It began as Admission Day in 1938 with a modest celebration at the Capitol and the first such parade on Carson Street.
TODAY IT IS NEVADA DAY, the grandest 72-hour day of our year, and the great Nevada Day Parade in Carson City on Saturday is its most splendid expression, a gaudy 3-hour procession of floats, bands and marching groups, heart-felt and authentic.
The parade began months before of course, and is the climax of elaborate planning and preparation. Volunteers mark off the staging points for the 200 parade entries before sunrise, with anxious looks up into the crack of dawn. Will it be sun today or snow?
We only have 15 miles to Carson City, other parade-goers have been on the road for hours before we even set out. It’s full day as we drive down into Eagle Valley from the east. Ahead of us bright dots are pinned to the sky: a flight of balloons suspended in the crisp morning air.
Early arrivals in Carson City are at the Governor’s Mansion for a pancake breakfast provided by Carson City’s Republican women. Spectators have already unpacked their camp chairs and staked out places on the curb, kids are running around, vendors are setting up their counters while their pots and pans and grills heat up. Because traditional Nevada Day is October 31, many people are wearing their Halloween costumes even though Nevada Day is only sometimes on the 31st now; it’s the last Friday in October whatever the date, and the parade is the next day.
Promptly and proudly at 10 am the parade begins with a rumble as a phalanx of helmeted motorcycle officers rolls south on Carson Street, drawing the rest of the entries into line behind them, one line at a time out of their side streets into the procession. Here comes Dean Heller on horseback! A whole posse of other officials and political figures and figurines come trooping after him, and the parade is on.
After the candidates the entries are so varied it’s hard to establish that many separate categories. A Senior Care Center. An Indian Princess. Carson City. Duckwater Shoshone Tribe. Carson Lanes Family Fun Center. The Bunny Ranch Brothel float followed The Nevada Rainbow Girls and The Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates, and was followed in turn by the Northern Nevada Dental Hygiene Association.
The White Pine County School bands burst into music at the head of the parade and there were other bands both afoot and afloat scattered along its length. There was a small squadron of Model A’s, some rodeo queens from Fernley, the Nevada Silver Tappers and there were these. . . .
Parade Entry #106 was the Rural Nevada Democrats. What? All 6 of them?
The parade was more than the floats and the marchers and the bands and the horses, it was the beautiful day, the trees aflame in the sun, the families, the traditions, the beer, the burgers, the ting-ting-ting of the single jacks driving into granite, the memories. It is pleasing to think the spirit of the state was held in suspension within that clear clean air just in from the mountains, and maybe for a little while it was.
Johnny Gunn was Master of Ceremonies at the World Championship Single Jack Drilling Contest, and he says enthusiasm for the — what? Sport? Hobby? — pastime is as strong as ever. “The crowds have been large and very active for many years, including this year. There was some fear that the UNR Homecoming football game with UNLV would take away, but if it did, I couldn’t tell. All of our competitors were on hand, and the crowd was very large.”
Johnny is getting things set up for the drilling competition as the parade is getting started. “I can hear the parade and that’s about it,” he said. And while the paraders are prancing and dancing, marching and lurching south down Carson Street, inside the State Museum Ken Hopple begins demonstrating the old Coin Press No.1 by making 1-oz silver Sesquicentennial medallions that had been sold in advance, with a second session after the parade ended. The silver was supplied by Coeur Mining’s Rochester mine. A limited number of medallions is still available here.
And when the parade ended, yet another event began, this one in the amphitheater to the south of the capitol: the Beard Contest. This is a big batch of eye-candy as every style of whiskerino is represented, from the Edwardian dandy to the visigoth. Eight different categories of beard are recognized by the judges, and each category had numerous candidates.
After eight champions (and second and third prize winners too) have been selected, the Grand Finale is a count of beards from Carson City vs those from Virginia City; Carson City won in a landslide, even though some of their men had simply postponed shaving that morning. But is that fair? Carson City is a big city full of hairy men, while Virginia City is much smaller, and it’s at a much higher altitude where beards are harder to grow. Have a look:
My suggestion for Virginia City: more Sikhs.
The State Museums offered free admission, there were tours of the Governor’s Mansion, there was a Pow Wow and a Chili Feed plus all the street vendors and all the bars and restaurants — you could say Carson City gave 100% and the weather made it all pay off.
But it might not have been the best time to come.
Carson City on Nevada Day looks pretty much like Carson City always does on Nevada Day, but Carson City on an ordinary day shows some interesting new developments. The downtown bars and restaurants are almost a District. Carson City almost has a Scene. And there are about 20 lodgings properties now, even without the Ormsby House being quiiiiite ready, so the town can accommodate visitors. Something is percolating here.