Mackay Mines Building
Mackay Finds a Home
By Patrick McDonnell
The statue of John Mackay stands on the University of Nevada, Reno campus as a symbol of a man's vision and good luck. It could be said that those same forces brought the Mackay statue to the university Quad.
In 1908, New York sculptor Gutzon Borglum--who later carved Mount Rushmore--finished what would be the Silver State's most celebrated statue after nearly two years of work. The artist had brought to fruition the idea of Sam Davis, editor of the Carson City Morning Appeal, to immortalize Mackay, the Irish immigrant who had helped direct the extraction of $100 million in silver and gold from two Virginia City mines from 1873 to 1878--the Big Bonanza.
Davis gained support for a statue from Mackay's son Clarence, who lived in New York. Davis' stepson, Phillip Mighels, suggested Borglum, an Idaho native who had learned his trade in Paris. Later, Borglum deemed Mighels the quintessential Western man and used him as his model for Mackay.
Davis thought the best location for the statue would be the State Capitol grounds in Carson City. Borglum agreed. There was, howeve, a problem. The Nevada Legislature voted to erect a Mackay statue in 1907 but rejected its placement on the Capitol grounds. Lawmakers believed the statue might diminish the grounds' appearance and proposed placing it in an alcove in the Capitol's library annex.
Borglum was offended. The Mackay family had allocated $32,000 for the statue, but Borglum's and Davis' lobbying did not sway the legislators. Finally, Borglum found an ally in Joseph Stubbs, president of the University of Nevada. Stubbs offered a site at the north end of what later became the university quadrangle.
Borglum's statue was no longer homeless.
The Mackay statue and the Mackay School of Mines Building were dedicated on June 10, 1908, which was proclaimed at state holiday by Governor Denver Dickerson. A silver wreath of sagebrush encircled the statue, which was draped with an American flag. The statue was unveiled before several thousand people in front of the new, two-story Georgian Colonial mines building.
Borglum went on to great fame for his work on Mount Rushmore, which he began in 1927 and continued until his death in 1941. In 1992, a team of expert conservators made a rubber mold of the Mackay statue so it could be recreated for display at the Rushmore Borglum Story Museum in Keystone, South Dakota. When the replica is installed, the university will enjoy a presence at one of the nation's most-visited tourist sites. And we can thank turn-of-the-century state legislators for their decision.