It was during a family vacation that saw first hand how the state of Nevada shared, at least in some small part, a bit of history with Mount Rushmore. First though a little bit more from the personal side of this story.
My bride’s father was raised near Mount Rushmore and he had at least one family member who worked on the sculptures at Mount Rushmore. I spoke with Don Conklin prior to his passing in 2006, and he confirmed his cousin Reuben worked there throughout the entire project.
And before having ever gone to Mount Rushmore I had learned the creator of the monument also carved the statue that stands in front of the Mackay School of Mining on the University of Nevada, Reno Campus. I knew this because I had read some six-year previously, that a team of conservators had made a rubber mold of the statue so it could be recreated for display at the Rushmore Borglum Museum.
Unfortunately, at the time I was visiting the wrong museum. The rubber mold was for the Rushmore Borglum Story Museum in Keystone, South Dakota.
I recently called the museum in Keystone and no one there knew what I was talking about.
In 1906, the family of John Mackay presented the university with a financial gift that enabled the construction of the Mackay School of Mines building on the north end of the Quadrangle. In front of the building is the statue of Mackay.
Mackay was an Irish immigrant, who along with three other key figures of the time, discovered perhaps the greatest lode of silver ever found in the world. The discovery eventually led to the establishment of the Comstock and eventually the state of Nevada.
I think that the greater story of Mackay’s legacy is in the communication companies he formed.
In 1884, with James Gordon Bennett, Jr., Mackay formed the Commercial Cable Company in order to lay a transatlantic cable. Two years later and in connection with the cable company, he formed the Postal Telegraph Company as a domestic wire telegraph company.
Until Mackay and Bennett entered the field, all underwater cable traffic between the United States and Europe went over cables owned by Jay Gould. A rate war followed that took almost two years to conclude.
The American financier finally quit trying to run Mackay out of business. He was quoted as saying, “You can’t beat Mackay, all he has to do when he needs money is go to Nevada and dig up some more.”
Once Mackay had conquered the Atlantic with the Commercial Cable Company and the U.S. with the Postal Telegraph Company he turned his sights on laying the first cable across the Pacific. He subsequently formed the Commercial Pacific Cable Company in secret partnership with the Great Northern Telegraph Company and the Eastern Telegraph Company.
He died on July 20, 1902 before this was completed, but his son Clarence, saw the project through to completion. By 1906, Commercial Pacific had cable lines laid from San Francisco to Manila, via Hawaii and Guam, with a subsequent spur that went from Manila to Shanghai.
The Mackay System eventually purchased the Federal Telegraph Company, its radio stations and research laboratories, in 1927. The entire system was later bought out by International Telephone and Telegraph a year later.
In 1908, sculptor Gutzon Borglum finished the statue after nearly two years of work. Originally, it had been commissioned to be placed on Nevada’s Capitol grounds, but the state legislature rejected the idea, believing it would diminish the grounds’ appearance and proposed placing it in an alcove in the Capitol’s library annex.
Needles to say, Borglum was offended by the legislatures rejection. However, Joseph Stubbs, president of the University at the time, offered the site at the north end of what later became the university quadrangle.
Both the Mackay statue and the Mackay School of Mines Building were dedicated on June 10, 1908. The statue was rededicated April 25, 1996.
From the February 8, 1908 issue of the Carson City Daily Appeal stated, “Some time last year the Board of Capitol Commissioners passed a resolution that a bust of Governor Sparks be placed in the center of the tessellated floor of the lower rotunda. When Gutzon Borglum, who made the Mackay statue, visits here the coming June, he will begin work on modeling the head.”
The bust was never completed — but I have a hunch where the unfinished piece is – I jus’ can’t prove it yet.