Nevada’s US Senator Key Pittman passed away a few days prior to the November 1940 election, in which he was widely expected to win in a landslide. Rumours circulated that his body was preserved in a bathtub full of ice so his seat would remain Democratic.
At the time of his death, only two US senators had served longer than Pittman. He could have served even longer, as a 1963 book suggested, had he not died before his sixth reelection. (Image: knoxfocus.com)
This was the second debunked myth of this series, according to authors Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris in “The Green Felt Jungle”. This New York Times bestseller was the first book to reveal the hidden criminal ownership behind a majority of Las Vegas Strip casino resorts, though it was inaccurate in several areas.
The myth claimed aides and Democratic party officials kept Pittman’s body in a bathtub of ice at the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah throughout the 1940 election. This was so a coroner wouldn’t be able to determine a preelection time of death, and Nevada’s governor, Edward Carville, could appoint a fellow Democrat as Pittman’s replacement.
In their 1995 book, “A Short History of Reno”, authors Barbara and Myrick Land traced the myth of the frozen senator to a casual remark made by one of Pittman’s aides, who supposedly informed a reporter that the senator made so few personal appearances during the last days of the campaign because his staff were “keeping him on ice.”
Pittman was a tall, slender Southern gentleman, who had retained the drawl of his Mississippi upbringing. During the first and second administrations of President Franklin Roosevelt, he served as president pro tempore of the US Senate and chairman of its renowned foreign relations committee. Several pieces of legislation bear his name, such as the Pittman Act of 1918 and the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.
But what truly defined Pittman’s life and career was his alcohol addiction.
Whilst part of a US delegation at the London Economic Conference in 1933, which included President Roosevelt, Pittman behaved more like Steve-O from “Jackass” than a US official. Allegedly, waiters at Claridge’s Hotel discovered him sitting nude in a kitchen sink, pretending to be a fountain. On another night, he amused himself by travelling down Upper Brook Street and shooting out street lamps.
Pittman was meant to promote the cause of silver, the cornerstone of Nevada’s pre-tourism mining economy, at this conference. He took this instruction a bit too far, according to a report of what happened after he reacted angrily when another American delegate disagreed with his opinion that silver should be remonetized. Pittman pulled out a gun and chased the man through the hallways of Claridge’s.
The Chilling Truth
Having grown used to providing fabricated explanations for his drinking, Pittman’s aides informed inquisitive reporters on Election Day 1940 that the senator was in hospital due to exhaustion. The 68-year-old had actually been hospitalised for a serious heart attack he suffered on November 4 at the Riverside Hotel in Reno.
“He had come to Nevada to campaign and was drinking heavily,” Michael Green, a UNLV history professor, told Casino.org. “At one point before the election, he had a heart attack when he was not feeling well and was drinking heavily.”
Though his wife, Mimosa Pittman, visited him on Election Day at Washoe Hospital and wrote in her diary that he appeared “happy”, she had already been informed by doctors that his death was imminent – that the senator wouldn’t even survive the journey back to Washington, DC. On November 10, Pittman slipped into a coma and passed away early the next morning. As he was still alive when voters cast their ballots, the governor had the opportunity to appoint a successor.
Despite its refutation by a variety of reliable online history blogs, and despite the actual story being only slightly less dubious than the myth, conspiracy theorists are still refusing to accept the tale of the reelected “Senator on ice.”
“Nevadans did not elect a dead man to the Senate, but they did elect a dying man, with no chance of survival, and whose condition was being kept a secret,” Green said. “The facts are interesting enough without any legends.”
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