Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Las Vegas gets a Research Library

I've written here a little about how difficult it can be to find much about Las Vegas history. Well, I will whine no more.  Las Vegas now has a research library, part of the Nevada State Museum, which recently re-opened at the Springs Preserve.  (If anyone out there ever visits Vegas, I highly recommend going to the Springs Preserve, which is sort of a natural history museum and has extensive grounds and gardens.  It's easy to get to and gives you a glimpse of a different Vegas.)  I spent the last two Fridays there, looking at old photos and high school yearbooks, reading newspaper clippings and school guides for parents and historic preservation district applications. 

It's always interesting to me to see who else uses a research library, besides an eccentric novelist.  On my first visit a man was reading about a political scandal long ago in North Las Vegas.  Later there was a woman looking at obituaries, perhaps doing geneological research.  Then a man looking for the early history of Red Rock Canyon.  Finally a group of high school students came in, researching a project on Helen J. Stewart, who was one half of the first couple to settle here in the late 1800s.  The library is only open 3 days a week (Friday-Monday) so far, but it seems to be doing very well.  And I plan on making many return visits.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I love small town museums.  Years ago on my first trip out West I noted in my diary some of the artifacts we saw -- different types of barbed wire!  A dime once handled by Calamity Jane!  A gramophone which belonged to Susan B. Anthony's niece!  But I really became serious about small town museums in Roslyn, Washington, which was famous at the time for being the place where the tv show "Northern Exposure" was filmed.  We went into the museum thinking to kill 15 minutes and we came out 2 hours later.

Nevada is dotted with small towns and many of them, like Roslyn, are mining towns.  Mining towns are not your midwestern small town, settled by pioneers and immigrants looking for land.  Mining towns flare up and die out.  Some of them barely last a decade.  They were inspired by greed, particularly out here in Nevada, where the land looks so unpromising for any kind of life.  They were a deliberate effort by people to to pit themselves against nature, to take as much wealth as they could, no matter how, come what may.  The effort failed, of course.  Money was made, and spent, but it was spent elsewhere, and then the mines closed, and the towns were left behind, broken buildings on the sides of a mountain.

But while that effort at wealth went on, something else was happening, and that's what you see in museums like the one in Tonopah. High school graduation day, with everyone standing in front of the school.  Sunday school picnics, the priests long figures in black.  A open-air boxing match.  High school bands, Elks, Odd Fellows, Women's leagues.  Saturday night dances.

In towns like Tonopah, or Goldfield, or Austin, I try not to think, here is a place that failed.  I try to think, here, civilization was planted.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Early January always means upheaval in my life, and the name of that upheaval is basketball.  Middle-school basketball:  shoes squeaking on the floor, wild throws, the boys self-conscious in baggy shorts, the girls faster, taller, more aggressive.  Late dinners, homework not done, and driving across town to some brand-new middle school in an unfinished neighborhood.  UNLV games: sitting high in the upper balcony, watching the cheerleaders jump around, the lights dim, fireworks shoot up, the players run across a red carpet onto the floor and everyone shouts as if it isn't just another weeknight.

With me, basketball is definitely a childhood thing.  It's long dark winter nights, listening to Kentucky game on the radio, drawn into an unmapped, virtual world of reputation, gossip ("good squad this year") and rival schools ("after that the 'Cats'll be up in South Bend to face Notre Dame"), learning about working off the clock and drawing a charge and that'll be two from the charity strike.  (No one says "charity strike" -- a.k.a. free throw line -- anymore but it was a favorite of Cawood Ledford, the UK announcer.)

It's been said that baseball, because its not played on a clock, is a sport which stops time.  Basketball is nothing but clock.  It's a sport of the individual moment, the moment you're living in, the bobbing wave, to borrow F. Scott Fitzgerald's image, which always seems about to bring you forward, the moment when it seems everything can change.