On this day in 1941, the lovable black lab mutt who had become the mascot to the men building the Hoover Dam was accidentally killed. The town of Boulder City mourned while the men working on the Dam had stopped what they were doing and dug their friend a proper grave beside the famous structure. Although urban legend and popular songs claim otherwise, there are no bodies buried in Hoover Dam. The dog is the only body buried AT Hoover dam. Actually just alongside the dam.
The dog’s resting spot with a plaque honoring his importance to the men went without one complaint for almost 40 years. Not until a Wisconsin socialist named Clarence Kailin with too much time on his hands, started a letter writing campaign to get his name removed claiming it was racist. What could get this lonely old man so riled up?
“NIG—The Dog That Adopted A Dam-”
The Bureau of Reclamation sided with the man over loud objections from the Dam workers as well as city and civic leaders stating that in removing the plaque, they are ignoring the historical context of the name as well as the dogs meaning to the project. Political correctness won out.
A short time later, after several groups stepped forward, a new plaque was mounted over his grave, telling the story of the dog, without his name being mentioned.
“The plaque reads: The Hoover Dam construction crew’s mascot was found as a puppy by workers at the construction camp. This dog traveled to and from the damsite with them and spent his days visiting the many work areas. On February 21, 1941, the life of this devoted animal came to an end when a truck under which he was sleeping rolled over him. The grave below was completed by the workers that same day”
Who was Nig?
Nig was not any one person’s dog. They found him as a pup one day under one of the newly constructed buildings inside the new company town of Boulder City. He kind of thought he ran the project. Riding only Six Companies vehicles to and from the project (Six Companies was the general contractor for the project). Running off any other stray dog or cat that entered the job site. He even had his own lunch bag and would carry it to the where the other workers were sitting to have lunch and wait for somebody to open the bag and feed him.
He loved everyone who worked on the dam. In return for his dedicated friendship and color blind love, the workers made sure that he was well loved, well fed and well protected. If you got caught kicking or hurting the dog, you were promptly given your walking papers and escorted to the edge of town and asked to never come back. So when he was killed by the truck he was sleeping under, everyone seemed to have felt the pain and mourned the loss.
It was The Great Depression. The men were out in the middle of nowhere, building something everyone said could not be built. They were happy to have a job, any job, even a dangerous job in the harshest of climates. They needed to provide for their families. From the stories you read, you know the dog played an important role in giving these men something positive and entertaining in their stressful, dismal work life. Some may even say that he played an important part in the successful building of the Hoover Dam. A dam that is considered to be one of the great mechanical wonders of the modern world.
Yes, we had racial discrimination in the 1930’s. It was not the best of times for anybody. Especially those of minority backgrounds. But that does not mean we need to cover it up. Hide from it and say to did not happen. It happened. That was the times we lived in. The dog was black and they gave him a name that corresponded with the dog’s color and the times.
He is Remembered
Last year they added a new information plaque, giving the visitor a little more history on the dog without giving him a name. I have also noticed that more tour guides now make his grave a stop on their walking tour. All positive things for the tour guest and the telling the story of the dam. Yet I still believe in the context of history, as well as the role he played in the building of the dam, the name of the dog needs to be properly mentioned. You can learn from history, you just can’t change it or ignore because someone felt offended.
Today, many people who visit the dam, have no clue the grave site is even there. As you walk from the parking structure to the escalators to go down and start the Dam tour, look to your left and you will see it there in the shade. Alongside the rock wall. If you do go, stop by, give Nig a moment of silence and smile. I’m sure he would like that.
- Take a Hoover Dam Tour
- A great read: Building Hoover Dam: An Oral History of the Great Depression (Amazon)