Governor's Office Shows Importance of Nevada's History
Historical artifacts are on full display in Governor Brian Sandoval's office, and there are many more found in a little-known warehouse where he found some of those items.
When Governor Brian Sandoval moved into the state's top office more than seven years ago, he decorated it on his own. He originally wanted to designate one wall with a Nevada landscape, but then he was encouraged to go to the Nevada State Museum's collection center to find some items to work with.
"It reminded me of Indiana Jones and the movie and you go into this warehouse and there's these rows of old artifacts," Sandoval said.
What he found was something he never expected.
"Leaning against the wall was a ship's wheel and it had a blanket over it," Sandoval said. "I couldn't believe that something of that historical significance with such a connection to our state was in this remote warehouse."
The ship's wheel is one of three from the USS Nevada, which was damaged but survived the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The wooden wheel weighs more than 300 pounds, and crews had to look into the capitol building's structural design before they could mount it on the wall behind Sandoval's desk.
"You think of the sailor who had his hands on the wheel, guiding that ship during that attack and having to make spur of the moment, life or death decisions," Sandoval said.
50 crew members died on the ship at Pearl Harbor and more than 100 were wounded. One of Sandoval's walls is covered with various paintings and portraits of the battleship and its crew.
"Sometimes, I'll stand quietly and look at the crew and see how proud they were," Sandoval said.
The Kiwanis Club in Las Vegas had a bell from the USS Nevada for about 50 years before they donated it to the state. The bell is also in the governor's office.
Along with the ship's wheel, Sandoval also found a large state seal at the museum's collection center. He says it is a version the predates 1963 because of the amount of stars on it has a single star on the outer edge on the left and right sides. A young student pointed that out to the governor.
"He pointed at this and he said 'Governor, your seal's wrong' and I said 'Really?' and he said 'You only have one star. You're supposed to have three stars.' So I was really impressed with him," Sandoval said.
Bob Nylen has worked at the Nevada State Museum for 34 years and he says he still gets excited when he sees what is in the warehouse where the governor found the wheel and the seal.
"He's the one governor, maybe Kenny Guinn was the next one but he has such interest in state history," Nylen, Curator of the Nevada State Museum said. "To put things in the governor's office, he's probably the first governor that I know of that we have a number of pieces."
Countless artifacts are stored in the collection center. Some have been on exhibit in museums and others are waiting to go on display. Some of them date back to the early gaming days of the state, including old craps tables and a slot machine from Harold's Club. Original legislative desks from 1870 are tucked in various places, and so is Sen. Patrick McCarran's desk that he used in Washington, D.C. Even the original execution chair from the Nevada State Prison is stored on a shelf at the warehouse.
"First one when they started using poison gas for executions in the 1920s," Nylen said.
Models for mining structures from the Comstock era and tools from the mid-1800s are also found in the building. Immigrant workers also left their mark in places like Tuscarora in Elko County. Old signs with Chinese writing are still around today.
"After the job was done, they were let go and so they spread out across the American west and many settled and stayed in Nevada," Nylen said.
The old senate chambers is on the second floor of the capitol building. It is being converted to a small museum and will reopen as Battle Born Hall in October. Items from the warehouse will go on display there, along with the ship's wheel and state seal from Sandoval's office.
"If we didn't have a place like our collection center here, we wouldn't be able to bring out these special items," Nylen said.
Some other artifacts are on loan in Sandoval's office as well. Original boarding passes and a lantern from the V&T Railroad are in protected cases in the office, along with Governor John Sparks' table and chairs, including one that John F. Kennedy sat in for a press conference at the capitol.
"John F. Kennedy sat in that chair when he came to visit Grant Sawyer because Grant Sawyer was the first governor in the U.S. to endorse JFK for president," Sandoval said.
Another unique chair is in a case near the old assembly chambers.
"It's made of elk horn that Governor Sparks presented to Teddy Roosevelt when he came to Nevada and gave a speech on the front steps," Sandoval said.
Between the museums throughout the state, the collection center and the capitol building, Nevada has a wealth of history. That is why Sandoval says funding for the museums and gathering artifacts are so important.
"It's been really important to me to preserve our history and make sure that the students and the people of this state have access to that history," Sandoval said.
The collection center is not open to the public, but people could have a chance to see those artifacts when they go on display. People do have the ability to donate historical items to the state museum.