This year the UNLV News Center celebrated Nevada's 150th birthday with a series on the Silver State's history and culture. Faculty from across campus contributed their top 5 lists of favorite facts, quirky insights, and little-known trivia. Here's a taste for what they shared.
Mary Riddel, chair of economics: "Nevada is simultaneously one of the most urban and rural states in the U.S. More than 94 percent of Nevada residents live in an urban area, but 99 percent of the total acreage of the state is within a rural area. No other state has this extreme contrast. This disparity has historically created interesting challenges for the people of the state, especially since the two urban areas, Clark and Washoe counties, are separated by 438 miles of desert. To add to this challenge, 75 percent of economic activity is generated in Clark, the southernmost county in the state, but the seat of state government is in Carson City in the north."
Little Mice with Big Impacts
Brett Riddle, life sciences professor: "When a team of researchers formally identified the Great Basin pocket mouse, they forced mammalogists and ecologists to use a new taxonomy (ecologists generally are not happy about such things). The genes of pocket mice hold clues to the roles of geological and climatic history in the origination of modern species. When we read the genes of the Great Basin pocket mouse, we discovered that they actually include two very old species -- one centered on Nevada, and the other in eastern Washington. We have a lot more work to do to flesh out other details, but I value this species for its record of evolution in and around Nevada over the past 8 million years or so."
The Great Nevada Meteor Smack Down
Steve Rowland, geoscience professor: "In the Devonian Period more than 360 million years ago, Nevada was a low-relief continental shelf with a lot of marine creatures living in a warm, shallow sea. One day, like a bolt of lightning out of the blue sky, a large meteor traveling faster than 20,000 miles per hour smacked into Nevada, striking about 100 miles north of where Las Vegas sits today. Like a cannonball landing in a kiddie pool, the hypervelocity impact made a spectacular splash, launching a series of devastating tsunamis that rippled across Nevada, ripping up chunks of sea floor. The resulting layer of jumbled rock is called the Alamo Breccia. Ironically, ground zero was close to Rachel on Nevada State Highway 375 - nicknamed the Extraterrestrial Highway."
History professor Michael Green, '86 BA and '88 MA History: "Hank Greenspun came to Las Vegas in 1946 as a young lawyer and died in 1989 as a giant. Soon after arriving, he became publisher of an entertainment magazine, a publicist for Bugsy Siegel, and an investor in a radio station and the Desert Inn Hotel. He also ended up running guns to Israel during the war leading up to its founding in 1948. He earned national attention (as publisher of the Las Vegas Sun) for taking on two powerful U.S. senators: Nevada's Pat McCarran, who engineered an advertising boycott intended to put the Sun out of business (it failed), and Wisconsin's Joseph McCarthy."
Las Vegas' Founding Documents
Su Kim Chung, head of public services for UNLV Libraries Special Collections: "The single most important collection at UNLV on early Las Vegas contains the official corporate records of the Union Pacific Railroad. These document the purchase of the land (the original Stewart ranch) and the construction of the original depot and town that became modern Las Vegas. Comprised of nearly 175 linear feet of documents, maps, and architectural drawings, the collection also contains the records of the Las Vegas Land & Water Co., a subsidiary of the railroad, to handle all the railroad's land transactions."
Ely's Place in Flight History
Aviation historian Dan Bubb, '01 MA History: "In July 1913, Frank Burnside became the first person to fly an airplane in Nevada when he landed his eight-cylinder, 80-horsepower Thomas-Morse airplane in Ely, a town with fewer than 2,000 residents. The Thomas Morse Co. was invited to send one of its planes and pilots to Ely as part of the town's July 4 celebration. Ely residents gave Burnside a hero's welcome and were ecstatic that a machine with wings landed in their town."
Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center: "Among the pioneers who tamed Virginia City was the state's first black doctor, W.H.C. Stephenson. The Washington, D.C., native practiced in Nevada from 1863-70. He registered to vote as soon as the 15th amendment passed and in 1865 helped to organize the Nevada Executive Committee to unite blacks in Virginia City, Silver City, and Gold Hill. The group agitated effectively to win in small ways -- such as securing participation in city parades -- and large -- including addressing issues of representation on juries and access to schools."
Stamping Out Brothels
Women's studies professor Lynn Comella: "While never fully sanctioned, brothels were tolerated on Block 16 in downtown Las Vegas for decades. The first serious campaign to stamp out prostitution was initiated by Fannie Ryan, the wife of state Sen. Frank Ryan, who lodged a formal complaint with the city in 1936, arguing that the brothels were a 'public nuisance.' Mrs. Ryan owned property near the block, and thus had a financial interest in the area."
More: Read the full "My Nevada 5" series.