Filed Under Public Art

John Mackay Statue

The statue donated by the Mackay family honors the Comstock mining baron whose family's contributions transformed the university.

Dedicated June 10, 1908, the statue of John Mackay, which stands at the north end of the University of Nevada Quad in front of the Mackay School of Mines, honors the only Comstock mining baron to give back to the state of Nevada. In 1873, while exploring a vein of low-grade ore in the Consolidated Virginia and California mine at Virginia City, Nevada, John Mackay and his partner James Flood discovered the Big Bonanza ore body, the most valuable discovery of the Comstock Lode. Mackay’s statue stands, holding a pick in one hand and a piece of ore in the other, facing the mountains of Virginia City, which gifted him with wealth.

With the support of John’s son, Clarence Mackay, the statue was created by Gutzon Borglum, who later sculpted the four presidents' heads on Mount Rushmore. Originally intended for the state capitol, the statue was rejected by state officials who felt it would be inappropriate to single out one specific individual for commemoration, and thus it was gifted to the university to accompany the building of the School of Mines. The dedication ceremony was attended by an estimated 10,000 people and coincided with commencement day at the university. In his dedication address for the statue and school, Clarence Mackay expressed his dedication to bettering mining education in Nevada in gratitude for all the state had given to his family.

The statue was the first of many gifts to the University of Nevada campus from the Mackays. Between 1907 and 1936, Clarence directed a large portion of his inheritance toward the university, donating approximately $2,000,000 for the building of the Mackay School of Mines, Mackay Athletic Field, and Mackay Science Hall.

The statue has appeared in classic Hollywood films including "Mother Is a Freshman" and "Mr. Belvedere Goes to College." It is a popular setting for fraternity and sports team photos, and is at the center of traditional campus events such as "Mackay Week." First celebrated in 1913 as Mackay Day, the week serves as a time for students to clean and improve the campus and participate in a variety of spirited activities.

The statue was rededicated on April 25, 1996, in a Mackay Week ceremony hosted by the School of Mines and attended by John Mackay's descendants and school alumni. The ceremony included a tribute to John Mackay, an open house at the School of Mines, a reception at the home of university benefactors Richard and Ann Marie Harris, and a gala event at the Silver Legacy Grande Exposition Hall.

Images

Dedication ceremony
Dedication ceremony The dedication of the John Mackay statue and the Mackay School of Mines on June 10, 1908. Lieutenant and acting Governor Dickerson delivers the address to Clarence Mackay at the statue unveiling. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1908
The sculptor
The sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the creator of the John Mackay Statue, who was better known as the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore. Source: Smithsonian Institution
Mackay statue watches over the quad
Mackay statue watches over the quad The Mackay statue in profile in 1911, with the School of Mines building to the left. The open fields in the distance were added later to the University of Nevada campus. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1911
Mackay statue on the Quad
Mackay statue on the Quad Another 1911 view of the statue on the Quad in front of the School of Mines building. The University's original gymnasium is behind the School of Mines. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1911
Statue in profile
Statue in profile A 1911 photo of the statue in profile with Lincoln Hall and the snow-capped Sierra mountains in the distance to the west. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1911
In formation
In formation The Cadet Corps in formation at the edge of the Quadrangle, with the Mackay Statue in the background, 1920. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1920
Coffin and Keys
Coffin and Keys Costumed members of the university's secret society, Coffin and Keys, in front of the statue in 1922. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1922
Filming on the Quad
Filming on the Quad A shot from the 1948 film "Mother is a Freshman." Actress Loretta Young, the camera, and crew film on the Quadrangle in front of the Mackay School of Mines building and Mackay Statue. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: ca. 1948
Mackay Week
Mackay Week The Sagebrush staff in Mackay Days costumes pose in front of the statue in 1978. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: John Newman Date: 1978
Mackay Fun
Mackay Fun A student has fun with the statue during the Mackay week celebration in 1979. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: John Newman Date: 1979
President Reagan visits in 1982
President Reagan visits in 1982 President Ronald Reagan visits the campus on October 7, 1982. He stands with University President Joseph Crowley at the podium. The audience waits on the Quadrangle, in front of the Mackay Statue and School of Mines building. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1982
Descendants of John Mackay
Descendants of John Mackay John Mackay's descendants gather for a group photo during the re-dedication ceremony on April 25, 1996. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1996

Location

Metadata

Amanda Buell and Reno Historical Team, “John Mackay Statue,” Reno Historical, accessed May 19, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/68.