Michael E. Fischer

Bio:

Raised and educated in Reno public schools, Michael E. Fischer earned a Bachelor of Science degree at UNR and a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Southern California. After working in private practice for 31 years, he retired from dentistry and was appointed Director of the Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs, serving in both Governor Gibbons' and Governor Sandoval's Cabinet until the department was formally disbanded. He is now an independent scholar whose interests include the history of Nevada cowboys and ranching, politics, bootlegging, gambling, and crime.

Photo credit: Scott Goodin/Nevada Humanities

Presentations:

Baby Face Nelson in Nevada

Chautauqua - H.F. Dangberg Sr.

Chautauqua Noir - James Carmichael McKay

Chautauqua - John Sparks

Fresh Frisch Facts and Findings

Tonopah's Soft Drink Parlors and the Rise of Reno's Next Group of Gamblers


BABY FACE NELSON IN NEVADA

Few people living in Nevada today know that Baby Face Nelson, whose given name was Lester Gillis, spent a great deal of time in Nevada. He was avoiding the heat from authorities in the Midwest. In Reno, he was afforded protection from arrest and incarceration because of his connections to Bill Graham and James McKay. Their political and business connections covered almost the entire state. A vicious killer and borderline psychopath, Nelson lived in Nevada during the period when he was most wanted criminal in America. In this presentation, Michael Fischer explores Nelson’s time in the state and explains why such a notorious killer could hide out here in plain sight. It is the story of politics, corruption, and crime in 1930s Nevada.

Appropriate Audience:  Adults; high school students.

Duration: Approximately 1-1½ hours. Please discuss the appropriate length for your organization with the Presenter.

Presenter Requirements: 

  • Means for screening PowerPoint presentation.

If equipment indicated above is unavailable, please discuss alternatives with Presenter.

Categories: Nevada, History


CHAUTAUQUA - H.F. DANGBERG SR.

H.F. Dangberg Sr. came to the United States in 1848 as a young immigrant from the Kingdom of Prussia, and thence began a journey westward that ended in Douglas County, Nevada in 1853. As this Chautauqua presentation demonstrates, it was the combined force of his personality, work ethic, and intellect that led him to become a prominent figure in the early history of Nevada. His primary legacy is in the development of irrigation systems to support arid land. He served in both houses of the Nevada legislature and also formed the H.F. Dangberg Land and Live Stock corporation with greater than 20,000 acres in the Carson Valley. He made few friends along the way but supported many of the early Carson Valley residents in their attempts to reach America. Like him or not, H.F. Dangberg's legacy still engenders strong opinions about his methods and motives.

Photo credit: Steve Davis

Appropriate Audience:  Adults; high school students.

Duration: C. 1-1½ hours . Please discuss the appropriate length for your organization with the Presenter.

Presenter Requirements: 

  • Microphone requested only if room and audience are very large

If equipment indicated above is unavailable, please discuss alternatives with Presenter.

Categories: Nevada, Chautauqua


CHAUTAUQUA NOIR - JAMES CARMICHAEL MCKAY

To say that native Nevadan, Jimmy "The Cinch" McKay, was raised in difficult circumstances is an understatement; among the traumas he suffered was when his father committed suicide by slashing his own throat. But McKay survived, more or less, and grew up to become a forceful young man who spent the first portion of prohibition running illegal gambling and drinking operations in Tonopah. From there he moved to Reno and opened the Reno Social Club,which catered to the illegal thirsts of lawyers and politicians in the former Golden Mansion. His ambitions to be a big businessman led to his becoming a partner of William Graham in the Bank Club and CalNeva at Lake Tahoe, and also take interests in the Willows and the Stockade, Reno's legal center of prostitution. However, his moral compass was not as sharp as his business acumen and he was later convicted of mail fraud, implicated in the disappearance of Roy Frisch, and actually served time in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Despite these nefarious activities, McKay had a friendly and outgoing personality, and was a popular man. He was married three times (one of his brides was a Hollywood actress), and his friends included boxer Jack Dempsey, criminal Baby Face Nelson, and gangster Alvin "Creepy" Karpis.

Note: This performance is not suitable for children and is best seen in smoky bars or dark places where liquor is served.

Photo credit:

Appropriate Audience:  Adults only.

Duration: C. 1-1½ hours . Please discuss the appropriate length for your organization with the Presenter.

Presenter Requirements: 

  • Microphone requested only if room and audience are very large

If equipment indicated above is unavailable, please discuss alternatives with Presenter.

Categories: Nevada, Chautauqua Noir


CHAUTAUQUA - JOHN SPARKS

Born in 1843, John Sparks did everything you could do in the West: he was an Indian fighter with the Texas Frontier Rangers and a trail driver of cattle after the Civil War. Despite the fact that he lacked any formal education, he rose to the highest ranks of the cattlemen on the national scene, and even to the Governorship of Nevada in 1902.

As a man, he could be humorous but was also direct and forceful, and his life was by no means one of plain sailing: he was bitten by the mining bug, but thereby lost the fortune that he had amassed in the cattle business. He endured the labor troubles in Goldfield, traitorous circumstances with individuals he considered personal friends, and the national financial panic of 1907. As a result, this John Sparks Chautauqua presentation is a microcosmic examination of the endurance of the human spirit.

Photo Credit: Scott Goodin

Appropriate Audience:  Adults; high school students.

Duration: C. 1-1½ hours . Please discuss the appropriate length for your organization with the Presenter.

Presenter Requirements: 

  • Microphone requested only if room and audience are very large

If equipment indicated above is unavailable, please discuss alternatives with Presenter.

Categories: Nevada, Chautauqua


FRESH FRISCH FACTS AND FINDINGS

On March 22, 1934, Roy Frisch - witness to a multimillion dollar bunco scheme run through George Wingfield's Riverside Bank - left his Reno home on Court Street to walk to the Majestic Theater and see the movie, Gallant Lady. He never returned, nothing was heard from him again, and his body was never found. The mystery that ensued touched the national consciousness. Reno became inundated with Bureau of Investigation agents who set about delving into the doings of the nationally-known, underworld figures who were in the city or close by on the day of Frisch’s disappearance, among them Bill Graham, James McKay, Baby Face Nelson and John Paul Chase. Which of them had the most to gain by Frisch’s death and why? In this presentation, Michael Fischer draws on FBI Files and historical local news accounts, as well as present day interviews, to connect the dots of one of Reno's and Nevada's oldest unsolved crimes. 

Appropriate Audience:  Adults; high school students.

Duration: C. 1-1½ hours . Please discuss the appropriate length for your organization with the Presenter.

Presenter Requirements: 

  • Means for screening PowerPoint presentation.

If equipment indicated above is unavailable, please discuss alternatives with Presenter.

Categories: Nevada, History


TONOPAH'S SOFT DRINK PARLORS AND THE RISE OF THE RENO GAMBLERS

Michael Fischer traces the rise of a select band of men who all spent time fronting Tonopah's post-prohibition, soft drink parlors, and then went on to become the absolute bosses of Reno during the 1950s. Follow the careers of George Wingfield, Bill Graham, Nick Abelman, James McKay, and others as they learn the ropes in Tonopah. There, the local parlors may have ostensibly been dealing in soda, but behind the scenes, drugs, prostitutes, and plenty of other illicit pleasures were on offer to satisfy even the most extravagant tastes of the miners with money. But when the mining boom dwindled, the Tonopah bosses moved north, where they set up even more formidable fiefdoms and a complex new power structure in the process. This presentation provides a unique insight into the backgrounds and journeys of the men who ruled Reno into the 1950s.

Appropriate Audience:  Adults; high school students.

Duration: Approximately 1-1½ hours . Please discuss the appropriate length for your organization with the Presenter.

Presenter Requirements: 

  • Means for screening PowerPoint presentation.

If equipment indicated above is unavailable, please discuss alternatives with Presenter.

Categories: Nevada, History