The Strange Case of Key Pittman, U.S. Senator

The rumor started with the senator’s aide telling a newspaper reporter they were “keeping him on ice.” And like many rumors, it became more interesting than the truth.

Key Pittman was playing cards with friends the night before elections when he fell ill. A doctor was brought to his room at the Riverside Hotel and it was learned the five-time Nevada senator had suffered a massive heart attack.

Quietly, he was transferred to a local hospital. It is here that he remained until his death  five days later.

His condition was kept very hush-hush, even though he had won reelection to the U.S. Senate for a sixth term. It seems the powers that be at the time, Governor Edward Carville and others within the Democrat party didn’t want to tip their hand that he was near death.

Once he did pass away, Carville made a move for the seat, but Carville’s wife balked at the idea. Instead the governor appointed Berkley Bunker to fill out the late senators term.

Somehow the idea that Pittman was in the hospital during election day and never left his death-bed without being seen by anyone outside the Democrat party, his family and doctors and nurses led to speculation that he had been placed in a bath tub, filled with ice to keep him “fresh,” until after the appointment could be made.

There are several odd foot notes to this already strange tale — including news reports that he died at the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, where he is reported to have been “put on ice,” according to the hotels restaurant menu. This is followed by the fact that his younger brother Vail was reportedly promised the appointment to fill the senate seat, by Carville, who instead appointed Bunker. 

As it turns out the appointment may have been a case of cronyism as Bunker was also a Mormon bishop. It’s believed Carville felt he owed the bishop a favor as the bishop supposedly delivered on a promise to “bring in the Mormon vote,” for Carville. 

Then in 1945, Carville did resign as governor in order to be appointed to the once again vacant senate seat. Carville’s  lieutenant governor immediately became acting governor — and that was none other than Key’s brother, Vail.

Lastly there was a two-year delay in Key Pittman’s interment.  The now deceased senator had wanted a mountaintop memorial or one at the University of Nevada, Reno — however his friends and widow were unable to raise the needed funds.

Instead he was laid to rest in a mausoleum in the Mountain View Cemetery in Reno. Nearly 24 years later, Vail join his older brother and is now buried nearby.

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