Other Voices: Nevada City to celebrate a nonevent
Considerable controversy was generated in Nevada City several weeks ago when the mayor began planning a four-day, 150th birthday party celebration for April 2006. Without consulting historians, the mayor presented his idea to the city council. Local historians and scholars, including councilman Steve Cottrell, protested that the date was not correct but were ignored for weeks as planning for the birthday party forged ahead.
The 150th birthday of Nevada City had been already celebrated in the year 2000. A party had been held, complete with a birthday cake and the singing of “Happy Birthday Nevada City.” The Fourth of July celebration and parade had a the theme of “Happy 150th Birthday Nevada City.” The event was front page news in The Union.
If the mayor and the council majority needed more evidence that they were on the wrong track, it was right under their feet. At the entrance to Nevada City City Hall is a large bronze plaque stating that the time capsule placed there “shall remain undisturbed until April 17, 2150, at which time Nevada City will celebrate its 300th birthday.”
The mayor and council majority chose to ignore this, along with a letter from the Nevada County Historical Society signed by 14 historians and board members. They persisted – they wanted a party.
A countdown calendar for the 150th Birthday Celebration was posted on the official Nevada City Web site. As endorsement for this event was not forthcoming from the historical groups, they recently changed the celebration to the “150th anniversary of incorporation.” The party was still on.
The event they propose to celebrate was a nonevent to the early citizens of Nevada City. The April 11, 1856, newspaper merely noted that a legal error had been corrected by the state of California. Nevada City’s first charter, of 1851, was repealed in 1852 when the city went bankrupt. The city was then reincorporated in 1853. In early April of 1856, the city charter (along with several other municipal corporations the state had created) was revoked and quickly reinstated. The original charter had been granted by the wrong branch of the state government. When the legal error was corrected, Nevada City’s newspaper, the Daily Transcript, did not find the incident remarkable beyond noting that the administrative error had been corrected.
No celebrations took place. It was recognized for what it was – an administrative action. The action was not even unique to Nevada City. The newspaper saw it to be of “no consequence.”
Nevada City loves to party. The city has created events that have no connection to local history, such as Joe Cain Day, in order have a party. However, to create a bogus historical event is not the right thing to do. History is based on accurate representation of fact. Perhaps an “Emperor Norton Day” celebration would be more appropriate for the mayor and council to support.
On April 19, 1856, a legal error was corrected by the state of California that affected many municipalities in California. That is all! It was not a Nevada City historical event; the upcoming four- day party will not be, either.
Wally Hagaman has published two books and many articles about Nevada County history. He is the director of the Firehouse Museum in Nevada city and curator of the Chinese collection for Nevada County Historical Society.
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