CARSON CITY — If the definition of America as “the land of opportunity” needed a singular story to illustrate it, John Mackay’s would be a likely choice and 19th Century Nevada the perfect backdrop.
Mackay’s rise from an impoverished Irish immigrant to Comstock Lode magnate lives on in myriad ways in the Silver State – from a School of Mines and iconic statue on the University of Nevada campus to a Virginia City mansion and more.
Author Gregory Crouch, a writer who specializes in adventurous and historic subjects, found both in his writing of the book, “The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle Over the Greatest Riches in the American West.”
Crouch will share his findings as the keynote speaker at the Nevada State Museum’s January Frances Humphrey Lecture Series. This encore presentation (the first one sold out to museum members) is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 25 in the museum’s South Gallery.
Admission is $8 for adults; free for museum members and children 17 and younger.
Crouch is also the author of books on aviation and mountaineering and has published stories in National Geographic, The Atlantic, Smithsonian, Time, American History, World War II, Outside, Popular Mechanics, Backpacker and many others.
In his Carson City presentation, Crouch will discuss how Mackay arrived penniless on the Comstock and worked his way up from nothing, battling the pernicious “Bank Ring” of California capitalists who’d monopolized the lode, and struck the legendary Big Bonanza, a stupendously valuable body of gold and silver ore buried 1,500 feet below the center of the town.
The extraordinary wealth Mackay extracted from the Comstock Lode drove wild stock market frenzies in San Francisco and launched his wife, whose beginnings were every bit as humble as his own, on a meteoric social career among the finest European aristocrats.
When John Mackay died in 1902 — with a personal fortune equivalent to about $50 billion modern dollars — front page obituaries all over Europe and the United States hailed him as one of the most admired Americans of the age.
The Nevada State Museum is located at 600 N. Carson St., Carson City.