I have written before about my mother working as a dealer at Harolds Club for 17 years, in a period prior to my birth through my middle school years (when she made an about-face life-change and went the whole, successful business route until her retirement). When I was six she married the stepfather who would help raise my sister and me until their divorce about 12 years later. He worked as a bartender at Harolds Club in their early married years, and, since all employees of Harolds Club dressed in full western garb it meant that I had two parents who dressed in cowboy boots, western shirts, those string ties, and western pants. Sometimes my mother wore a sort of split skirt, called a culotte, that had swinging western fringe along the bottom. And she always wore a big, white cowboy hat. For some reason the bartenders and restaurant personnel did not wear cowboy hats, undoubtedly something to do with health regulations, so stepdad's head was bare.
I mention the attire as a round-about introduction to the poem below, which I am posting in the spirit of fun as my post to honor the One-Year Anniversary of dVerse Poets Pub. Pubtender Brian Williams wrote that we may submit poems that are either new or old for OpenLinkNight. Quite obviously, I am submitting an extremely old poem written by my child self for the pub's anniversary week OpenLinkNight.
This old postcard appears to be from around 1949-53, which means that my mother worked there when this photo was taken. About a decade later, during those years when she and stepdad both worked at "The Club," they took a series of Red Cross First Aid classes one night a week after work. Perhaps the course was required by Harolds Club, I'm not sure. My mother was one to prefer our attendance at anything she thought educational, so got clearance from the Red Cross for my sister and me to attend. I have this memory of each of them down on their hands and knees, in full western attire (she did remove her cowboy hat, however), working out the particulars of reviving a life on the padded dummy lying on the floor next to them. It all made a big impression on me, and from those episodes came this:
Happy One-Year Anniversary to dVerse Poets Pub, a group I really do love and admire. I swear that I approach many of the challenging prompts with a childlike timidity, but become so excited by the richness of those prompts that by the time I begin working on my own piece I often tend to enter that marvelous flow that too many adults rarely experience after leaving childhood behind. So, thank you for bringing the wonder of learning and creating and sharing back into my life, dVerse Poets!
In 1949, Harolds Club commissioned a mural honoring the pioneers of the Old West. The design was created by painter Theodore McFall, and the mural itself was constructed by artist Sargent Claude Johnson of San Francisco, California, then fired into porcelain by Mordecai Wyatt Johnson at the Paine-Mahoney foundry in Oakland, California. Late that year the work was installed on the exterior of the casino. Except for the Reno Arch, the Harolds Club mural was for many years the most prominent feature of Reno's Virginia Street, rivaled later only by Harrah's forty-one-foot-long wall of air that kept the elements out and eliminated the need for doors. Today the mural is all that remains of the once powerful casino.
The Harolds mural was huge—seventy feet long by thirty-five feet tall, composed of 220 forty-by-forty-eight-inch panels. It showed a wagon train encamped for the night around a campfire near a waterfall. On a nearby bluff, Indians wearing loincloths and feathered headdresses stalked the pioneers. Lighting inside the mural gave the appearance of crackling fire and flowing water. Above the mural, red neon letters proclaimed "Dedicated in all humility to those who blazed the trail"—a restatement of the Old West theme that the Smith family had created for their establishment.
For fifty years the mural looked down on Reno's main street, even after the Smiths sold out in 1970 and the club passed from owner to owner. After Harolds closed in 1995, the mural remained in place as a reminder of the days when Harolds was the largest and most famous casino in Nevada. In 1999, when Harrah's bought the property to implode it for a plaza, the mural was dismantled and placed in storage.
A group of citizens then conducted a successful fundraising effort to restore the mural, but when the community discussed where to display it, a serious debate arose over the depiction of the Indians. Many people found the warrior Indians offensive and didn't want the mural located in a prominent place, while others said it deserved a high profile because it reflected American history and was an important part of Reno's past. The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony was asked for its opinion but the group refused to take a position. Tribal chairman Arlan Melendez did say that while he was not personally offended, the mural looked more like an old movie set than real history. He noted that northern Nevada tribes did not attack wagon trains and did not wear colored loincloths, but, he added, at least the mural did show that Indians were living in Nevada when the settlers came.
The Reno City Council at first considered placing the mural downtown, either at a proposed Reno Events Center (since built) or as part of a Fourth Street historic preservation and revitalization effort. In the end it went to neither place, and sufficient reasons can be found besides political correctness: the events center had a modern style that required equally modern art, and the Fourth Street plan remained an uncompleted vision. Still, in the end, the council placed the mural at the Reno Livestock Events Center, a considerable distance from the central city where, one assumes, it could be seen but not seen too much.
Finally, for those who want deeper background on Harolds Club, I suggest an article at pbs.org from its series Who Made America? Among those noted as Innovators is Raymond Ingram Smith, the founder of Harolds Club. The piece about Raymond Smith begins with this heading:
An itinerant roulette operator found his heaven in Reno -- bringing fairness and fun to gambling, and gambling to the masses.