Following several pathetic attempts by ersatz acquaintances to get the names of some mayoral candidate hopefuls into this column, for whatever benefit that might be, I feel that the time is upon us to speak of the greatest campaign publicity stunt ever orchestrated in our valley.
Shortly after WWII, an energetic and popular young local boy by the name of William R. Beemer decided that he’d rather be Justice of the Peace of the Reno Township than the insurance magnate that he was struggling to become. Accordingly, he cobbled together an aggregation of sterling 30-somethings as a campaign committee, my father Karl the Elder its chairman, and they convened. With wisdom that can only be acquired by spending an evening at Brickie’s Tavern on West Second Street, this august committee decided that ordering clear plastic magnifying glasses, their lenses about the size of a silver dollar and their handles embossed with “Beemer for J.P” would be the way to go to get their candidate’s name out to the waiting electorate (embossing “Bill Beemer for Justice of the Peace” would have been prohibitively expensive.)
The magnifying glasses arrived a fortnight later, and relying upon further wisdom attained in yet another evening at Brickie’s, it was agreed that the offspring of committee members could transport the little glasses to the local schools, to be then taken home to the voting parents. I was delegated to take a shoebox full of glasses to Mary S. Doten elementary school on West Fifth Street, a Spanish Quartette edifice built in 1911 to serve as proof positive that 5,000 Reno kids could endure lead-based paint, asbestos and the school cafeteria’s bill of fare until its destruction in 1971 (it was a twin to the present Mount Rose elementary on Arlington Avenue.) Magnifying glasses were also dispatched to Reno’s other four elementaries, to Billinghurst and Northside junior highs and mighty Reno High School on the Lincoln Highway.
Even the median students in the slow learners classes quickly deduced that if the magnifying glass were to be held two inches from any sunlit surface, a bright pinpoint light would appear, followed by a wisp of smoke, and with dexterity and practice one could fricassee an ant, write a name in a school handrail or lunchbox, or get the attention of the annoying little red-haired girl right through the shoulder of her smoldering blouse. This scientific experiment was being replicated at all of the Reno schools by the hour of the afternoon recess after the glasses’ arrival and distribution.
The Reno School District’s board – the Washoe County district would not be created until a decade later – from their lofty head-shed in the classic old Babcock Building on West Sixth Street, spread the word, “Confiscate those God damned magnifying glasses, pronto!” Good luck on that, Superintendent; upon learning that that seizure was imminent they all went into the back pockets of our 501s. For a while. But to the unbridled joy of the Brickie’s Tavern campaign committee, the local papers – the morning Journal and the afternoon Gazette – both carried headline accounts of this upstart young insurance executive who with malice aforethought was attempting to systematically reduce the Reno District’s real estate assets to rubble with these devious little magnifying glasses. Substantiating the mantra that bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, William R. Beemer blew the doors off his opposition and marched triumphantly into the J.P. chambers where he would serve for four professional yet hilarious decades.
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Justice of the Peace Bill Beemer was – at the time of his passing in 2001 – one of the most knowledgeable authorities of the lore of our valley that ever passed through it, his wisdom usually conveyed in an atmosphere of side-splitting humor. The Judge used one long-standing remark to close the many memorial services that he officiated. He would remind us in his clarion voice that there is no expression of a lasting goodbye for death in the Paiute language; the closest expression that existed for that sentiment was “…see you next time,” a pleasant euphemism for a farewell to a departed friend. He’d then recite that expression in the Paiute tongue. Those of us who had attended the many services that he officiated knew that that closing was part of the liturgy, and we anticipated its arrival as the final, posthumous compliment to a friend – the Judge bestowing that farewell upon them in the patois of the Paiute tribe.
Having heard Beemer eulogize too many friends, always concluding with the Paiute farewell, I took the bull by the horns one night at a conservatively-libated Sigma Nu Christmas dinner. “I’d like to work your Paiute farewell into a column someday. Say it slowly in phonetic English so I can write it down.” (The Paiute language has no written form.)
He paused. The assembled brotherhood waited. I extracted a pen and found a napkin to record it for posterity.
Bill stared at the floor, then at the ceiling, as if it were Heaven. A hush fell. He then spoke softly:
“I have no idea. I’ve never done it the same way twice.”
Such was the humor of our friend, Judge Beemer.
See you next time, Bill. Have a good week, and God bless America…
text and Beemer photo © 2015 RGJ