- Associated Press - Thursday, February 20, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Fossils and minerals of Nevada. Check.

A petrified apple. Check. Gold and silver. Crystals. Check.

Silver service for 24 people and a historic seismograph. Check.

Exhibits spanning 100 years of Nevada natural history, mining and mineral study. Check.

All this and more make up “Earthquakes, Chukars and Millionaires: The Mackay Mines Story,” an ambitious yearlong exhibit, which opened Feb. 1 at the W.M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“We just have cool stuff here,” said museum administrator Garrett Barmore.

Museum personnel wanted to do something to tie into Nevada’s 150th anniversary of statehood this year, and also wanted to let the public know more about the museum with its 60,000 or so items, Barmore said.

“One reason was to show we’re still here,” Barmore said. “We’ve been here since 1908.”

The Keck Museum, in the Mackay School of Mines building, holds much of the history of Nevada’s mining industry in the form of rocks, minerals and fossils, but it also has stories of its own about the students and faculty who have used the building for 100-plus years.

Barmore started working in the museum in September and he heard stories, some of them “pretty off the wall.”

“The building was built 1908, and redone in 1920. Students and other people would punch holes in the floors to make offices below,” Barmore related.

The new basement dwellers needed access to their new rooms, so they stole an old set of stairs discarded from the downtown post office, Barmore said.

“There was a kind of independent spirit,” he said.

John Mackay’s old mining stamp mill was in the building, so basement space was excavated for it. And there was an operating mining assay lab in the building in the 1940s. Gasses would build up in the chimney and frequently explode, Barmore said.

Work on the exhibit began in October with graduate assistant Natasha Majewski doing research on what the museum held that might fit into the plans.

“We wanted to focus on the Mackay school and the museum,” Barmore said. “A lot of the (museum) exhibits are object-based. We wanted this exhibit to be story-based.”

Working with the UNR Special Collections library, the Keck team came up with exhibits that could be enhanced with photos and narration. Other stories were just that great stories.

“Earthquakes, Chukars and Millionaires” takes viewers onto all three floors of the museum.

On the top floor are details of the university’s beginnings in Elko in 1874 and its relocation to Reno in 1886 with stories of the Mackay School of Mines The first mining school building opened in 1889. When talk started up about a mining building, Clarence Mackay, son of John Mackay, a silver baron of the Comstock Lode, donated $100,000, Barmore said.

The building was designed by Stanford White, Barmore said.

“In 1926, the building was remodeled by (Reno architect Frederic) Delongchamps,” he said.

The second floor also displays remains of mastodons, mammoths, camels and other animals once found in the region.

“There were some really neat animals in Nevada,” Barmore said. “This was created as a fossil/mineral museum, but the museum itself became a part of Nevada history. Things just ended up here.”

Additional information details the building’s refurbishments in the 1970s and 1990s.

On the first floor, there’s a case with items from the museum collection that are unidentified, and visitors are asked if they can name the items. Among them are a rock covered with an image that resembles a petroglyph or pictograph, but doesn’t appear to be applied in either of those two ways. There’s also a jawbone of an unidentified animal.

There’s a section on the history of the museum with photos and narration, a display on how minerals and other items were first arranged for exhibit. There are unique rocks and bottles and handmade labels with analysis of the museum’s future and various collections.

The Mackay building and hence the museum almost were torn down before it was placed on the Registry of Historic Places, then remodeled and made more seismically sound in the late 1980s, Barmore said.

That fact leads into the museum’s basement and back to the title of the exhibit, “Earthquakes, Chukars and Millionaires.”

At the bottom of the basement stairs is the university’s first seismograph, a 1915 German-made analog model. After a 1915 earthquake, the university ordered the machine. Its delivery was delayed because of World War I. When it arrived in 1916, Barmore said, there were no operating instructions.

“The seismograph had to be monitored by students so that activity could be recorded,” Barmore said. “In the 1940s, there was a big earthquake in India. The university wanted to see if the seismograph had picked anything up, but no one was there recording. The student had ditched to go chukar hunting.”

In another basement room, meet the millionaire.

In 1877, John Mackay sent a half ton of Nevada silver to the Tiffany company in New York to have a silver set made. The result was silver dinner and dessert service for 24 people. It comprised 1,250 pieces and took some 200 artisans two years to make.

There are cigar stands, celery vases, olive forks, crumb trays melon-eating utensils, a candelabra that holds 29 candles and contains 750 troy ounces of silver.

___

Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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