Statue outside Harrah’s a reminder of the Wild West
Outside Harrah’s Lake Tahoe stands a bronze reminder that the Pony Express traveled through town – but this is the wrong weekend to see it. The sculpture is covered by a plywood shell designed to keep New Year’s Eve celebrators from mounting up.
From April 1860 to October 1861, brave young riders delivered mail and news on horseback between St. Joseph, Mo., and San Francisco.
A statue of a rider on his horse, created by world-famous sculptor Avard Fairbanks, was made at Bill Harrah’s request and erected in front of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe in 1963.
Harrah, founder of the Harrah’s clubs in Reno and South Lake Tahoe, was very interested in history and commissioned Fairbanks to build the statue to commemorate the spirit of the Pony Express men and their mounts, according to Harrah’s spokesman John Packer.
“The statue was made in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Pony Express,” Packer said. “At the time when (Fairbanks) was commissioned, he was probably the leading sculptor of the heroic style still practicing in the country.
“The sculpture was cast in a little town in Italy called Pietrasanta. It took a while to make the sculpture. There were two casts made and the original was unveiled on April 4, 1963 at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. The other statue has been moved to our casino in Kansas City, Mo., and the reason for that is it’s not that far from St. Joseph.”
During the 1963 dedication, psuedo-Pony Express riders came carrying a congratulatory letter from California Gov. Pat Brown to Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer, who was at the ceremony along with Harrah, his wife Scherry and other dignitaries of the time, Packer said. Also present at the event was Waddell Smith, the great-grandson of William Bradford Waddell, one of the founders of the Pony Express.
For quite some time, the Pony Express statue, which weighs 15,000 pounds, was the only piece of public art at South Shore, Packer said.
Many residents may never have noticed the intricate design of the sculpture or known its history, but New Year’s Eve seems to produce plenty of people who want to horse around with it.
“In years past, people have tried to climb it and pretend to ride it and they fall off and hurt themselves,” Packer said. “Also, some of the work on the statue is delicate, even though it’s bronze. Years ago, we used to grease it to keep people off, but the trouble with that is having to clean it off. It prevented people from climbing it, but it didn’t keep them from trying. About 10 years ago or so, they started (using the wooden cover).”
This weekend, the cover-up continues.
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