger Bernard Mergen

I want to begin by thanking Donnie Curtis for inviting me to contribute to the University of Nevada Reno Special Collections’ blog and Anthony Lucero and Paul Swenson who are in the process of making a documentary film on the life of Richard Brautigan, for stimulating my memories of Richard’s visit to Reno in the summer of 1956.

Seldom remembered today, Brautigan emerged as one of the most popular poets and fiction writers of the 1960s and 70s, especially on the West Coast, in Japan, and many European countries. In September 1984, after bouts of drinking and depression, Richard died of a self-inflicted gunshot.

Most of my memories of my meeting with Richard may be found in a piece, “A Strange Boy,”  I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, January 20, 1985 (“This World,” p.20), and I won’t repeat much of that article here. A somewhat longer account of Richard in Reno may be found in William “Gatz” Hjortsberg’s detailed biography Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan (Counterpoint, 2012).

Artemisia, 1957

From the University of Nevada yearbook, The Artemisia, 1957

My meeting with Richard was the result of his discovery of the University’s literary magazine, Brushfire, in a bookstore. Although I was only a freshman in 1955-56, I had somehow talked my way into co-editorship with Sandra “Sandy” Newell, UNR’s Dorothy Parker. The 1956 volume also included two embarrassingly immature poems by me. This was the 7th year of the magazine’s existence and it was struggling. That it still exists I consider a minor miracle and I give my profound thanks to all the editors and contributors who came before and after me.

I guess Richard looked in a phone book to find my address, but he could have found some of the other poets who had work in that issue including Joanne de Longchamps, who remains one of Nevada’s most skillful and interesting poets, or William Halberstadt, a young professor of philosophy and talented harpsichordist. More easily he might have contacted other student contributors of stories and poems whose names may still be remembered by some in Reno and the university community: Bruce Bledsoe, Ev Titus, George Mross, and Bill Eaton.

The point is that Reno in 1956 wasn’t the “Sahara of the Bozart,” to use H.L. Menken’s famous put-down of the South. It had a small, but strong, community of publishing poets that included Margaret “Monte” Thornton (the daughter of Reno’s famous divorce judge, George Bartlett), Irene Bruce, Dorothy Caffrey, Robert Hume, Gus Bundy, and Harold Witt. I like to imagine how Richard’s poetry might have developed if he had stayed in Reno longer and met and talked with some of these wonderful people, and, more importantly responded in his work to the mountains and deserts. I regret not asking for some of his poems to publish in Brushfire.

We passed our evenings ducking in and out of the casinos. Underage, I was automatically ejected, while Richard, just 21, was often asked to leave, because, with his long blond hair and bangs, he looked suspicious to the security guards. So we walked and discussed poetry, our mutual admiration of Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and e.e. cummings. Richard opened one of his small cardboard boxes and showed me some of his poems and stories. They were like coded messages, cryptic, mysterious, and engaging.

He left for San Francisco and the struggle to become a writer of note.  I returned to the classroom and Brushfire, where I learned how to write better poems, how hard it is to be a good editor, and how to sell ads. The Reno business community was incredibly generous. We sold ads to Gray Reid Wright department store, Morrill and Machabee office supplies, The Wolf Den, “The Famous Old Little Waldorf,” and many other local businesses.  Local attorneys Clark Guild, Jr., Al Hillard, Nada Novakovich, and Bruce Thompson were regular donors.Brushfire 2b

Some lessons were painful. In the 1957 issue I allowed an upper-classman I knew to publish a poem that I later learned he plagiarized from Edna St. Vincent Millay. He titled his verse “Cameo Two,” and changed “day” to “night,” “boat” to “Jag,” and “long skirt” to “leather jacket,” but most of the 16 lines were identical to Millay’s “The Cameo.” I was embarrassed, but learned that as editor you need to have read widely and be alert.

George Mross and Dave Lowe took over the editorship in 1958. The prose and poetry got better, more diverse and relevant to place and time. The 1959 issue was larger in size, contained a letter of support from Governor Grant Sawyer, an op-ed by Lucius Beebe on Virginia City, and an appealing mix of serious and humorous writing. Seniors, Bob Morrill and Jim Santini contributed thoughtful essays.

Brushfire in the Brautigan days and those that followed is a kind of time capsule that offers a glimpse of the University evolving from the troubled years of the administration of Minard Stout (1952-57), as revealed in J. Dee Kille’s Academic Freedom Imperiled: The McCarthy Era at the University of Nevada (University of Nevada Press, 2004), to the joyful, if turbulent, decade of the 1960s. Richard passed through Reno like John the Baptist announcing coming messiahs. When I heard him ask a tired and underpaid waitress at the Mapes Hotel coffee shop for a “Watermelon Milkshake,” and saw her scornful glance, I glimpsed the future with its saints and martyrs.

Save the Mapes!

UNRS-P1992-03-1253Unfortunately, it’s too late to be able to save the Mapes Hotel and Casino as it was demolished on January 30, 2000. Until its destruction, it had a very interesting history and was a favorite meeting place for both tourists and residents alike.

The Mapes was the first major high-rise hotel built in the nation after World War II, opening in December 1947. It was located on the southeast corner of North Virginia and First Streets, just north of the Truckee River in Reno. The 12 stories held a hotel of 300 rooms and 40 suites, a casino, and the Sky Room, a famous nightclub and stage where celebrities performed.

The Mapes family expanded their casino holdings with another business but had difficulties competing with other newly opened Reno casinos in the 1980s. Financial problems overtook the family and the Mapes. The building fell into some decay and other new owners took over but also could not revive the business. The building was sold to the Reno Redevelopment Agency in 1996. In 1999, the City of Reno voted to demolish the hotel, despite the objections of area preservationists and historians. It was the first building on the National Register of Historic Places to be demolished since 1949.

While fond memories of being at the Mapes still reside with many who lived or came to Reno during the 1970s and 1980s, with its physical presence gone, newer visitors and residents often know nothing about it. However, the grassroots struggle by area preservationists and others will live on as the records of their efforts are being donated to our department. When all the materials are received and processed, the documentation about saving the Mapes will be available to anyone interested in learning more about the efforts of citizens fighting to save a city’s history.

We wish especially to thank the members of the Truckee Meadows Heritage Trust for agreeing to donate their “Save the Mapes” records as well as voting on July 4, 2014, to donate $1,000 to Special Collections. At that meeting their discussion included, but was not limited to, supporting the essential work our department does “to preserve a history of our community and the world for generations to come. Your presence is vital for research into a myriad of projects and subjects that otherwise would be lost.”

Reno’s Noted Bandleader/Accordionists, Tony Pecetti and Louie Rosasco

While working on our latest Special Collections exhibit, I discovered some interesting stories and facts relating to Reno bands and dance halls in the first half of the twentieth century. But, as usual, some of the research led to more questions, still unanswered. The exhibit is the third and last of a series commemorating 150 years of local history since Nevada became a state on October 31, 1864.This exhibit is entitled “When the Lights Dim: Arts and Entertainment in Nevada.” In the exhibit room on the third floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center hang three framed photographic prints, including these two:

UNRS-P1992-01-1173

UNRS-P1992-01-1181

The originals, all in very good condition, were donated by the late Dr. James R. Herz, one of our favorite collector/donors. They captured a bit of Reno’s musical history, when two well-loved and self-taught accordion players who grew up in Reno-area Italian ranching families assembled bands that played for all kinds of events in and around Reno and nearby states, in all kinds of venues. Both accordionists found success that led to eventual ownership of their own dance halls and clubs.

In the top photo is Tony’s Jazz Band, on the road in Lakeview, Oregon in 1920. The band was led by Tony Pecetti (1896-1969), who played for dances, with and without his band, in small towns in the area, in school houses and barns, often arriving by motorcycle with his accordion on his back. Tony’s was also the “house band” for the Majestic Theater in Reno, accompanying silent films, until “the talkies” put 140,000 musicians out of work in 1928.

Tony’s band continued to work, however, in Pecetti’s own “dancing pavilions.” He built the famous Tony’s Spanish Ballroom on Arlington (then Chestnut) at Commercial Row, operating it successfully from 1930-1950.The name was later changed to the El Patio, but many Reno natives will remember it simply as “Tony’s.” For years his was the largest dance hall in Nevada and one of the largest in the west. In addition to the regular Saturday night dances and local special events, with music by Tony’s band, the dance hall offered music by many traveling entertainers, among them the bands of Paul Whiteman, Harry James, Gene Krupa, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, the Mills Brothers, Bob Wills, and others. Most musicians in the 1930s belonged to the American Federation of Musicians union and thus were not allowed to spend more than 300 miles on the road in one day. Reno, as an overnight stop between Salt Lake City and San Francisco, benefited from musicians who would play for relatively low fees, in order to be able to play at all. The El Adobe closed in 1950 when the growth of the city had made parking a problem.

The second photo portrays Louis’ Jazz Band, also led by an ambitious and talented Reno accordionist. Louis Anthony Rosasco (1904-1968), commonly known as Louie, also got his start as a very young man, playing and singing around town and later traveling to California, where he was a featured accordion player on the West Coast Theater Circuit in 1927 while he was also an orchestra leader at the Senator Hotel in Sacramento (at the age of 23). Back in Reno, he opened his own ballroom in 1932, the Cocoanut Grove on North Virginia, where he “packed them in.” In 1941 he managed the Club Fortune (which became the Cal-Neva) before opening The Cedars on Moana Lane and Louie and Cam’s Cocktail Lounge on Lake Street. His partner Cam Mattino was earlier a drummer in Tony’s Jazz Band (see the top photo). Louie Rosasco’s last enterprise was his part-ownership of the Palace Club in downtown Reno from 1953-1964.

A Battle of the Bands?

Was Reno big enough for two accordionists/impressarios? Both Rosasco and Pecetti found success in the bustling social milieu of Reno in the 1930s through the 1950s. But it may have been a more competitive environment in 1922, when Tony Pecetti was 26 and Louie Rosasco was 18. For several days an advertisement appeared in the Reno Evening Gazette:

melody men

The third photograph contains fewer clues as to the time, place, and the identity of the musicians. The only information in the guide to the Herz collection is speculative: “[Unidentified band; Tony’s Jazz Band?]” It appears to be a later photo than the other two, perhaps from the 1930s. Some of the musicians resemble those in the photo of Tony’s Jazz Band. The venue seems to be a dancing pavilion, but the decor doesn’t match the names of the pavilions we know about: The Fairyland, the Cairo, the Spanish Ballroom, the Cocoanut Grove, the Silver Slipper … perhaps the “F” on the pillars can provide a clue.

UNRS-P1992-01-1174

A Musical Legacy

Tony Pecetti remained single his entire life, whereas Louie Rosasco had a family. He married Mary Louise Siri and they had two daughters, Pamela (Dunn) and Janice (Savage-Braman). Louie’s daughter Jan (1933-2011) played the piano at the age of five, and performed with her father’s band and her own band while in college at the University of Nevada. A well-known Reno musician, she performed in clubs and casinos and for private events as a member of a duo and as the leader of her own group, the “Jan Savage Trio and Quartet.” She had her own television program and was active in music and entertainment in Reno throughout her life. Her two sons are both musicians: Tony Savage, a drummer and bandleader and co-founder of the Reno Jazz Orchestra. and Ron Savage, a professional keyboardist and vocalist. Tony remembers playing with his grandfather Louie’s band as a child.

Can I Listen to That? How Technological Changes Work Against Creating Access for Our Users

IMG_1593When we receive a donation from a person, family or organization, the materials within these manuscript collections can contain a wide array of items and formats. Sometimes they include audio recordings. We want to save these recordings as they reflect another aspect of a person’s personal or professional work which can be very useful for research.

The rapid changes in audio technology, however, has made it very difficult for archivists to be able to create easy access to the older formats when our users come in wanting to listen to a recording. We often have no way of allowing them to do so as we don’t have the older players. Look around your house and see if you still have working turntables for records or even cassette players. You’ve probably moved on to CDs or MP3s or beyond!

We send our audio recording to outside vendors to convert to digital formats so that we can create access to them for our users. We do this for a couple of reasons. First, the vendor has the older equipment and can help to preserve the recording. We don’t want anyone to use the original recording and replay it as we consider that the archival master. Continual usage can degrade the audio. As well, our dusty Nevada environment can dry out tapes that can break or become badly damaged. Our vendors clean and inspect these tapes as a step of their procedures.

Second, the vendors can modulate a poorer recording level and make it clearer or louder, and then can convert that audio into a digital preservation master and an access copy for our users. These access copies can be placed into our Digital Conservancy so that they can be listened to. These steps, however, are additional costs of both budget and staff time which we must devote to each recording.

One of the manuscript collections we have begun creating online access to within our Digital Conservancy is for the Margaret Wheat Papers. The Wheat Papers contain interviews with Paiute elders that range from the 1940s to the 1960s. The formats cover wire recordings, reel-to-reel tapes, and then to audio cassettes (shown above). This range of formats has been a challenge for us, but if you wish to listen to 50 recordings, please follow this link:
http://contentdm.library.unr.edu/explore/WheatExplore/wheat-home.html

 

Sparks Theatre

sparks theatre

It is a common misconception that photographs represent an unbiased record of the truth. On the contrary, images are constructed, staged to tell a particular story or to make a particular point. Even the most obvious landscape involves a set of decisions—including angle, aperture, and shutter speed—which affect the finished image and guide the viewer’s interpretation. Some photographers wait for hours to find the perfect photograph, letting events unfold until the right moment comes along, a technique honed by photographer Andre Cartier-Bresson and coined the “Decisive Moment.”

At first glance, this innocuous photograph of the Sparks Theater seems to be a straightforward photograph of a movie theater, capturing and recording its architectural reality for the ages. But upon closer examination a narrative unfolds. The sky seems dark and angry. The play of light and shadow on the building is stark, dramatic. The lens captures the minute details of the weathered paint and stained plaster, creating an aura of desolation. The street is deserted: no cars, no crowds. There are not even leaves on the trees. The marquee on the theater reads: “I was Seeing Death: Secret Beyond the Door.” A lone girl, brightly illuminated in backlight, stands silent before the dark, foreboding entrance. As if acting out the marquee, she is about to walk through that door. This creates a sense of anxiety in the viewer, who can only forever wonder what happens next.

“Secret Beyond the Door” was a film noir released in 1948, which helps date the photograph. Although no photographer is listed, it comes from the negative files of the Nevada Photo Service collected by Dr. James R. Herz and donated to Special Collections. It has all the hallmarks of a Lawrence Engel photograph, owner of the Nevada Photo Service, a man known for his empty, haunting images of the many small towns that punctuate the highways of the Nevada desert. His work spans three decades, from about 1925 through the early 1950s. A close examination of this photograph images reveals two other children lurking within the shadows of the entrance, a detail which discloses more about the making of the photograph. The second feature, “Little Miss Broadway,” is more child-friendly than the other film and more likely the one showing at the time of the photograph.

Did Engel sit with his camera waiting patiently for that decisive moment to come? Did he watch throngs of people enter the theater, biding his time until the he got that perfect shot, the one that captures not only the reality of that particular building at that particular moment, but one that transcends the moment, creating a subtle, understated work of art? We can only guess as we absorb the remarkable details of this seemingly ordinary photograph. The particulars that went into its composition are unrecoverable to history; all that remains is the finished product, a beautifully rendered story. It is a story without end as the little girl remains perpetually suspended in that unfinished moment. This is the essential contradiction of a photograph: it captures a specific moment in time, and yet in the end, that moment remains elusive and inaccessible.