Of Buffalo and the Perils of Historical Research…

cropped-kfb-bow-tieThis eve following Christmas I’m pleased to welcome old friend Debbie Hinman to the website, demonstrating one of her many skills, e.g. writing a column. Debbie is the editor of the Historical Reno Preservation Society’s Footprints newsletter, and one of the better researchers and writers in our valley – some can write, others can research but a person that can do both is rare indeed.

ArtistMeeting

The column, rich in the history of Reno and Idlewild Park, belongs in Footprints but she elected to let me have it for the Ol’ Reno Guy. I asked her for her photograph but she declined, so I dug up an old one I had of her addressing a joint meeting of the Nevada Historical Society and the State of Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. While there are several other people in the photo, I’ll just say that it was a warm, sultry afternoon and Debbie came dressed for the occasion so I needn’t ID her in the shot.

Debbie writes now, the first of what I hope will be the first column of many in the future!

While historical research is for the most part very intriguing and well, just plain fun, there is always that chance that you will discover something you never wanted to know.  This happened to me recently at the Nevada Historical Society library.

I was scrolling through microfilm, engrossed in a story about testing amphibious Buffalojeeps at Virginia Lake, when my eye caught a fuzzy photo of a couple of jocular-looking fellows armed with rifles hamming for the camera.  And what was that in the background?  I zoomed in to try and get a better look.  There appeared to be two buffalo standing behind them, in some sort of enclosure.  Then I noted a reference to Reno’s Idlewild Park.  Now several years ago, I did a bit of research on Idlewild for a Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation project.  I had heard there was a zoo at the park in the early days and fascinated, I began collecting articles on the various animals contained there.  

As background, the zoo began in the very early days of Idlewild Park, circa 1924.  The first residents were birds and the initial plan was to include only “non-meat eaters.”  By December of that year, the bird population included four large bald eagles and a desert raven.  But the donation of a wildcat kitten and a fox by a local trapper began to change the face of the zoo.  By September of 1925, there were also elk, antelope, deer and—buffalo.  In 1927 there were enough buffalo at the park that Mayor Roberts negotiated a trade with the Sacramento Zoo: one buffalo calf for two monkeys, two swans, three raccoons (raccoons, really?  All they had to do was check the storm drains in the Old Southwest) and an assortment of other birds.  At any rate, by early 1931, the zoo population had soared to 167 assorted creatures. 

The denizens of the zoo were always fodder for appealing newspaper stories and the buffalo were no exception.  A very heartfelt obituary for Chief Shaggy Buffalo was printed in 1925.  “Chief Shaggy,” whose real name was Bos Bison, was apparently a children’s favorite.  Park officials believed he was poisoned but had yet to identify the assassin.  The obituary stated that Chief Shaggy, who left a widow and two sons, Nickel, 5, and Jitney, 6 months, would be sorely missed.  Saddened, I continued following the buffalo throughout the years, finding a second obituary for “Old King,” who at fifteen and fifteen hundred pounds, passed on to the Great Beyond in 1936.  I was more philosophical about this passing; King after all had a long, cushy life being fed and watered in attractive surroundings, adored by his local fans.

Reverting to the 1945 photo of the armed men and buffalo that caught my attention, I read the caption and was properly horrified.  True, these men were not actually shooting at the buffalo (which in a penned area in a park would be a true fish-in-a-barrel situation), but the buffalo were slated to be slaughtered for — a barbecue hosted by the Lions Club, likely attended by the very same children who visited them regularly at the zoo!  They didn’t go peacefully, however.  Reported the Reno Evening Gazette:  “Vigorously displaying his resentment at losing two of his herd, the 1800-pound bull at the park felled one of the ‘hunters,’ Paul Mathews, and the park employee escaped only by crawling to a water hole in the corral.  Pitchforks, lassoes and considerable footwork on the part of the wranglers were required before two 800-pound heifer calves were finally loaded in a truck for their last ride to the Nevada Packing Company.”  A suggestion was made to include the troublemaking herd leader in the barbecue but it was argued that his meat would be too tough.

True, the barbecue was for a good cause, to thank locals for buying war bonds and perhaps the buffalo herd needed to be thinned for space considerations, but barbecuing and feasting on zoo animals just outside their former sanctuary still sticks in my craw.  I’m just glad Chief Shaggy and King didn’t live to see that day.

Thanks, Debbie – send reader comments or recollections to kfbreckenridge@live.com , and include your permission to publish them!

Meeting photograph Jerry Felesina family photo

 

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“Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist” headlines the men of the Black Bear Diner’s epic Christmas extravaganza…!

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Once again, the men of the Black Bear Diner, in their ongoing effort to elevate the level of culture in the Truckee Meadows, are hosting a concert at the diner (their names are Carbon, Wassenberg, Kittell, diner owners O’Looney and Mavrides, the Reid brothers, Duhart, Felesina, Breckenstein, Cloud, Mastos, Lauren House with his incredible tenor voice and Hinxpeeps with his double-bell euphonium), and with any luck at all they may feel the electric thrill that Professor Harold Hill once enjoyed when Gilmour, Liberati, the Great Creatore, Pat Conway, W. C. Handy and John Phillip SOUSA all came to town on the same historic day, with Lida Rose Quackenbush, the only female bassoon player west of River City in tow.
The doors will open at 7 A.M. with the concert beginning an hour later. Parking is available west of the diner, admission is a dollar in advance, and free at the door.
The program shall be:
  • Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice,
          an opera in one unnatural act
  • Fanfare for the Common Cold in Ab Minor*
  • Birthday Ode to “Big Daddy” Bach
  • The Abduction of Figaro, a simply grand opera
  • 1712 Overture (often mistaken for a later work)
  • Toot Suite for calliope, five hands
  • Suite No. 2 for Cello, All by Its Lonesome
  • Perviertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons
  • Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist
  • Oedipus Tex, and Other Choral Calamities
  • Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion

An element of the concert will be a brief discussion of two Lo Phatmusical events, VanVinikowmoderated by Reno’s own Van Vinikow, Supreme Being of the String Beings, [pictured left] whose string-based ensembles have been enjoyed by many local people for many years. Also on hand will be Wenxiu Wlodarzyk [at right], the director of music history at Manhattan’s prestigious Julliard School, discussing another element of contemporary music.

 Mr. Vinikow will speak of the creation of a musical key, cited above in the popular “Fanfare” and its origin in our own nearby Comstock Lode. The backstory is that Mssrs. SteinwayMackay, Fair, Flood and O’Brien were hosting a fête on the lower stopes of a mine in their lode for which they were lowering a Steinway concert grand piano, purchased only recently at Sherman Clay in San Francisco and brought up Geiger Grade by a team of Clydesdales, into the mine shaft. The cable supporting the piano broke and the piano landed on an unfortunate employee of the mine. Thus the key of Ab Minor came to be known, the key of A flat miner.

Mr. Wlodarzyk will reveal that a recent contest was adjudicated at Julliard, whose rules were that contestants, working in groups, were to write, record and publish the most annoying, repetitive song ever written; a tune which would make people wince in pain when its first few bars were heard, and moreover, a song that would emulate a song three- to five-hundred years old.

TwelveDaysThe names of the student contestants who triumphed were wisely withheld, but the winner, using the term loosely, was held out unanimously to be a groaner titled “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” about which one of its lyricists was heard to exclaim, “Let’s submit this bullshit and see if anyone will ever believe it!”

Regrettably, some took the song seriously and it has achieved a certain amount of notice.

This concert, of course, is also pure B.S. and should not be placed in your “things to do” folder…just funnin’ around

photo credit six singers Richard Termine for The New York Times. some text from The Music Man, other stuff from Peter Shickele

Keystone Square and Shoppers Square – Christmas 1970

LittleKarlFrom a couple of ancient columns we post another offering of a bygone Christmas in our little hamlet:

Following a couple of “Walking” columns, I received an interesting email: “I’ve lived here for thirty years and I don’t know what you’re talking XmaDowntownabout.” I have a flash for this reader: There are people who’ve lived here twice as long who don’t know what I’m talking about either, and I occasionally include myself.

            So to appease him (her?); we’ll only go back almost fifty years this morning to 1970 – there’s only 15 shopping days until Christmas, the Pinto’s warmed up in the driveway so we’ll drive to a couple of shopping areas. Park Lane Center, the granddaddy of local shopping has been open for four years now but we’ll start elsewhere and wind up there next week.

            We like the Keystone area, as do so many people who moved into that XmasSantabooming area when Sproul Contractors started building homes in the first one-third of the 1960s. A mini-town sprang up with its own banks, cleaners, service stations, even its own disk jockey on KOLO radio – live from the El Cortez Hotel – Pete Carrothers, who romanced the so-called “Sproul” (northwest Reno) trade on the air, asserting that he woke up next to every woman in northwest Reno (leaving out the “if she had her radio tuned to 920 AM. Lucky them.) The hot spot became the Keystone Center, built by Al Caton, the owner of Keystone Fuel/Reno Press Brick, committing land formerly occupied by the brickyard’s quarry. It had a movie theater, and the hot spot we’ll hit this morning, Uncle Happy’s Toy Store, the best in Xmassnowmanthe West. Sir Loin’s Steak House was a favorite, operated by a couple of young guys named Nat Caraseli and Bill Paganetti, who later opened a little coffee shop called the Peppermill in 1971. We might go back there for lunch, there or the Chocolate Pit, later to become the Coffee Grinder that fed a generation of local folks.

            Across Keystone was the greatest drug store in Reno, the big Keystone Owl Rexall Drug, Jim Henderson and Frank Desmond, your genial pill-pushers. Jim has passed away; Frank is an occasional contributor to this column, both good friends to many. Many remember Jim doing TV commercials occasionally with two guys he met playing golf at Hidden Valley, whose names were Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. While it was occasionally difficult to ascertain what product they were selling on TV, if any, they were having fun, and we at home enjoyed their own localized Laugh-In. We’ll stop in there this morning on our shopping spree and pick up some gift wrap and stocking stuffers.

            Traveling down Keystone Avenue, we can go over the fairly-new Keystone Bridge, through an intersection that pits motorists from Booth Street, Keystone and California Avenues together to the amazement of all when it opened. In the venerable Village Shopping Center by Reno High School were a number of old XmasBallsfriends, like Safeway, Sprouse Reitz sundries, the Village Drug — a great complement to the Keystone Owl Rexall. The Mirabelli family had a record store there, later to move to Park Lane. A fabric shop that was there seemingly forever finally closed; the present shoe repair shop was probably an original tenant. P&S Hardware had a branch at the Village; Gene Parvin and Bill Spiersch making it easy for the burst of homeowner/fixit guys springing up in southwest Reno’s new homes. A Pioneer Citizens Bank branch. We can’t forget the Chinese Village restaurant, which had a number of names in years to follow, notably a Dick Graves chicken store, and would finally become the original Truckee River Bar & Grill. A lot of good grub has gone through that corner in forty-plus years.

            The Village is a Reno fixture…

XmasWreathWe’re still stumped with a few gifts so let’s keep moving; it’s approaching noon on a December 1970 Saturday so we’ll park at Shoppers Square on Plumb Lane (I wish that Security Bank on the corner had an ATM – I could use a little cash.) Like Park Lane across the street, Shoppers Square was open then between the stores; the roof came later. (What’s with shopping center owners covering their malls? We Nevadans are a hardy lot.)

Silver State Camera held forth in the Square, probably the largest camera store in XmasRoomReno at the time. I got an Instamatic there; still have it. But nowhere to buy film for it anymore. Hobby Towne was head-to-head in competition with Park Lane’s hobby store, both good places to shop. There was a Spudnut shop, nothing like the original on West Fourth Street, not quite as crowded as Krispy Kreme would be 45 years later.

You can call it Savon, you can call it Osco, but you doesn’t has ta call it Skagg’s, the Square’s big anchor’s earliest incarnation [now CVS]. And my favorite store, two great merchants Hal Codding and Jerry Wetzel, who moved their ski-oriented sporting goods store Codding & Wetzel from Pine Street downtown (I wrote about it in conjunction with the Olympic A-Frame.) Both owners were fixtures in local skiing and the 1960 Squaw Olympics; Jerry would die a few years later in a skiing accident, while Hal brightened our town for many years to follow. I’d be derelict if I didn’t point out that Hal’s daughter Cindi married a good friend to many of my contemporaries and a Sigma Nu alum – Joe Murin – who recently was named by the RSCVA as Sterling the Butler, and if he can be half as dashing as his late [and ex-] father-in-law was, he’ll be a dynamite rep for our town. We’re betting he will be.

The hour draws late. Nod at Santa in the plaza, but don’t call him “George” and confuse the kid on his lap who thinks he’s really Santa. Maybe he is. ( [the late] George Randolph, the Square’s perennial elf and Hartford Insurance retiree)   Let’s walk across Virginia to the Central Park lounge in the Continental Lodge for a hot-buttered-rum.

            Cheers to 15 shopping days, 342 safe-days at Ralston Foods, and God Bless America!

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• • •

DEC. 7 2018 FOUND THIS SQUIB IN MY TRAVELS AROUND MY LAPTOP; MIGHT AS WELL APPEND THIS TO THE POST (nothing goes to waste aroung here!):

This item hurts: The RG-J last week bore the news that Mirabelli’s Music City in Park Lane Center is closing.

           The article noted that the store moved to Park Lane as an original tenant in XmasMenorah1967 from the Village Shopping Center, where it opened in 1956. The Village was Reno High turf, and we sent two of our finest, Gary Bullis, now a local attorney and RSCVA board member, and Gary Machabee, local office furniture mogul, to be DJs at Mirabelli’s live from the Village. They weren’t bad; Gary’s even keeping it as a fallback career. What the article didn’t say was that the store actually had tenuous roots even prior to that in Savier’s Appliances on West Second and West Streets, where it was the “Record Room.”

           Good luck to Betty Mirabelli and to Buddy and Lori Lehman and their families, and our thanks for six decades of good tunes.

           Epilogue: When Park Lane was opened by a bunch of local guys in the XmasSnowmid-‘60s, the detractors wagged “How could a doctor and a car dealer [among others] possibly run a shopping center?” Who knows, but they did, and it was a great, successful center. Now it sits dying, even while standing on the confluence of two well-traveled Reno streets, with acres of parking and easy access, thanks to some out-of-town experts who came to show us local yokels how it’s done. “Reno’s demographics changed,” they say.     

Shows ya what “they” know … welcome to a couple thousand apartments … just what Reno needs. Merry Christmas to all and Happy Holidays to Dave G.


 photo credits to damn near everybody; the RGJ, Pinterest, The Union for the great shot of I-80 at Truckee under snowfall, some are my own; others, who knows?