Why Wrong History is still Bad History

Back in August, 2007 we did a story on the Downtown Las Vegas embedded historical sidewalk medallions/markers. Some of the medallions/markers, installed in the sidewalks of Fremont Street,  touted wrong historical facts.  We called it Bad History and pointed out Las Vegas history was not a John Ford film where legend supersedes fact, especially in the creation of the embedded medallions/markers that were installed by the City of Las Vegas.

With the number of historians and historical resources available all around the Valley, the writer on the City sponsored project didn't have to resort to Google to get their historical facts. After much press not only by us but others and grandstanding by the Mayor and other officials, the bad history medallions/markers were corrected and replaced.

So, imagine our surprise, seven years later to discover that Wrong History is still being published, this time not in sidewalk medallions/markers but in the book written especially for the 150th anniversary of the State of Nevada.

 Historical Nevada  image courtesy of Nevada Magazine

Historical Nevada  image courtesy of Nevada Magazine

 

The book is published by Nevada Magazine which is supported by the state and has been well-regarded in the past. They publish historical articles, there is a section called Know Your Nevada, and one on Notable Nevadans  

So you get the feeling they are sticklers for accuracy, especially when they are publishing a book on a milestone anniversary of the state they cover.

The forward is not by a local historian or even someone who lives in the state. The forward is by Richard Moreno, a journalism instructor at Western Illinois University. As we pointed out in our well-received Preservation Spotlight, the state has a number of well-regarded, published authorities on Las Vegas and Nevada history. I guess the problem is they live in Las Vegas and that old North/South state rivalry definitely seems to be in play here.

Now, Moreno was the publisher of Nevada Magazine for 14 years (1992-2006) and was also the Director of Advertising and Publicity for the Nevada Commission on Tourism for 7 years before that and was a reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal.

So, he is a man who should know his history and have an affinity for facts. Which makes the error in his forward stand out even more.  As journalist Joe Schoenmann pointed out in his Dowtown Joe column the forward reads:

“If not for William Andrew Clark’s construction of the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Santa Fe Railroad ...”

Wrong. It was the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City Railroad. Moreno thanked me for pointing it out and said he knew the correct information, “but somehow my fingers typed Santa Fe.”

That's all well and good. We all mistakes especially when we are typing. But, where was the fact checker/researcher that should have caught that error and the other errors, mainly about Las Vegas history, that should have been caught and corrected?

Joe has a list of them in his article (including the one that has the Golden Nugget as a hotel/casino that doesn't exist anymore-which should come as a surprise to the tourists staying in the rooms and enjoying the pool)  that is well worth your time.

Will Nevada Magazine correct the errors in the next publishng? No word on that.

But, like the medallions/markers with the wrong history that were installed in the sidewalks of Fremont Street, every time we allow wrong history to become our history it overwrites the factual history. Too much of Las Vegas history is based on wrong history because it is based on the myths and misinformation that we don't correct.

That wrong history is what gets told.  It makes telling the real, factual history of Las Vegas more of an uphill battle because believing myths is easier.

But, it ought to be corrected because whether it is in sidewalk medallions/markers on Fremont Street or a book from a well-regarded state publisher that is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the State, it is Bad History and has no place substituting the real history of our town.

The lack of research/fact checking is no excuse for sloppy, wrong history.