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Celebrating Nevada’s 50th anniversary, by the book

You know those crazy Nevadans — any excuse for a party.

It’s that way in 2014 as the Silver State celebrates its 150th anniversary with a calendar full of pomp and commemoration. And it was that way back in late October 1914 when the state’s proud promoters celebrated its “Semicentennial of Statehood with a 48-page hardback from the State Printing Office and edited by Jeanne Elizabeth Wier. (The Nevada Historical Society publication wasn’t actually printed until 1917.)

Think of it as the official game program of Nevada’s 50th anniversary of statehood.

Focused almost exclusively on the Northern Nevada experience — gambling hadn’t yet been legalized and Las Vegas was just a railroad whistle stop in those days — the slender volume focuses on the official celebration of Nevada’s 50th year as a member of the Union with plenty of frontier history thrown in for good measure.

The semicentennial celebration began on Oct. 29 and ended Nov. 1 in Reno. It was some party.

“The features selected for the celebration were a historical pageant ball, a pioneer luncheon, public school exercises and a Sunday evening patriotic service,” Wier wrote. “Later the University football game with the Barbarians, Saturday afternoon, and the Shriners’ entertainment at the Majestic Theater, Friday and Saturday evenings, were included in the celebration.”

After devoting two paragraphs to recapping the celebratory schedule, Wier proceeded to the next most important part of any commemorative publication — the naming of all the hard-working subcommittee members who toiled to coordinate the festivities. The names of the dedicated were listed ahead of the official proclamation celebrating the semicentennial of statehood signed by Gov. Tasker L. Oddie.

Of note early in our story is the news that the good folks at the Southern Pacific Railroad generously offered special rates on tickets just for the occasion.

Although plenty of locals made the scene, “Many regrets were received from those unable to attend, of which we print a few herewith,” Wier wrote in a style we now reserve for authors of frilly government proclamations.

For Gov. Oddie, the semicentennial was a time to pay his respects to history-making pioneers, miners, ranchers and confidence men who put Nevada on the map. He tipped his hat to Wier and her devoted subcommittee in its association with the historical society.

Oddie enthused, “I fully recommend that such anniversary be signalized by the organization of a Society of Nevada Pioneers to enroll the names and biographies of the pioneer citizens of this State, and that all records and matters appertaining thereto be kept for the use and inspection of the public in the archives of the Nevada Historical Society.”

And on it went, recapping the majestic history of the “Nevada Pageant,” a play held at the amphitheater section of Mackay Athletic Field featuring a series of episodes from across the arc of the state’s existence. From, “The Struggle between the Spirit of the Desert and the Spirit of Civilization” and “Hank Monk and Horace Greeley,” to “the first telegraph, saw mill, grist mill” and a “Tribute to Civil War Veterans by Uncle Sam,” the history up to statehood moved along at a good clip.

Episodes offering historic scenes from “Statehood,” the Bonanza Period,” the “Allegorical Period of Depression,” and the “Present Condition and Outlook for Future” rounded out the pageant with a final gathering on the field around the “Spirit of Civilization” with a tribute to those hearty pioneers who staked their claim in the Silver State and made such marathon celebrations possible.

The 18-section musical program featured Spanish and English marches, a solo called “Drink to Me” by Mr. August Frohlich.

If that failed to set toes to tapping, 10 dance numbers kept the action lively with themes ranging from Spain, Native Americans, the Virginia Reel, and “Old Dan Tucker.” Attendees could hardly be expected to just sit there looking at all those dancers, including folk representatives of the French, Scotch, Irish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch, some of the immigrant nations well represented in Nevada.

If the pageant seemed to go on forever, alas, the semicentennial celebration couldn’t last.

It was 1914. There were boom times ahead. The Silver State, ever proud of its roots, was on the rise.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-383-0295 or at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com.

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