Nevada State Prison, Carson City - 1952

In 1952, Warden Art Bernard noticed that the prison's cemetery was in sad disrepair. Many graves didn't even have headstones.

Back then, in Nevada, a prisoner sentenced to hard labor did just that. He worked in the quarry at the prison. Several state and federal buildings in Carson Cities are constructed of sandstone from there. Bernard noticed an inmate making small sculptures from discarded rocks and gave him the job of making fifty headstones.

Weeks later the warden checked on the sculptor's progress. Most of the fifty headstones were completed. Bernard smiled when he realized there had been a breakdown in communications. Each sculpture was, indeed, a headstone. A square base topped with a smiling head.

Artist bust.The inmate had done busts of famous people like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Running out of photographs of the presidents he began turning out generic faces. He explained to the warden that he would have done a better job if he had used pictures of those buried there. It goes without saying that the project was scrapped.

Too bad the warden didn't use the headstones. One looking at the cemetery would see a multitude of male heads buried almost to the neck looking like prairie dogs checking for hawks and coyotes.

One of the busts is on display in a Prison exhibit in the history gallery "Nevada A People and Place Through Time" at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. And you thought I made up this whole story.

Sources: Bob Nylen, Curator of History, Nevada State Museum, Carson City, provided information and photographs; My memory from when I put one of the headstones on display while I was Curator of Exhibits at the state museum (1964-1969); and Mint Mark: CC by Howard Hickson, Nevada State Museum Popular Series, 1972.

Photo of headstone courtesy of the Nevada State Museum, Carson City.

 ©Copyright 2004 by Howard Hickson.

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